Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.
why gut health matters

Gut Health – An Overview

Many people are not concerned with the health of their digestive system – until digestive issues start to disrupt their daily lives. A 2022 survey from the American Gastroenterological Association found that a surprising 40% of Americans’ daily lives are interrupted by digestive issues. 

There is a very high burden of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in the United States, with digestive diseases accounting for over 100 million outpatient doctor visits annually. A national survey of over 71,000 participants revealed that heartburn/reflux, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are the most commonly reported digestive issues. 

Understanding why gut health is essential, even if you don’t currently suffer from any GI issues, is the first step in protecting your body and future health.

What is your gastrointestinal tract?

The GI tract is a series of hollow organs that form a long tube from the mouth to the anus. Any food or liquids you swallow much pass through your GI tract where they are digested and the nutrients are absorbed. The GI tract is a part of the digestive system, which includes the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.

Why is gut health important?

It’s simple – your gut is the foundation for everything! 

The health of your GI tract affects everything in your body. We all know that the GI tract is responsible for absorbing the nutrients from your food, and nutrients are essential for your cells to function. However, research over the past century has revealed that the human gut is also an important communication center for immune and mental well-being. The health of our gut dictates how well our immune system functions. The gut-brain axis (discussed in an upcoming blog post) highly influences our brain and emotional balance. 

Healthy gut vs. unhealthy gut

One of the more obvious ways to determine if the well-being of your gut trends more healthy or unhealthy is to pay attention to your bowel movements and digestive symptoms. Remember, every individual has their own “normal” based on their individual biology. This is why there are standard ranges on blood test results and other medical readouts. Paying attention to your body is one of the more effective ways of detecting subtle changes, which can help you make little tweaks to your daily routine. Here are some of the more common signs of a healthy and unhealthy gut to get you started:

HEALTHY

UNHEALTHY

Regular, easy-to-pass, bowel movements

Frequent constipation or diarrhea 

Absence of (or minimal) bloating, gas, or heartburn

Frequent bloating, gas, heartburn, or discomfort

Stable weight (or weight changes due to purposeful lifestyle changes)

Unintentional weight changes

Restful sleep

Sleep disturbances/frequent fatigue

Lack of unexplained skin irritations

Frequent unexplained skin irritations, including rashes, redness, and itchiness

Strong immune system

Poor immune system (including more frequent and extended illnesses)

Good mental health

Onset of unexplained anxiety, depression, and mood swings**

Minimal reactions to food and stress

Food intolerances 

**Mental health conditions have many causes that may not be related to gut health. Please consult a medical professional if you are experiencing any mental wellness changes that are interfering with your daily life. 

Steps to improve gut health

There is always room for improvement and that philosophy also applies to gut health! The following suggestions apply to people who have mild to moderate GI issues. If you are experiencing frequent (multiple times a week, over a month or more) abdominal pain, heartburn, constipation/diarrhea, or nausea, then it is important that you consult a doctor for diagnostic testing. Proper diagnosis is an integral part of the healing process – with a proper diagnosis, you can effectively determine your path toward healing!

Here are some tips for individuals who want to improve their gut health:

Chew Thoroughly

Chewing is the first step of digestion. These days, many of us don’t blink an eye while we gulp our lunches down at our desks or mindlessly consume dinner in front of the TV. Chewing tells your body to produce more saliva (which contains digestive enzymes) and jumpstarts the digestive process in your stomach. In short, effective chewing helps the rest of your GI tract do its job. Slow down, taste your food, and enjoy your food!

Digestive Enzymes 

Digestive enzymes help our bodies break down food into smaller building blocks that our cells can use (nucleic acids, proteins, lipids, and glycans). If you experience bloating, gas, general stomach upset after a meal, or see undigested food in your stool, digestive enzymes can help support your body. 

Here is one of my favorite digestive enzymes for occasional use after larger meals: Source Naturals Essential Enzymes

Probiotics

Nearly everyone can benefit from taking a probiotic. However, so many probiotics are on the market, and many are expensive, which can be overwhelming. There is more research about the beneficial bacteria in our gut (the microbiome) than can fit in this article. (Stay tuned for the next blog post!) 

This is my recommended probiotic for women (Once Daily Women’s) and men (Once Daily Men’s) due to their custom research-based formulas for women and men. They are also shelf-stable, meaning they do not need refrigeration. 

Whole food diet

A diet full of ultra-processed food is not healthy for your gut. This is partly due to the imbalance the “standard American diet” causes in our microbiome. We are healthier, and feel better, when we have more beneficial bacteria than harmful bacteria in our gut. Simply put, ultra-processed food feeds harmful bacteria and leads to inflammation that promotes diseases, including autoimmunity and cancer. Reducing your consumption of processed foods is an excellent way to improve your gut health. Work on incremental changes as your progress toward a healthier lifestyle. Once you start noticing that you feel better, sticking with the changes will be easier. 

Wellness Consult

If you want guidance through healing your gut, please message me so I can help you! Healing your gut is particularly important if you rely on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs, such as omeprazole), which slow down stomach emptying and can affect the absorption of nutrients you consume. Remember, your gut is the foundation of the rest of your well-being. Healing your gut can set you on a positive path toward more energy and vitality!

Disclaimer: This article should not replace individual clinical judgment or professional medical advice. I won’t put anything on this page that I haven’t verified and/or personally used. Also, this post may include affiliate links, meaning I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Clicking on an affiliate link will NOT incur any cost to you. Thank you!

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