Talk to any random group of people, and you’ll likely find that they’re actively taking steps towards improving their health. Maybe they’ve cut down on caffeine, maybe they’ve started taking daily walks, or maybe they’re incorporating more plant foods into their meals. The journey to a healthy lifestyle looks different for everybody, but one component that can’t be overlooked during this process is your gut.
When we say “gut”, we’re talking about the gastrointestinal tract, which includes all the organs of the digestive system, as well as the plethora of microorganisms that live in them. But the gut is responsible for more than just digestion. It plays a key role in fighting diseases and communicating information to the brain — which is why we say things like gut feeling and butterflies in my stomach.
To get a better sense of the role our gut plays in our overall health, and how we can take better care of it, we’ve partnered with Renew Life® to follow the journey of Eva Redpath, a Co-Active® Life Coach and award-winning wellness leader, as she works with Dr. Shawna Darou, a licensed and registered Naturopathic Doctor, and Dr. Joey Schulman, a registered Holistic Nutritionist, to learn more about her own gut health and how it affects her overall wellness.
The Role Of The Gut In Overall Health
We mentioned before that aside from the very important digestive function that the gut provides, it also helps fight disease and communicates information to the brain.
“Gut health is central to wellness in so many ways: for digestive function, nutrient absorption and energy; but also for mood regulation, inflammation, skin, weight management, and immune system function,” said Dr. Shawna Darou.
Here are some example of how the gut bolsters our immunity:
The acids and enzymes in the stomach protect us from infection by sterilizing the food that we eat.
The digestive tract has immune receptors that are constantly on the lookout for triggers to release specific hormones and other cell types to help the body with its immune function.
The small intestines are lined with patches of lymphoid tissues called Peyer’s patches that monitor the lining of the gut and produce antibodies when necessary to fight undesirable agents threatening the body’s health.
As for the kind of information the gut sends to the brain — and vice versa — it relates to food, of course: How much to eat, when to eat, what kind of food to eat, when to drink, how much to drink, how to process the kind of food you just ate, and so on.
But, and here we go back to the butterflies in the stomach, the information the gut and brain share also has to do with our mood, particularly stress and anxiety. This is why you might feel queasy, nauseous, or even lose your appetite if you’re feeling anxious.
Dr. Joey Shulman also echoed this information, adding, “It is estimated that 90% of the body’s serotonin (the happy brain chemical) is produced in the gut. I have always said ‘You are only as healthy as your pipes’. In other words - you are only as healthy as you are absorbing, digesting and excreting.”
Taking into consideration the paramount role that the gut plays in your overall health and wellness, understanding it better and caring for it is key to a healthier life. Discovering more about your gut health is also a great step to finding out if the reasons behind some pesky health concerns you may have are related to imbalances in your digestive system.
Discovering More About The Health Of Your Gut
Each individual’s gut is different, and therefore testing to discover potential reasons behind unique gut health issues is different too. It may involve medical specialists from various fields, and they may request several kinds of tests.
For the purposes of Eva’s own gut health journey, this is what the testing process looks like:
It started with an appointment with Dr. Shawna to review her health in relation to her gut specifically. During the appointment, they reviewed her health history, current health issues, nutrition habits, stress, exercise, supplements, and health goals.
Eva then received a “Comprehensive Digestive Stool Test” kit, which she used to collect a stool sample for analysis at the lab. This test will show which bacteria is present in her gut, but will also test for yeast overgrowth, digestive enzyme function, markers of inflammation, and short-chain fatty acid levels.
At the moment, Eva is waiting to receive the results of her test.
Afterwards, she will meet with Dr. Joey to go over her test result analysis. Dr. Joey will be able to review dietary, supplement, and lifestyle changes that can help Eva optimize her gut heath.
If you’re considering embarking on your journey to learn more about your own gut health, it’s important to work with certified practitioners and nutritionists who will be able to properly guide you through a process unique to your needs, and analyze the results of the tests to give you sound medical advice.
How To Care For Your Gut Health
As complex as your gut is, caring for it is rather straightforward. It’s all the tried-and-true advice of living an overall healthy life.
“Start to take small steps such as eating live plant based foods, less processed sugary foods, drinking 2 liters of water per day, and supplementing with a high quality probiotic,” said Dr. Joey. “Renew life® has some of the best probiotic supplements I have worked with on the market that can help to support [gastrointestinal] health.”
Dr. Shawna emphasized the importance of plant foods, and said, “One of the best things you can do for your gut health is to eat a variety of plant foods. Interestingly, the more varied your diet, the more diverse your microbiome, which is associated with a healthier immune system,” adding, “Remember that plant foods are not just vegetables, but also include fruits, herbs and spices, grains, teas, and legumes.”
But it’s not just about the food you eat. Your body needs proper sleep, exercise, and fresh air to help heal your gut. If this is sounding a little overwhelming, don’t despair. When working with her own clients, Co-Active® Life Coach Eva stresses the importance of a slow and steady approach.
“Trying to change too much too soon is where willpower will never win over habit. In a time like this, it’s all about small wins,” Eva said.
Learning From Eva’s Experience
We’ll be following up with Eva and Dr. Joey after they’ve had a chance to review the test results. While it’s true that everyone’s gut is unique, we can still glean some interesting insights about gut health from Eva’s experience.
“I am hoping for some “aha” gut moments,” Dr. Joey said. By learning more about how imbalances in the gut can impact health issues, we can also be better equipped to seek the right medical help.
For Eva, this experience will give her a better understanding of her own gut health and hopefully help her with her health concerns. It’s also an opportunity for her to get educated, and use her platform to share that education, spreading awareness about the fascinating role that our gut plays in our overall wellness.
When it comes to probiotics and gastrointestinal and intestinal health, Renew Life® is amongst the top-selling brands in Canada. See how they can help you start living healthier from the inside out.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada and has been updated.