We hear a lot about gut health and our gut microbiome. But what does it all mean? Does it matter? How do we know if there’s a problem with our gut in the first place? Over the years there are several things that can contribute to an imbalance in our gut. Everything from mood swings and skin issues to digestive problems and allergies can all stem from an unhealthy gut. We want you and your gut to be happy and healthy, so we asked Dr. Dina Pavilonis of Green Circle Wellness to help explain why gut health is so important, what we can do to support it and clarify some misconceptions with regards to our gut.
What we love about Dr. Pavilonis and her practice is that they don’t just treat people’s systems – they get to the root cause (yay for functional medicine!) And when you find out how many things can affect your gut, you won’t be surprised to find out why a gut imbalance is the cause of several common symptoms that are typically ignored in traditional medicine.
Why is gut health so important?
Your gut is like its own eco system and the “gut microbiome” refers to the microorganisms living in your intestines. There’s good bacteria and bad bacteria and of course we want as much of the good bacteria as possible and no bad bacteria. There can also be other bad things that arise in your gut like parasites, candida, fungus, etc. It sounds scary, but thankfully these things are treatable. Of course you’d want to treat any bad guys living in your gut ASAP (surely Dr. Pavilonis can help you with that!)
Dr. Pavilonis tells us that 70% of your immune cells originate in your gut so your gut microbiome plays an especially important role in overall wellness. She says “the bacteria in your gut microbiome educates and trains your immune system, and produce essential vitamins like B12, folate, and vitamin K. Even your mood can be influenced by your gut microbiome. 90% of your neurotransmitters including GABA, Dopamine, and serotonin are produced in the gut.” So basically a healthy gut means a happier you!
What are the most common symptoms that stem from poor gut health?
We mentioned some of them earlier but there are many symptoms we might brush off as nothing that stem from an imbalance in the gut. And if we don’t brush them off, a traditional doctor might. Although symptoms like allergies or acne may not be concerning at first, there are serious long-term effects that can occur when you don’t take care of your gut.
The most common symptoms Dr. Pavilonis sees in patients with poor gut health include: changes in mood mood (anxiety, depression, sleep issues), skin (rosacea, eczema, dermatitis, acne, psoriasis, fungal infections), neurological disorders (from “brain fog” to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines), hormone imbalance (estrogen/progesterone disorders, thyroid, adrenal, diabetes, etc.), autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, osteoporosis/arthritis, liver disease, etc.
Who would’ve thought that the microorganisms in our intestines had such a large impact on pretty much everything in our body? Interesting stuff!
What are some of the things that negatively impact your gut?
There’s a number of things that your gut microbiome does not like. Dr. Pavilonis shares some some examples that include: not eating a wide range of foods, inadequate Prebiotic consumption (we’ll get to Prebiotics later!), excessive alcohol consumption, high stress, lack of sleep and not exercising.
Thankfully here at TSB, we can help with a few of those things – exercising and destressing on the mat to be specific – so we have you covered part of the way. However, with so many factors contributing to gut health, there’s a lot to consider here. And unfortunately it’s rosé season so limiting alcohol consumption might be a little difficult these next few months. As with anything in life, though, it’s all about balance. You have to do what makes you happy but it’s important to take care of yourself, listen to your body and do what makes it feel good.
What foods help support a healthy gut?
Now that we know what not to do, what exactly should we do? At least when it comes to diet, there’s a variety of foods that make your gut happy. Dr. Pavilonis recommends fermented foods like Kimchi, sauerkraut and tempeh as well as prebiotic-rich foods like asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, Jerusalem, artichoke, and microgreens.
Incorporating a probiotic supplement as well as including these gut-enriching foods are just a few of the ways you can get your gut microbiome in a better place. But know that everyone is different. If you’ve lived a life of high stress, lack of sleep and a few more cocktails than you’d like to admit on the daily then it will take longer for you to heal your get then let’s say someone who has always exercised regularly and eaten a variety of organic, non-GMO foods. Simply knowing what’s helping and not helping your gut is the first step to getting it all back in check.
