This New Year: Start with Your Gut!
By Melody Khorrami, PharmD, RPh
As we enter a new year, it is always helpful to take a moment to reflect on the past year. Journaling about your personal progress, both professionally and socially, and re-examining your life vision can help you set new goals. As you assess the past, try to practice grace and gratitude for all the twists and turns of life. Many of us will use this time of renewal to focus on health and wellness goals. Here’s a thought: start with your gut!
Research in the gut microbiome space has erupted in the last couple years. Our gut is home to trillions of microbes that create a dynamic environment which influences so much of our health and well-being. These microbes are responsible for the digestion process, metabolism, and immune function. There are a variety of factors that can affect the gut microbiome which include your diet and lifestyle, environmental changes, the aging process, stress, and the use of unnecessary antibiotics.
Individual variations in the human microbiota are always present, that is why bio-individuality is important in this space. Research has suggested a link to an imbalance of gut bacteria and some common health conditions. These include, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, as well as possible links to mental health conditions through the gut-brain axis.
So now you might ask yourself: How can I support my gut health in the new year? Starting slowly and sustainably is key, and as always, be patient with yourself as you make these changes!
Tip 1: Manage your stress
The gut-brain axis has been an important area of research the last couple years. There is increasing evidence that dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut microbiota, can contribute to anxiety, and depression. Excess stress can also be a trigger for negative digestive symptoms. Research has shown that using mind-body techniques such as mindfulness-based stress reduction practices can assist with managing stress that could be contributing to digestive issues and other conditions.
Incorporating movement in your everyday life can help reduce stress, this includes practices like yoga, which has been shown to lower cortisol, the primary stress hormone. As always, if you feel like your stress and anxiety have gotten to unmanageable levels seeking professional counseling or psychotherapy is an important measure to take. In fact, therapy can be a wonderful way to explore and reflect on the root cause of your emotions and stress and find the tools to learn more about yourself.
Tip 2: Adjust your diet
Have you heard the term you are what you eat? Our gut microbiome is heavily influenced by the foods that we eat. Eliminating processed and high sugar content foods and incorporating more nutrient dense foods are a great first step that will help your beneficial gut bacteria thrive. Some studies have shown that altering your diet can create temporary microbial shifts within just 24 hours. Incorporating prebiotic foods such as garlic, artichoke, onions, asparagus, leeks, bananas, flaxseeds and oats and more fiber into the diet can help modulate the gut microbiota. Some examples of high fiber foods include, pears, berries, chia seeds, avocados, brussels sprouts, lentils and chickpeas.
Working with a nutritionist or dietician can be a great way to figure out food sensitivities, and to find sustainable ways to include more nutrient dense foods into your diet and find a plan that works for your lifestyle.
Tip 3: Consider a probiotic
As research increases around the relationship between the gut microbiome and different diseases the interest around probiotics has also increased.
While you should always start with lifestyle and diet when approaching gut health, incorporating a well-studied probiotic can also be beneficial in certain circumstances. The most used strains are from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera. Other strains such as the Enterococcus and Streptococcus genera are also used in probiotic products.
With so many probiotics on the market it can be challenging to find a product that has its own clinical studies and is a multi-strain product. Probiotics can help your body maintain a healthy community of microbes and can have an influence on your body’s immune response and digestive process. Here are a couple questions to consider when choosing a probiotic:
- Does this specific product have clinical trials to show a health benefit?
- How does this probiotic brand ensure potency of product?
- Does this product contain an appropriate CFU count? (CFU is the unit used to estimate the concentration of microorganisms in the product)
- Does the product have diversity in strains that are used?
Asking the right questions can help you and your healthcare provider make informed choices related to choosing the right probiotic for your needs.
Please note: This article has been written for informational use only. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your health and diet regimen.