What I learned about gut health in 2019 and how it changed my body and my life
I’ll start by saying this – like most of you, when I started this journey learning about gut health, I knew a few things about our gut but not much. I knew that…
- our gut bacteria, or microbiome, was important for proper and pain free digestion;
- some individuals suffer greatly with digestive issues and can do very little about it (or so I thought);
- taking antibiotics could wipe out, in part or completely, this microbiome; and
- I should take probiotics (but I wasn’t sure exactly why).
Once I started learning more about gut health I found there was so much more to it than even these few simple bits of knowledge. I was completely blown away by what I learned and ‘things’ started to make sense to me. For the first time in a long time I felt empowered and hopeful by the information I was receiving.
Why did knowledge about gut health make me hopeful?
In order to understand the ‘why’, let me tell you a bit about myself. I am the youngest sister to seven siblings and am presently in my late fifties. I teach fitness, dance, and mat Pilates with gusto and thoroughly enjoy doing personal training as well. I also work as a dental hygienist 3 days a week.
My family history includes: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, dementia and Alzheimer’s. I am a cancer survivor, have had two back surgeries, and one knee replacement due to past accidents. I’ve been dealing off and on with arthritic pain in my other knee and both wrists. I have always considered myself a strong woman and despite being active, I’ve struggled with weight issues throughout my life. Last spring I reached new ‘heights’ weight wise as pounds had slowly accumulated over the last few years. “Well” I thought, “that’s just me I guess. Maybe that’s what happens at my age”. I couldn’t move or do more than I already was and I ate quite well 80-90% of the time. Despite this, I never put myself down, I just moved forward. I saw my doctor for a complete physical a few years ago, then a naturopath to look over my hormones. All was well. Hmmmm…
So, I forged on while living with inflammation, arthritic pain, extra abdominal fat and the secret looming fear of possible cognitive decline in my future and no idea what to do about it.
Then came knowledge, hope, and stepping out of fear and into empowerment at the dental conference I attend every March. This time I chose to check out some courses on general health such as: Inflammation 911 – gut health as a root cause; Your microbiome and your brain; and Restricted eating hours for longevity and disease prevention. Wow!!!
The information presented was based on numerous legitimate studies from various sources and hundreds, if not thousands, of years of observing humanity. I am so excited about this information that I want to share some of what I learned with you.
So let’s get into this.
- There are over 200,000 neurotransmitters in our gut. That’s more than in our brain. Serotonin is one of those neurotransmitters. Serotonin is a ‘feel good’ natural chemical responsible for many bodily functions.
- There is 400 times more Serotonin in our gut than in our pineal gland in our brain.
- The gut is now referred to by scientists as our “1st brain” – this ENS (enteric nervous system) is ‘the boss’ and relays information (inflammation, bacteria, etc) to our CNS (central nervous system) via the bloodstream and not the other way around.
- Our gut bacteria is, to a large degree, responsible for our mood and personality.
- Doctors and medical researchers are starting to conduct biopsies on the intestinal wall lining rather than on riskier brain tissue. Since both eventually share the same bacteria (via the bloodstream), they can now begin to predict, in hopes of preventing, diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s before physical symptoms appear.
- With every study, our gut is revealing that it is at the source of so many issues and diseases, as well as wellbeing, and disease prevention. Furthermore, according to experts our genes are only 5-10% responsible for possible disease onsets!
That was music to my ears given what I thought were genetic predispositions and it drove me to learn more about why we would want to create and have the best gut ecosystem possible.
So what makes for happy gut bacteria? What helps keep their environment ideal?
- Moving and being active – so aim for some form of exercise daily. (I was already doing that.)
- Fermented foods such as miso soup, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, pickled foods, sauerkraut, etc. (I now eat more of these foods on a daily basis.)
- Good oils such as olive oil (extra virgin, first cold press) or MCT oil from coconuts. (I now take at least 1-2 tbsp of each of these oils daily.)
- Fiber and nuts (excluding peanuts). (I now include walnuts or pistachios in my daily intake.)
- Variety in your diet! Change things up from week to week. If you buy your produce from the same store, go to another store and try something new. Add a new food each week to keep it fun.
- Prebiotic foods such as root vegetables, brussel sprouts, belgian endives, red cabbage, etc. also support our microbiome.
- Adding probiotics in times of heightened stress to our gut such as when traveling or after taking antibiotics.
- NOW HERE’S what these bacteria REALLY LOVE: To be LEFT ALONE for a MINIMUM of 12 hours per day! (this was the biggest change for me!)
On this last point, I started restricting my eating hours in early April 2019, with the intention of giving my intelligent gut bacteria the opportunity to do their job uninterrupted. This meant getting out of their way. In my case, since my chosen foods were already pretty healthy most of the time, I did not change WHAT I ate, I simply made sure that I paid attention to WHEN I ate.
With time I increased my fasting hours to 16-18 hours leaving myself a window of 6-8 hours to eat. This was a game changer! I saw what I call the “perma-swell” leave my knee in about 3 weeks; little subcutaneous bumps under my skin were gone; no more heartburn; and my body started releasing 1-2 lbs of fat per week. I had proof that something really positive was going on inside of me.
As a few months passed, I added 1 day per week of 22-24 fasting hours to bring on autophagy…out of love for my brain! Autophagy is the process where once your gut bugs are done with their daily spring cleaning of your gut, they go through your glymphatic system to do spring cleaning for your brain. Removing inflammation and amyloids (which are the root cause of cognitive decline). I was in. Sure I had hunger pangs but I was doing this for my brain. Soooo worth it!
A few examples of what your gut bacteria hate?
- Being sedentary.
- Being too clean. Not good for your holobiome (skin ecosystem) or your microbiome.
- Too much sugar or processed foods.
- Aspartame and sucralose.
- Eating too close to bedtime. It is recommended that we leave at least 2 hours, ideally 4, between eating and going to sleep.
Once I opened that door of gut knowledge and the biology of it all, I became an avid reader on the subject. Please check out some of my reading suggestions below if you would like to learn more about gut health and fasting. I am thrilled to share that who and what I am now, is the better version of who I was. I have released 50 lbs from my frame by honouring what my gut bugs have been longing for. I just didn’t know how important they were.
I feel better and look younger than I did 5 or more years ago, and this I know is truly coming from the inside out.
Here’s to a happier and healthier gut in 2020
The books and experts that helped me along the way:
- Dr Steven Gundry’s book: “The Longevity Paradox: How to die young at a ripe old age.”
- Dr Jason Fung’s books: “The Diabetes Code: Prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes naturally”, “The Obesity Code: Unlocking the secrets of weight loss”, “Intermittent Fasting” and his YouTube lectures
- Dr Valter Longo’s book: “The Longevity Diet”