Everything You Need to Know about Gut Health

The ins and outs of your most important system.

gut health 101

We’ll we the first to admit it: we’re suckers for any new, buzzy supplement or product that makes its way onto our desks and promises to transform or repair. New superfoods (read: fermented ): yeah, we’ll try ‘em. But the one thing that’s been humming in the background, in its insignificant, generic health store packaging, is the probiotic. That little tablet filled with millions of bacteria said to cure all things gastro—and beyond. We mean, we’re pretty sure it’s good for us…right? Everyone (uh—our mom) told us so.

How do we even know if our gut is healthy?

But it got us thinking; what does a dose of tiny gut flora do for our body? Hell, what is the gut anyway? (And flora, for that matter.) Naturally, such enigmatic bodily processes left us curious about the whole thing. How do we even know if our gut is healthy? Could our, ahem, unmentionable issues be a result of an unhealthy digestive system? We had a LOT of questions. That’s why we turned to gastroenterologist Dr. Shawn Khodadadian of Manhattan Gastroenterology in NYC, to break down the ins and outs (pun totally intended) of a healthy gut, how it affects the functionality of other organs (including our brains) and the truth about probiotics. Take notes, guys.

What the hell is the gut anyway?

“The ‘gut’ or gastrointestinal tract is a series of long hollow organs running from the mouth to the anus. These include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine. The gastrointestinal tract in combination with the liver, pancreas and gallbladder is called the digestive system.”

On how to know if you have a healthy gut:

“A healthy GI tract has many complex functions, but in simple terms, our gut will digest the food and supply the nutrients to the rest of our organs. A healthy gut also allows waste products of the digestive process to pass through the large intestine and are excreted as solid matter in the stool.”

On that gut flora we always here about:

“Bacteria in the GI tract, also called ‘gut’ flora, help with digestion, as well in a complicated but not completely understood fashion. There is a lot of research in this area now. However, determining the dose and type of probiotics that may be helpful for any particular condition is yet to be fully determined.”

On why digestion affects the entire body:

“Digestion is extremely important as it allows food to be broken down and used for growth, energy and repair. If the gut is not healthy and absorption is poor, this may lead to deficiency of important vitamins, minerals and nutrients, which other organs need to function properly.”

On the signs you have an unhealthy gut:

“Concerning digestive symptoms to watch out for include: Diarrhea or constipation that lasts more than a few days, bloody stools, narrowed stools, abdominal pain, unintended weight loss.”

On what causes bloating:

“Abdominal bloating is a very common complaint. It is the subjective complaint that the abdomen feels full or tight and affects most people at some time. Common causes of bloating include air swallowing, overeating, constipation, small bowel overgrowth, gastritis and food intolerances, as well as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. More serious causes of bloating can include ascites, celiac disease, ovarian cancer and many other causes of abdominal pain.”

7 Ways to De-Bloat

1. Avoid Swallowing Air

“Avoid chewing gum or drinking carbonated drinks, especially those with high levels of fructose or sorbitol. Stop smoking, avoiding drinking through a straw, and eating slowly all help decrease the amount of air swallowed.”

2. Eat Easily Digestible Foods

“Difficult to digest foods can cause gassiness and bloating. Limiting foods such as brussel sprouts, turnips, cabbage, beans and lentils while ensuring to supplement with less gaseous fruits and vegetables.”

3. Limit Your Sweeteners

“Limiting sweeteners can be helpful. Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener, can’t be digested. Fructose, a natural sugar that is added to many processed foods is difficult for many people to digest.”

4. Forgo Dairy

“Dairy products can be a source of intestinal gas for people unable to digest lactose.”

5. Slowly Intro Fiber

“Avoid constipation by increasing fiber slowly into the diet and drink plenty of fluids. Although whole grains are recommended for their many health benefits, they can also sometimes cause gas and bloating. It is recommended to not abruptly increase the amount of fiber you take in daily.”

6. Work It Out

“Regular exercise can also help get the bowel moving.”

7. More Herbs

“Carminatives are herbs that can either prevent the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract or facilitates the expulsion of gas. Many different herbs have been helpful. These include cinnamon, fennel ginger, juniper, and peppermint. If you fight gas or indigestion often, trying to add these fresh herbs to your diet when possible.”

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