Feed the Gut, for Goodness Sake!

Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

Imagine an old abandoned lot, perhaps in Cleveland — maybe the once cared for lawn of a couple who had to depart when the housing bubble burst. Or maybe it’s in a deserted planned community outside of Fort Lauderdale, with an overgrown path to the beach. Now imagine the vegetation there. Has it remained a consistent green turf all of these lean years? Or are there bare patches of clay or sand? Are there vines? Or patches of clover taking over the grass? Has the ground become chiseled with grooves where the rain has eroded the smooth surface, leaving edges of stone poking through?

What would it take to bring this patch of earth back to its former glory? Could you throw a bit of grass seed down and expect to return in a month to find a green, lush lawn? Probably not. Most of it would wash away with the next rain. The dandelions and vines would have to be removed and the soil would need to be enriched with nutrients. New grass sprouts would need to be protected and watered. It will take time and attention.

This is likely the situation inside our gut, the energy and nutrition pipeline that is our digestive system. When we were born, it had a smooth surface, coated with a protective mucous layer which slowly began accumulating microbes from the environment — from mother’s breast milk and from the skin of family members, even from household pets. Babies pick up the first microbes from their mom’s vagina’s as they travel through, and babies born through Cesarean section are known to have far fewer than those delivered vaginally. The yeast, bacteria and fungus travel along with the food and find a little real estate along the way to inhabit. It is a hostile world, though, as there are regular tsunamis of fluid that come rushing past, washing them along. Antibiotics meant to kill ear or sinus infections, travel through the gut on the way to the aching destination and kill whole communities in their wake. Microbes that thrive on sugar will inhabit the gut of a host who eats lots of sweets or processed carbs, and microbes that enjoy leafy greens will die out if the host doesn’t feed them enough.

Not all microbial communities are healthy. Some make the host fat, and others make him thin. Some produce ulcers and others produce vitamins. Some produce anxiety-causing molecules; others produce feelings of peace and love. Often the microbes travel up the vagus nerve to go play in the host’s brain. Some tease the immune system of the host, causing him to produce an inflammatory response. The lining of the gut may eventually develop ridges or ulcers which are readily irritated and inflamed. Partly digested food can pile up, ferment and hang around producing gas, and causing partial blockages where only liquid can pass by and only unpredictably. A diet rich in fiber can keep things physically moving along.

Once you picture it this way, it isn’t too hard to understand why our gut needs a little love if we want it to work for our mutual benefit.

Can you just suck down a probiotic once in a while and expect to have a healthy system? Probably not any more than tossing that grass seed on the vacant lot. There is no evidence that probiotics alone help at all. But perhaps in combination with a healthy diet and good timing, they are most likely helpful

Why do we need fiber? To keep that system from blocking up so much that only diarrhea gets through. A regular flow is a peaceful one. Grass grows better if it is mowed on a regular schedule. Fiber evens the flow and slows it down to a calmer pace.

Why eat leafy greens daily? Yes, every day! Because we need to feed the microbes that make us happy and that’s what they eat. Plus they have fiber too. And vitamins.

Sugar? Processed carbs? The microbes that love sugar as much as we do are gingivitis (abundant in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s) and H.pylori and other hostile microbes that inflame the gut and ignite an unhealthy immune response. Plus they hang around and ferment and produce gas, without bringing along nutritional benefits or fiber, either one!

As you become aware of what the gut needs, and how much better you feel when it is doing well, you may well awaken to your body’s needs in a way that restores your well-being from deep within.

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High school teacher, Kitchen Chemist, Mother, Explorer, Intellectual novelty seeker, Feminist

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Stacy Brasfield

Stacy Brasfield

High school teacher, Kitchen Chemist, Mother, Explorer, Intellectual novelty seeker, Feminist

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