Gut Health 101
What’s under the hood? 🧐
You should only continue reading IF: you care about your digestion, weight loss, bloat, inconsistent amounts of energy throughout the day, consistency in your workouts but reduced results (aka a plateau or weight loss resistance). IF that’s you, continue reading…
Today, we’re going all the way in on a term that’s been popping up on tv, magazines, and blogs and I have to admit… it’s incredibly fascinating. Some terms you may have heard of are: GUT HEALTH, LEAKY GUT, PROBIOTICS, PREBIOTICS, GUT BACTERIA, GUT MICROBIOME, THE HUMAN GUT. Although those terms are popping up everywhere now, they aren’t exactly self explanatory, so… let’s dive in. Shall we?
I should first tell you that science and information around gut health is evolving rapidly. With that said, I want to define these terms because this can get intricate very quickly and I want to make this as easy to wrap your brain around as possible, just as I needed when I began my research.
The Standard American Diet (more commonly known as SAD) includes more sugar and inflammatory foods than ever, pesticides and crops treated with genetically modified ingredients and it’s not uncommon for us to overlook the importance of regular exercise or sleep.
It’s no coincidence that most people have also learned to live with sore joints, gut discomfort, skin trouble, or headaches. We weigh more and sleep less – then we ignore our fatigue or treat it with another venti latte. Wrinkles and a growing waistline are now considered normal signs of aging.
This version of “normal” isn’t normal at all and this is where we begin today’s chat.
Our gut is responsible for breaking down the foods we eat, and at the same time the gut absorbs nutrients that support our body’s functions — from energy production to hormone balance, skin health to mental health, and even toxin and waste elimination.
Every feeling that you have, every time your stomach rumbles, each time you have a rash on your skin, acne on your face, an irregular bowel movement (yeah, we’re going there), it’s communication from your gut by way of your body.
Based on my research, I want to begin with what I think is quite possibly the most important piece of information that I’ve found and that is inflammation. Now, to be clear and as a fitness professional, there are different types of inflammation. It’s important to define inflammation because inflammation isn’t a process that you can actually see, so how do you know if it’s “good” or “bad”? After a challenging workout, have you ever, hours later or maybe even the next day or two, felt incredibly sore? Those increased-intensity sweat sessions can cause varying degrees of what we might call, small injuries, called microtraumas, to muscles, connective tissue, bones, or joints (especially if you’re not used to a workout’s duration or difficulty). These microtraumas trigger the body to rebuild the soft tissue cells in muscles, ligaments, and tendons to be tougher and more durable so they’ll withstand a similar workout in the future. So.. there you have it. There is such a thing as GOOD inflammation. With increased intensity of workouts, comes with your body’s ability to get stronger! As this rebuild happens, this means you can work out harder longer while breaking down your muscles less and recovering faster.
Another example of good inflammation is how our bodies often respond to injuries. Think about the last time you got a bruise. The blood and fluid that rushed in to create that purplish swollen area is also an example of inflammation. As our bodies heal, inflammation subsides and eventually goes away.
So what about unhealthy levels of inflammation or increased exposure to inflammation over time? Well… now that we know a little bit about exercise and inflammation, let’s talk about bad or harmful types of inflammation and more specifically, inflammation that is the result of… drumroll please… you guessed it, food.
I’m probably not telling you anything new when I say that ultra processed foods aren’t good for you. In fact, I was also that consumer (and so called, fitness professional) who also knew that was true but didn’t want to be overly inconvenienced at times when I was traveling, wanted a splurge or just wanted to be a normal human and have a meal at a nice restaurant without having to make 15 modifications to the server while everyone at the table stared at me and rolled their eyes.
But then… I started to dig a little bit deeper in to this thing that we’re talking about today… gut health.
Health issues such as stomach pain, bloating, IBS, constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux, are obviously gut-related, but gut dysfunction can have a ripple effect, causing or aggravating weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, inflammation, autoimmune disease, and even cancer. In short, there are many consequences of having an unhealthy gut which makes it so important for you to understand, if you care anything at all about your overall health and wellness.
One of the primary causes of leaky gut is consumption of processed foods which leads to inflammation in the lining of our GI tract, which is the exact place where food and nutrients are absorbed, which comes in the term leaky gut (syndrome). Leaky gut is defined as leaky gut syndrome, which is a condition characterized by damage to the lining of the gut.
Fun fact: if you spread out your GI tract, it would cover about the size of a tennis court! This internal “court” (if you will) is covered in cells called enterocytes (EN-TUR-O-SITES) that constantly regenerate so that you get an entirely new gut lining every two to three weeks. If you are healthy and don’t have any chronic conditions like autoimmunity or inflammation, and if you don’t have any food sensitivities, you could heal a not-so-perfect gut in as little as two weeks or as long as 12 weeks, studies have shown.
Our GI tract, more scientifically known as your gastrointestinal tract, has a cell lining which are supposed to be pressed up tightly against one another, sealed by what are known as “tight junctions.” These junctions keep partially digested food securely inside your intestines, where it belongs.
The gatekeepers in charge of regulating those tight junctions are proteins called “zonulin.” (ZONE-U-LEN) With proper zonulin levels, your tight junctions remain sealed and secure. However, things like continued exposure to processed foods and artificial ingredients or chronic stress can raise zonulin levels. The result being, those tight junctions, not so tight which can lead to particles of partly digested food, waste, and toxins to escape into your bloodstream, causing… you guessed it, leaky gut.