What is leaky gut syndrome and what can we do to prevent / treat it?
If you’ve read anything about gut health, chances are you’ve read about Leaky Gut Syndrome (and if you haven’t, no worries…we have Dr. Pavilonis are to fill you in!)
“The leaky gut story begins in a very important organ: your small intestine. The small intestine is so important because most of the vitamins and minerals in the foods you eat are absorbed there. In order for the vitamins and minerals to be absorbed, the small intestine contains microscopic pores so the nutrients can be transferred into the bloodstream. Once transferred, the nutrients are then shuttled and deposited all around the body by the blood.
The wall of the intestine is considered a semipermeable. This means the pores only allow certain things to enter the bloodstream and block other things from entering the bloodstream. For instance, specific molecules and nutrients are allowed to pass through but toxins and large undigested food particles are blocked.
The problem with leaky gut is it causes the pores in your intestine to widen. When this happens, the undigested food particles and toxins that are supposed to be blocked are allowed make their way into the bloodstream. Because these items are not supposed to be in the blood, they cause the immune system to go into attack mode, which can often lead to allergies.
To help prevent leaky gut it’s important to eat organic, non-gmo, diverse fresh produce, limit sugar, dairy and gluten (the most pro-inflammatory foods), avoid alcohol, take plant based multivitamins, probiotics, avoid medications like antibiotics, NASAIDs, Accutane, etc.”
Leaky Gut Syndrome has become a more common issue due to poor habits and letting the imbalance in the gut micriobiome go on for too long. Yeah, you might not want to hear that you should avoid gluten, sugar and dairy because you love bread, ice cream and cookies (who doesn’t?) Thankfully there are great cookbooks and resources out there where you can still get the satisfaction without messing up your gut health (one of the many reasons we love Bites By Mia!)
How important are prebiotics and probiotics? Should we be taking both?
Dr. Pavilonis tells us that “Probiotics are bacteria that live in your body naturally and help your intestines break down food.” Because of all the stress we’ve put on our bodies over the years, we might not have enough good bacteria occurring naturally to keep our gut healthy. To help with this, you can take probiotic supplements which are the same or similar to the ones your body already makes.
Dr. Pavolinis tells us that “prebiotics are made up of carbohydrates your body can’t digest and they exist as food for the probiotic bacteria.” So in your little gut eco system, the prebiotics feed the probiotics. However, it’s not necessary to take prebiotics in order for probioitics to work. Dr. Pavilonis shares that taking the two together is called micriobiome therapy, and this can be an effective way to restore your gut health.
So if you’re thinking about incorporating probiotics and / or prebiotics into your routine, Dr. Pavilonis says…
“Some research indicates that prebiotics and probiotics are effective for treating diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, allergic disorders, and even the common cold. Prebiotics and probiotics have been suggested as treatments for obesity. They are being explored as a way to prevent the spread of cancer. Promising research has shown probiotics to be an effective treatment for inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Whether you need to take both a pre and a probiotic supplement depends on your diet. Many people benefit from probiotics, and probiotics function the best when they have enough prebiotics along with it. If you aren’t regularly eating the prebiotic food sources, you may also want to consider a prebiotic supplement.”
So next time you’re super stressed, maybe take some CBD or a yoga class…or when you’re figuring out what to buy at the grocery store this week, consider picking up some prebiotic-rich foods or even a probiotic (just make sure to do your research and find one with a high variety of good bacteria). When it comes to our health, we personally like to focus on the good things we can incorporate rather than the things we need to avoid. Sometimes this can feel like we’re depriving ourselves and certainly we don’t want to feel that way. These are just some suggestions that will help you be more mindful of what’s going on in your body.
Shout out to Dr. Pavilonis for all her amazing insights on gut health. We thought we knew it all but she definitely knows more! If you’re interested in learning more about your own gut health, visit Green Circle Wellness (warning: it might change your life!)
Intro images via @greencirclewellness