Gut Health: Your Know-It-All Guide

October 4th, 2019 by Transform HQ

Welcome to the most comprehensive guide to gut health. In this blog, we will be going over everything from gut health and how it affects weight loss to the best food for your gut and more!

Taking care of your gut is more than just getting a pretty 6-pack of abs, it can affect weight loss/gain, digestion, mood, and overall well-being.

Here at Transform HQ, we are a little obsessed with empowering people to take back control of their lives. We believe true transformation starts from within (including the gut!).

If you experience stomach discomfort and bloating and struggle with losing weight, your gut may be at the center of it all.

We’re going to explain everything. And remember, trust your gut! 😉

Gut Health, Probiotics, and Weight Loss

gut health, probiotics, and weight loss

Our gut has everything to do with our weight loss, more specifically, the bacteria inside our gut.

And guess what? There are actually trillions of gut bacteria in our body.

A mix of both “good” (also referred to as probiotics) and “bad” bacteria live inside our gut microbiome. And at the end of the day, the goal is to create a healthy mix where the good bacteria can flourish!

A variety of good bacteria in the gut can actually help fight against obesity.

Let’s run through a couple important ways that gut bacteria can help with weight loss:

1. Gut Bacteria Help with Digestion

As the food you eat passes through your body, the gut bacteria interacts with it.

As a result, this can influence:

  1. How you digest your food.
  2. How you absorb nutrients.
  3. How you store energy.

Additionally, emerging research shows “intestinal microbiome is intrinsically linked with overall health, including obesity risk.”

2. Gut Bacteria Help Regulate Your Appetite

When it comes to appetite, there are a couple of hormones that play a role in regulating your hunger and feelings of fullness.

Some of these hunger hormones include peptide YY (reduces appetite), ghrelin (increases appetite), and leptin (decreases appetite).

Research is showing that gut bacteria can help determine which hunger hormones your body produces, and this could play a role in how hungry you feel.

3. Gut Bacteria Play an Important Role in Inflammation

Inflammation is a result of your body triggering your immune system. Inflammation is a way your body helps fight infections and injuries, but guess what?

A poor diet can also cause inflammation, and an increase in inflammatory chemicals can actually result in weight gain.

The Gut: Your Second Brain

your gut is your second brain

But your gut doesn’t just play a massive role in your weight loss and physical well being.

Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach? Felt nauseous when you have something big coming up? That’s your second brain communicating with you.

It’s called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), and it’s two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum.

Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the John Hopkins Center of Neurogastroenterology, explains, “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain–with profound results.”

The ENS’ primary purpose is controlling the digestive process: swallowing, releasing enzymes to break down the food, nutrient absorption (getting those important micro and macronutrients), and waste elimination.

Incredible, right? Our ENS actually sends signals back to our brain.

How Gut Health Affects Overall Attitude and Well-Being

Imagine living in constant discomfort. If you currently are, then you already know it doesn’t take long before this physical discomfort starts to affect your mood.

The ENS–or as we will call it from now on, your second brain–can trigger some major emotional shifts experienced by those coping with things like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and upset stomach.

Remember Jay Pasricha from John Hopkins who we referenced above? Here’s what he had to say about this: “For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around.”

That means the fact that we are dealing with IBS, constipation, diarrhea, and upset stomach could also be contributing to our anxiety and depression. In a sense, this evidence seems to be flipping the script!

And interestingly enough, 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression. Serotonin is believed to help regulate mood, social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, and sexual desire and function.

Your gut health can have a MAJOR impact on your day-to-day and overall health and wellness goals. Your second brain (in charge of the digestive process) can communicate with your big brain!

If something is off with your second brain (in charge of the digestive process, among many other things), this research is showing that it can affect your big brain!

So, what are ways to help your gut health?

The Best Foods for Gut Health (And Some Additional Tips)

digestive health

Ahhh…finally on to a tastier topic! Diet and gut health are like peanut butter and jelly–they just go together.

In order to maintain a healthy microbiome, you should steer clear of processed foods, high fat foods, and foods high in refined sugars. These types of foods destroy good bacteria and encourage the growth of bad bacteria.

We’ve mentioned probiotics before, but when probiotics team up with prebiotics, a beautiful symbiotic relationship happens. Prebiotics by themselves aren’t of much use, but when they are teamed up with probiotics, they help fuel bacteria growth (which is huge for your gut!).

