Having gas or an irregular bowel movement here and there are normal and a part of life. But having GI symptoms regularly can mean chronic inflammation, which can be harmful to your long-term health. The good news is that there are simple solutions to help you regain normal bowel function and reverse chronic GI issues. Meet the 4 Pillars of a Healthy Gut.
Maybe you're thinking 'Great..I already knew those.' So let's dive a little deeper and discuss the details and the why.
1. Sleep is our body's natural reset from the stresses of the day. REM sleep especially helps to decrease inflammation and allow cellular healing. 8-9 hours of sleep per night is especially important for our GI tract because it allows the tract to rest and activate the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC). The MMC acts as a housekeeper in the intestines and sweeps away any undigested food. The MMC is only activated during times of fasting, specifically at least 4-5 hours away from food. Without the MMC, food sits in the GI tract, decays, and causes inflammation.
2. Exercise. Yup. It's gotta happen. However, exercise does not necessarily mean going to the gym or lifting weights. I often remind people that exercise can be any form of movement that brings you joy. Dance, walk, do yoga, take a class, roller blade, ride a bike. Make it movement you enjoy and integrate it into your daily self-care routine. Exercise can relieve gas and bloating and helps prevent constipation. Physical activity also has been shown to decrease risk of diverticular disease, gallstones, and liver disease. Keep in mind that overly intense exercise can be aggravating to some people's GI tract, causing heartburn or nausea. With this, it is important to properly time exercise away from food or heavy meals.
3. Stress reduction comes back to the "fight or flight" versus "rest and digest" states that I've mentioned in previous blog posts. When we are stressed, our sympathetic (fight or flight) system takes the reins. When the sympathetic system dominates, the parasympathetic (rest and digest) turns off. That means that stress impairs digestion. Simple as that. As another part of daily self-care, it is important to check in and address stress levels throughout the day. Make time for yourself, even 5 minutes. Do something that brings you peace and joy.
4. Lastly, nutrition is perhaps the most intuitive piece to a healthy GI tract. But nutrition can also be challenging because we are constantly hearing mixed messages about what we should or shouldn't eat. The right diet is extremely individualized. There is no cookie cutter diet for every one. We are more complex beings than that. For individualized nutrition counseling, please feel free to reach out. I do food intolerance evaluations, body toxicity measurements, and goal setting. My goal is for every body to have a happy, healthy gut. Live well, feel well!