Gut health. You’ve more than likely heard or read this term a number of times when it comes to our overall health and well-being. But what is it and why is it so important?
To put it simply, gut health is the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. These microorganisms are a collection of bacteria, fungi and other microbes known as our microbiome. The gut microbiome plays a very important role in your health by helping to control the digestion of food, immune system, the central nervous system and other aspects of your health including your brain.
When our gut microbiome is unbalanced (more bad bacteria than good), it can affect both our physical and emotional health. Common signs of an unhealthy gut include constant fatigue, upset stomach, unintentional weight changes, anxiousness, trouble sleeping and skin irritation. As for what causes an unhealthy gut, poor diet consisting of mainly processed foods and sugars is one of the main factors, but stress, travel, alcohol and food intolerances can also contribute to gut issues.
In our first Soul Sessions expert interview, we spoke to Jen Walsh, RD to learn more about gut health and what we can do to improve our microbiome.
Q: How can CBD help your gut health?
A: “Research shows that CBD may have the potential to improve health on so many levels. The endocannabinoid system, or the system in the body that responds to CBD, is a huge part of the mind-brain connection. Research shows that there is a relationship between CBD and the gut microbiome, which is a complex network of bacteria that affect everything from immunity to metabolism to mood. CBD has been known to help with gut health by: relieving nausea, which can allow for more variety of foods and nutrients, decreasing inflammation of the digestive track and reducing stress which improves gut function via the gut-brain axis. Supporting the endocannabinoid system with CBD and a healthy diet may also improve the state of your microbiome which may in turn improve the many body processes that involve the microbiome. Gut health is just the tip of the iceberg!”
Q: What has been your personal experience with CBD and gut health?
A: “I've been using CBD on myself and my clients to improve mental health and lower stress, which usually results in improved digestion, less bloat, and even weight loss. Even as a dietician nutritionist, For years I dealt with bloating after meals and could not figure out why I was dealing with these issues when I was eating all the "right things". After starting to use CBD daily to manage my stress, I noticed that my digestive issues improved considerably. Not only was my digestion better, but my stress surrounding the issues subsided as well.”
Q: What are the top factors that affect your microbiome?
A: “Your microbiome is affected by where you live, your family genetics, how you were born, if you were breastfed as a child, what cleaning products, medications or antibiotics you use, and of course your diet.”
Q: How else can we improve our gut health naturally?
- Stimulate your Vagus nerve
“The gut and the brain are intricately connected by a complex nerve system called the Vagus nerve. Research shows that CBD interacts with this complex nerve system in several ways. This system is called our "second brain" and we used to think that the communication from this nerve was a one-way street and that the brain only sent messages to the gut via this nerve. New research shows that this nerve sends signals both ways, meaning that the brain sends messages to the gut and the gut sends messages back to the brain. So having a happy, healthy gut is CRUCIAL because if your gut is upset, it will send unhappy signals to your brain which may manifest as increased anxiousness, depression, fatigue, or other mental health issues. Your vagus nerve is involved in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our "rest and digest" system. We often live in a state of constant stress which activates our sympathetic nervous system -- our "fight or flight" system. Being in a constant state of stress, whether it's from financial issues, fighting with your partner, stressing about school or work or even doing constant high intensity exercises puts us in this "fight or flight" mode and our body can eventually lose part of its ability to tap into this "rest and digest" state. Anxiousness, depression & high blood pressure are just some signs that you could be in a constant state of stress and you need a little help stimulating your vagus nerve to get it working better again. One of the best ways to stimulate your vagus nerve is by deep, belly breathing, also known as "diaphragmatic breathing". We often use deep, belly breaths during meditation, yoga, pilates or with breath work. If you're dealing with mental health or gut issues and doing HIIT workouts or crossfit 5-6 times a week, I'd suggest cutting your high intensity exercises down to 3-4 times a week and incorporating more pilates, yoga, walking or any other low intensity workouts and increasing the time you spend intentionally engaging your lower belly to fully engage your diaphragm."
- Improve eating habits
“Being in a constant state of stress affects our eating habits as well. We eat in the car, on the run, in front of the TV, or forget to eat all day so that when we finally do eat, we are practically inhaling our food. All of these habits take away from mindful eating practices or truly being present with yourself and your meal. If we don't chew our food well, and I mean REALLY well, to the point of where its texture is basically the same as peanut butter, by the time it gets to our stomach and intestines for digestion, our body has to work harder to break it down properly. This causes issues like bloating, gas, stomach pain, and more! It seems so simple, but really focusing on eating slowly and chewing your food can make a HUGE difference for your gut health overall. For most people, a healthy microbiome thrives on a diet high in plants. That's because plants contain fiber, and from what we understand about the better types of bacteria in the gut, they like to feed on fiber. I'm not saying you need to be vegan or vegetarian, but a diet that is high in plant-based foods that are minimally processed usually results in the best and most balanced microbiome.”
- Hydration is key!
“Your body needs water to properly break down food and digest it. If you are dehydrated, then your body literally doesn't have what it needs to do its job! For most people, the easiest way to determine how much water you should be drinking is taking half your body weight in pounds and drinking that in ounces. So if you weigh 150 lbs, then you'd want to drink around 75 oz of water a day.”
- Be aware of food sensitivities
“Food sensitivities can also affect your gut health. In my experience, most of us have a sensitivity to SOMETHING. If you suspect you have food sensitivities then working with a dietitian experienced specifically in food sensitivities will help you figure out what foods you should eliminate and which ones you should be including. I find that sometimes we want to use a one-size-fits all approach to diet, but that just isn't the case. Everyone is unique, so their food triggers and sensitivities will also be unique. Understanding that your gut health will be affected by something different compared to your friends or family is the first step.”
- Include probiotic supplements & fermented foods into your routine
“Probiotics and fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt or sauerkraut, can help to support the balance of your microbiome by directly introducing good bacteria into your gut."