Don’t worry though, here are some foods that promote the growth of the good guys:

  • Prebiotic fibers like asparagus, bananas, and whole grains
  • Fresh fruits and veggies like berries, legumes, peas, and leeks
  • A balance of seafood and lean poultry (less red meat)
  • Garlic and onion
  • Fermented foods (rich in probiotics) like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, tempeh, miso, and kefir

We wanted to point out the importance of taking a probiotic! Though fermented foods (listed above) are rich in probiotics, you might not be eating that every single day.

Taking a daily probiotic can give you the same gut health benefits and is super convenient, and we recommend checking with a health professional before taking any dietary supplement, including a probiotic.

Eating a diverse range of foods can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is a thumbs up for good gut health.

Additional Tips

In addition to what you eat, how you eat can make a big difference. Are you a fast eater? Do you scarf down your meal to rush back to work? Or you’re just starving so much that you can’t help but eat without taking a breath?

Chewing your food thoroughly and eating your meals slowly can help with full digestion and absorption of nutrients. This can help reduce stomach discomfort.

While we are chatting meal ideas, we have to mention our drink of choice: WATER! Drinking water has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines and on the balance of good bacteria in the gut. It can also help you slow down while you’re eating (bonus) and help you realize that you are fuller, faster. We recommend drinking half of your body weight in ounces a day.

Now that we’ve covered the good stuff, let’s move on to what can screw up your gut health!

Things That Can Screw up Your Gut Health

We usually like to stick with the positive side of things, but sometimes you just need to be real.

Chances are pretty high that you are doing something that is screwing up your gut health. You can improve your gut health just by avoiding or even doing the opposite of these culprits.

Here we go!

1. Taking Antibiotics

antibiotics can interfere with gut health

Antibiotics are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S. (up there with antidepressants). Though sometimes necessary and useful, it’s become more common for antibiotics to be overused. Antibiotics stop the growth and reproduction of bacteria, which means they kill the bad guys AND the good guys. Antibiotics are really only useful against bacteria (not viruses), yet they are often prescribed for viruses, when that is completely unnecessary.

What to do:

  • We aren’t saying to give up antibiotics altogether, but we do recommend taking a step back before blindly accepting them. Ask your doctor if your illness is bacterial or viral. If it’s a virus, ask for ways to treat symptoms, and don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics.
  • Don’t share antibiotics.
  • Stay up to date with immunizations.
  • Wash your hands!
  • While taking antibiotics, be sure to load up on probiotic-heavy foods. Yogurt is a common recommendation or find a good probiotic!

Sidenote: Though we focused on antibiotics, gut health can be affected by all sorts of medication. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking any medications and see how they can affect your gut.

2. Being Overly Stressed 

Stress is bad for your overall health, and that includes the gut as well. Stress can decrease blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, which can lead to cramping, inflammation, and/or an imbalance of gut bacteria.

What to do: Find ways to destress. Some ideas: exercise, meditation, reading, time with friends or family, yoga, etc.

3. Eating a Crappy Diet 

Eating fast food every day, chugging lots of soda, and/or snacking on fatty foods will not only ruin your gut, but will help you gain weight. Two things we do not want!

What to do: Find good healthy meal ideas that match your lifestyle (The Transform App can help with that!), ditch the soda for water, and snack on more fresh fruits and veggies. It might take time, but look for healthy alternatives to your favorite unhealthy snacks. You shouldn’t have to hate what you eat!

4. Drinking Too Much Alcohol

We aren’t trying to be the fun police, but “too much” of anything usually has repercussions. Chronic alcohol consumption can cause serious issues, including something called dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is a microbial imbalance which can come in the form of an upset stomach.

Certain types of alcohol can decrease the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

What to do: Try to stick with the recommended alcohol intake. In the United States, one standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol or ethanol. Moderate drinking is defined as one standard drink per day for women and two for men. Heavy drinking is defined as more than three drinks per day for women and four for men.

5. Lack of Regular Exercise

Want to improve your gut? Get moving! Several studies have shown that physical activity may alter gut bacteria, improving gut health. This study showed the effectiveness of gut health AND lean mass from exercise.

What to do: Health-promoting bacteria was shown in higher amounts in both men and women from regular physical activity. Nothing crazy either, even low-to-moderate intensities can be beneficial. Trying walking, gardening, swimming…whatever interests you!

