10 Gut Health Resolutions for 2018
If you’re looking for some healthy new year’s resolutions that are more than the cliché ‘eat better’ and ‘join a gym’, healing your gut might just be the best place to start. With a growing list of chronic conditions linked to the health of your gut, getting it sorted in 2018 could pay off for years to come.
But where to start? From elimination diets and a proper sleep routine, to identifying the root-cause and trying a natural healing protocol, here’s a list of 10 gut health resolutions that will put you on the right path for the year ahead.
1. Try a real food or elimination diet
We all know that nutrition has a massive impact on our overall health. The quality of foods we choose to fuel our body with impacts the quality of our microbiome – the collection of microorganisms in our gut that breakdown and absorb nutrition, synthesise vitamins, support our immune system and protect us from bad bugs. When we eat real, whole and nutrient-dense food, we are giving our body access to the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that our microbiome needs to thrive.
So what do I mean by ‘real, whole and nutrient-dense’? I mean vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, meat, herbs, spices, healthy fats and fermented foods to begin with. While foods like eggs, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and dairy are tolerated by some, these are the foods that should be the focus of a basic elimination diet. Why? Because they are foods that are most likely to cause you issues if you have a compromised digestive system. Eliminate for 2-4 weeks and notice how you feel. Then, re-introduce one food group at a time and take note of any symptoms that you experience.
Instead of eating processed foods, try to add in more protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables as a way of crowding out the empty calories you may have been eating before.
2. Incorporate fermented foods
Probiotic-rich foods are a great way to help repopulate the gut and improve the balance of beneficial species in your microbiome. Good quality yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso, microalgae such as spirulina and chlorella, tempeh and kimchi are a few examples of fermented foods that I use with my clients, and that are now gaining popularity in the health community. Try to incorporate a small amount of at least one type of fermented food each day if you haven’t tried them before to boost your gut health.
3. Work on a proper sleep routine
Sleep is completely underrated when it comes to gut health and healing. We should be working towards closed eyes by around 10pm and 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night. Why? Because physical repair and regeneration of the body, and especially the gut, happens while we are asleep. Have you ever gone to bed with a bloated stomach or pains and woken in the morning with neither? That is the healing power of rest.
Setting up a sleep schedule where you limit screen time and blue light exposure at least an hour before bed is a great place to start. Create a bedtime routine that helps you to relax, clear your mind and get to sleep quickly. You might like to try reading, listening to calming music, journaling or meditation. Then finally, ensure your room is really comfortable, cool, dark and quiet. This is the perfect recipe for gut-healing sleep.
4. Adjust exercise to match where you’re at with your gut health
Exercise is a tricky topic when it comes to gut healing, so I’ve written an entire blog post about the effects of exercise on gut health and healing here. The summarised version of that blog is this; if you are trying to heal your damaged gut, exercise ONLY works if it is not an added stressor. This means exercise should make you feel energised, not exhausted afterwards. So, if you are working on healing your gut, try moderate exercise – the stuff that will improve gut-function, according to science.
Moderate exercise can be walking, swimming, pilates and yoga practices that focus more on stretching, breathing and postural control. But really the best thing you can do is listen to your body and not overdo it with exercise.
5. Incorporate stress-management strategies daily
If you have plans to work on your gut health, it is usually because you have frustrating or embarrassing symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea or reflux for example that can be really stressful. Poor gut health can also bring about brain-symptoms like worry, low-mood and anxiety. For this reason it is important to incorporate stress-management techniques into your day. Options that my clients like to use are meditation, deep breathing, journaling, watching a funny or uplifting movie, listening to music you love or EFT (emotional freedom technique). The trick is finding an option for stress management that works for you and your lifestyle.
These techniques move the body away from the sympathetic nervous system stress response to the parasympathetic nervous system response, allowing you to rest, digest and heal.
6. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins
Toxins from our environment can contribute to gut dysfunction. They irritate the gut lining, which acts like a second skin inside the body and stops harmful toxins entering our bloodstream. This means that limiting your exposure to things like mercury, pesticides, BPA and fluoride, as well as pain relievers with Aspirin, Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen can reduce the overall toxic load on your gut and give you space to heal.
