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Gut Feeling: Understanding Your Digestive Health

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Gut Feeling: Understanding Your Digestive Health

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The digestive system is a group of organs working together to convert food into energy and basic nutrients to feed the entire body. Food enters the mouth and passes through the esophagus to the stomach. The stomach adds acid and enzymes that help to break down food. From the stomach, food passes into the small intestine, where most absorption of nutrients occurs. The large intestine absorbs water, electrolytes, and vitamins produced by enteric bacteria. The intestine then propels what waste is left towards the rectum, where they are eventually eliminated.

What happens when your GI tract isn’t healthy?
This process of the digestive system is vital in helping the body to absorb essential nutrients and eliminate waste products. Poor digestion can lead to many health problems.

When food is not digested correctly, it puts a strain on the digestive system, which can lead to issues such as bloating, gas, heartburn, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and also nutritional deficiencies due to the body not being able to absorb all of the nutrients from food.

The food you eat has a direct impact on your digestive health. A regular intake of processed foods, for example, which is full of trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and other fillers and chemicals, have been linked to causing more serious digestive issues such as leaky gut, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

Another factor (which is not often talked about) that affects gut health is mental health. Stress, relational problems, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can all contribute to gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the gut microbiome. In turn, this can cause an array of digestive problems, such as gastrointestinal distress, ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), immune system dysfunction, and even systemic inflammation. While there is still much to learn about the gut-brain connection, it is becoming clear that gut health and mental wellness are linked.

What can you do to help your GI tract heal?
Eating fresh, plant-based whole foods that are full of nutrients can help nourish and repair your GI tract and can often reverse digestive problems and other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Eating high-fiber foods, fruits, and vegetables and consuming probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut are highly beneficial for repairing your gut. You also want to be sure to avoid processed foods and artificial additives.

What are probiotics?
We can’t discuss gut health without mentioning probiotics. The gut is home to a complex community of microorganisms. This community is known as the microbiome, which helps break down food, produce vitamins and minerals, and protect the body from infection.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are found in fermented foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut. They can also be taken in supplement form.

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that act as food for the probiotics. Together, probiotics and prebiotics help to maintain a healthy balance of microorganisms in the gut. Numerous studies have shown that probiotics can improve overall digestive health, including reducing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

If you have digestive issues and are unsure how to eat with digestive healing in mind, enlisting help from a licensed dietician is a great place to start. He (or she) can help you identify which foods are triggering your symptoms and can help you to create a plan to get your digestive system back on track.

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