There are always things we do that screw up our gut and overall health. One that might need to go without saying (but we will say it anyway) is cigarette smoking! Smoking causes harm to almost every single organ in your body and is filled with thousands of chemicals. Giving up smoking can increase gut flora in as little as 9 weeks–talk about fast results!

As an adult, we get used to routines and behaviors that get harder and harder to break as we get older. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Make new habits to replace the bad ones, and if you have kids, start them off with the right behaviors and set them up to have a healthy gut!

The Gut & Digestive Process

gut health and digestive health

Let’s quickly cover how complex the digestive process is and how your gut actually has a very strong connection with your brain!

First things first. The gut (or second brain or gastrointestinal tract) is a long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your rectum.

Digestion

Here’s how your gut works:

  1. Mouth and teeth: When you eat, you break down food into smaller pieces while mixing it with saliva–starting the digestive process.
  2. Oesophagus or Gullet: This is the connection (tube) from your mouth to your stomach. Swallowing pushes food through this to your stomach. 
  3. Stomach: Once in the stomach, your food will be further diluted by acid secretions and peptic enzymes. It will also digest proteins, kill off the majority of bacteria in the food, and deliver the rest into the small intestine. It can take your body anywhere from 1-5 hours to process the food into the small intestine.
  4. Small Intestine: This narrow tube is about 20 feet long. This is where your body breaks down protein, fats, and carbs into amino acids, sugars, and fatty acids and then absorbed into the bloodstream. This process can take between 2-4 hours. The small intestine has three sections: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. 
  5. Colon or Large Intestine: Anything that isn’t absorbed by the small intestine is salvaged here. Taking anywhere from 5-70 hours, the large intestine extracts salt and water from solidifying contents, while the colonic bacteria (counting in the trillions) ferments unabsorbed sugars, starches, and proteins to short-chain fatty acids, which can be used as a source of energy. The large intestine consists of the caecum (which is attached to the appendix) and the colon (ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, and the sigmoid colon). 
  6. Pancreas: This digestive gland secretes an alkaline juice that contains powerful enzymes that break down protein, fats, and carbs, which can be used as a source of the hormone insulin. 
  7. Liver: Receives blood from the gut, filters it, removes toxins, metabolizes drugs, stores nutrients, and synthesizes proteins for various purposes including blood clotting. It also synthesizes bile. 
  8. Gallbladder: Stores and concentrates bile, and after meals, it moves it into the small intestine to help digest fat. 

Digesting food requires your brain, nervous system, and various hormones released in the gut. It’s quite a complex process, to say the least!

And guess what? The very thought of eating can release the stomach’s digestive juices before food even gets there!

The brain and the gut have a very strong connection that actually goes both ways. Wait, what?!

Introducing your second brain!

Gut Health for Kids

Did you know that the first 1000 days of your life are pretty crucial? From age 0-2, babies will do a lot of growing and discovering, and this includes the gastrointestinal tract.

The colonizing bacteria interact with developing body functions in ways that can have long-term effects on how the infant, child, and eventual adult will respond to everyday stimuli like diet, pets, and antibodies.

In simpler terms, this can help a person stay healthy or not.

You might be thinking, well, it’s a little too late for me because I’m not a newborn anymore! You can STILL take care of your gut (as mentioned above).

But for those of you who have kids and/or might be wanting some in the future, you can set them up for future success.

Expecting mamas can pay special attention during their pregnancy by gaining weight appropriately, continuing to exercise, and by avoiding the use of antibiotics. After birth, the influence of breast milk can help the infant to rapidly colonize the intestine.

As the child continues to grow, you can continue to pay attention to diet, exercise, and find a good probiotic for them.

Building a Gut You Can Trust

Chris and Heidi Powell standing next to each other

It’s pretty amazing that we have not one, but TWO brains that can communicate back and forth to help us take better care of ourselves.

It’s easy to take our bodies for granted when we are busy with the daily hustle and bustle of life, but ignoring our gut can have life-altering consequences.

We spoke about the physical consequences (the main one being weight gain), and we mentioned the internal consequences from stomach pain to a negative effect on overall well-being.

It’s not too late to start taking care of your gut! Eating healthy, staying hydrated, exercising properly, and a good probiotic are all great ways to show some love to your gut.

How will you take care of your second brain? Let us know if we missed anything in the comments below.

Trust your gut, and start by transforming your body from within. Let The Transform App help you master healthy eating and proper exercise (all customized to you). 

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