And if you’re really up for a challenge, swapping all of your personal care and home cleaning products to natural options is another massive change you can make on the way to limiting your exposure to toxins, and ultimately healing your gut.
7. Only use antibiotics as a last resort and focus on building your immunity
Antibiotics are a lifesaver – a genuine last resort, emergency, life saver. But the overprescription and abuse of antibiotics is having a devastating impact on our gut health. I was no exception. The year my gut health really deteriorated, I filled six antibiotic prescriptions and paid the price.
Antibiotics not only target bad bacteria, they also often have a damaging effect on the number and diversity of good gut bacteria. This can cause serious problems because of the important role that a balanced microbiome plays in the proper functioning of our immune system and overall health. There is a growing body of science that links a lack of diversity in gut-friendly bacteria to conditions like IBD, asthma, obesity, allergies, leaky gut, depression, autoimmunity and countless others.
So in 2018, focus on building your immunity so that you aren’t so susceptible to infection and consider natural alternatives for low-grade infections before jumping straight to the big guns and ruining your gut for another year.
8. Stop taking poor quality supplements – they don’t work
I’ve read many articles saying natural supplements don’t work, including probiotics. What people often fail to realise is that the problem is most commonly brand-specific. What I mean is, specific probiotic strains are extremely well researched and evidence-based, but the generic, cheap brand you bought at the supermarket probably wasn’t.
In a market that is not very well regulated, it’s even more important to use brands trusted by your practitioner. You get what you pay for, so don’t let some clever marketing take your cash without any noticeable improvement in your gut health.
Given how important we know our gut microbiome is, to not just digestion but our overall health, it’s no surprise that probiotics have been shown to do some pretty impressive things. From allergies and immunity to women’s urinary tract health and even obesity, good quality probiotics are backed by countless studies and clinical trials.
And when I say ‘good quality’, I mean products that don’t contain any fillers and that have at least 15-50 million CFU’s and 10-30 different strains..
9. Get tested to find your root cause/s
There’s only so much the above mentioned diet, exercise and lifestyle strategies can do if you have serious or chronic gut dysfunction. And there is a limit to what self-diagnosis and treatment will achieve when you have a complex digestive condition.
Now we know ‘IBS’ is not a single disease with a single cause, it’s a whole host of different diagnosable health issues. And while the exact root-cause, or combination of causes, is unique to each person, the five most common causes of IBS are a great place to start and explain over 80% of all previously unexplained cases of gut dysfunction. That means there is highly likely a reason for yours!
But given the symptoms of each are largely the same, knowing which one you have and how to fix it is almost impossible without functional lab testing. And considering how far we have come in the last decade in both the quality of testing and interpretation of what is and isn’t harmful, there’s never been a better time to get to the root-cause of your digestive symptoms using lab testing.
10. Try a natural protocol that addresses the root-cause of your health issues
Natural supplements are often essential when healing serious chronic digestive disorders. But, they should never be the first step, which is why I only use them after incorporating all of the other strategies listed above.
These are three reasons I use natural supplements as part of my gut healing protocols:
> Substitution: To replace something that is missing in the body or that the body is not producing due to gut damage, such as stomach acid or digestive enzymes.
> Stimulation: To stimulate organs, glands and systems in the body to do their job, such as vitamins and minerals.
> Support: Short-term aid for the body while function is being restored, such as liver and adrenal supplements which help the body respond to toxins and stress.
And when the underlying root-cause of your IBS symptoms is a gut infection like SIBO, Candida or a parasite, adding natural antimicrobials is the most effective approach to pathogen eradication and long term gut healing. Using blends of evidence-based antimicrobials, alternating products throughout your protocol and using biofilm busters are all ways to make sure the bad guys are gone for good and you get your symptom-free life back.
And unlike antibiotics, natural antimicrobials won’t cause you long term damage that you’ll spend years repairing. This is the year to reap the rewards of being a herb-nerd.
I hope that these 10 resolutions give you a gut healing start to 2018. And if you’re up to finding the root cause of your digestive issues and interested in trying a science-based natural protocol for gut healing, I work with clients one-on-one fully online so head to the work with me page to learn more.