You’ve probably been told since childhood to “trust your gut,” but for many people, the critical organ is run down – by the pressure of making life-altering decisions, unhealthy foods, and questionable habits developed over the years.
The time has come for a tummy-health intervention.
But, before we go there, let's start by identifying what your gut actually is.
“It’s essentially just a big long tube lined with lymph tissue that's trying to protect you from potentially harmful things you ingested,” said Harvey Phillips, MD, a gastroenterologist with Borland Groover who practices at Baptist Health. This includes your esophagus, stomach and intestines.
There are several steps Dr. Phillips recommended for keeping your gut healthy.
1. Get friendly with fiber.
Make sure your diet is rich in fibrous foods, especially vegetables. A plant-based diet is ideal. High-fiber foods absorb water and keep it in your gut, ensuring your digestive cycle stays regular. Drinking a ton of water won’t necessarily rehydrate your gut, it will just make you pee more, Dr. Phillips said. Fibrous foods are key to turning your gut from a desert to an oasis.
2. Relish your routines.
When possible, maintain a consistent eating and sleeping routine. Your gut performs at its best when your body is operating on a reliable timeline. That also applies to going to the bathroom: Dr. Phillips said you should be pooping multiple times a day. If you’re not, that’s OK. Every body is different, but this is a general rule of thumb he recommended working toward. He said loose stools are better than hard bowel movements.
3. Stay away from sweets.
Raw sugars are difficult for your gut to digest, and they’re hard on your pancreas, which converts food into energy. According to Dr. Phillips, sugar sends the pancreas on a roller coaster ride as it tries to regular the blood sugar spike that ensues after that piece of cake or other sweet treat. While the spike from artificial sweets is mountainous, it’s more of a hill when coming from a natural and fibrous source of sugar, like an apple. That means natural sugars are less traumatic for both your gut and pancreas.
Dr. Phillips said common symptoms of an upset gut range from gas and bloating to constipation, and it’s a good idea to stick to the tips above while also talking to your primary care doctor or gastroenterologist about other solutions tailored to your needs. More severe symptoms, such as blood in the stool or rapid weight loss, may require a visit to the emergency room or an appointment with a gastroenterologist.
For those working to improve their gut health, Dr. Phillips recommended shifting their perspective.
“People will always retreat to the excuse of, ‘This is what’s normal for me,’” he said. “Remember that ‘normal’ is based on what you see. If you live in the U.S. and have always eaten a traditional American diet that includes a good deal of processed foods and artificial flavors, then what you think of as ‘normal’ fundamentally is not. You’re going to have to break away from tradition or what you thought was good behavior.”
If you’ve experienced a change in your bowel movements, visit your primary care physician to discuss your symptoms and whether a referral to a gastroenterologist may be beneficial. To find the right one for you, call 202.4YOU or click here to fill out an appointment request form.