Over time, prolonged exposure to the release of these kinds of toxins can do a great deal of damage to your intestinal lining, which can in turn cause weight loss resistance, meaning, your body can’t absorb the nutrients you’re consuming, which leads to you craving food and ultimately, gaining weight.
Can we please take a moment to digest (no pun intended) that? If you are eating the CLEANEST food on the planet, organic, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, non GMO, you name it, and you develop leaky gut, it doesn’t matter because your body won’t be able to absorb the nutrients that you are actually consuming.
Even worse, over time, those undigested food particles and antibodies form immune complexes that circulate through your bloodstream until they’re slowly deposited throughout other areas of your body, where they create localized inflammation.
Localized inflammation shows up in the form of rashes, joint pain, headaches, and fatigue. And as that inflammation continues, it can trigger system-wide reactions, including allergies and autoimmune disease. An example of this, over time, would be celiacs disease.
When consuming processed foods, our gut can’t recognize what you’ve eaten as digestible food and instead interprets the presence of ultra processed foods or artificial ingredients as an “attacker.” Think about going to the supermarket and the cashier scanning a barcode and it not being recognized by the cash register, this is exactly what’s happening when we put processed foods in our bodies.
Think of a food allergy, for example: an allergy where our immune system overreacts to relatively harmless foods (think: peanut butter, shellfish, eggs) or substances (think: pollen, dust, latex). This sets off an inflammatory response in which our bodies are literally fighting these foods as if they were an infection because that’s how our bodies receive them.
Poor habits like eating an unhealthy diet, not exercising enough and consuming too much sugar can contribute to a bad type of inflammation called “chronic” inflammation. These habits turn the immune system “on” and help it stay activated for a long period of time. Along with other factors, chronic inflammation can then lead to chronic illness.
I don’t want to go too far on a rabbit hole, because I know we’re focused on gut health, but so that you understand the gravity of the situation, chronic inflammation ignites a long list of disorders: arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, blindness, cancer, diabetes and, quite possibly, autism and mental illness.
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know the importance of taking care of yourself and you might already exercise. I wanted to specifically draw attention to gut health, because I wanted you to have the same understanding of food, through education, as I do, so that you can take steps to live healthier.
Now, I think it’s important here to get clear and better define what I’m referring to as processed foods. Processed foods are the ones with unrecognizable and unpronounceable words on the list of ingredients — anything from the candy that turns your tongue blue to healthier-sounding canned soups packed with artificial flavors, additives or other fake stuff. Unfortunately, most food is processed to some degree, but ultra-processed foods are typically much more calorie-, sodium- and sugar-packed.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re still with me… this is where (pardon my french…) $hit get’s a little cray.
A 2016 study found that 61% of the calories in the average American diet come from processed foods. A 2017 study found that they make up 50% of the Canadian diet, and they make up more than 50% of the UK diet. And more of the developing world is starting to eat this way. We’re not going in the right direction.
In this new study, researchers found that, among almost the 150,000 French adults that were test subjects, a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet was correlated with a 12% higher risk of cancer. That’s a pretty shocking statistic, right? As I mentioned, this is new information and is rapidly evolving so this is, at the time of this blog post, the most recent study I could find.
Unfortunately, most American’s who consume the SAD (or Standard American Diet) are at a high risk of some form of leaky gut because of the overexposure to food treated with pesticides and genetically modified crops (known as GMOs), foods that you can’t pronounce on an ingredient label or food served at a restaurant where you have no idea where it came from or how it was prepared.
One of the most powerful things you can do to reverse inflammation and heal your gut is addressing the foods you put into it. New research indicates food reactivities like gluten sensitivity are just the beginning stage of one end of the larger inflammation spectrum, with autoimmune conditions like celiac disease on the opposite end.
For those of you, like me, who find this type of knowledge to fuel your hunger for more knowledge, a newfound awareness of your own nutrition and how to ensure proper gut function and overall digestive health, I encourage you to learn more! Every single body is different and there’s no “one size fits all” approach to nutrition or exercise. With proper nutrition, even though it may not happen as quickly as you would like, gut healing will begin to happen, especially if you stay focused on gut-friendly health habits.
Currently, I’m laser focused on developing a sample meal plan and best practices to promote a healthier gut and give you an idea of what types of foods and recipes can promote overall gut and digestive health, to help you jumpstart the process. If you are interested in this, make sure you are signed up for my newsletter here!
If you’re unsure of whether or not you may have symptoms related to leaky gut… here are a few of the top examples:
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Poor immune system
- Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
- Excessive fatigue
- Skin rashes and problems such as acne or rosacea
- Cravings for sugar or carbs
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
- Unexplained drops in energy throughout the day
- Hormonal imbalances
- A slowed metabolism, plateau or weight loss resistance
Do I have your attention yet? As you can tell, the symptoms of leaky gut are far and wide but if this tells you anything, it’s that how you fuel your body affects more than just the number on a scale or the size pants you put on. I hope this information lights a fire in you, just as it did me, to take control of what you’re putting in your body and empower you to learn as much as you possibly can to lead a healthier and happier life!
This blog post is also a podcast episode on #TheGetMoreShow. If you prefer to listen to the audio version, click or subscribe to the Podcast at TheGetMoreShow.com.
For more, let’s connect on Instagram! You can find me: @ChipHoffa! Be sure to leave a comment under my last post using the hashtag #TheGetMoreShow so I know you’re in the podcast club!