If you ask an herbalist, they will be sure to tell you that what you put into your body matters, and that digestion is the root of great health. Research suggests that there are over 100 trillion living bacteria organisms, making up a whole ecosystem within our body called the microbiome. We are in some sense more microbiome than we are human, which is to say, we have a greater number of microbes living inside us than we have human genes. Only recently have researchers turned their attention to the intricate microbial relationships at play in our bodies and how our microbiomes affect our moods, skin, and overall health.
A healthy gut has always been one of traditional medicine’s top priorities and is the foundation for great digestion, glowing skin, and a strong, healthy immune system.
Today, having digestive upset or an unbalanced gut is considered almost normal, and is often overlooked. A lack of education within our food system and lack of access to nutritional advice leads to years of diets containing processed foods and loads of sugar; there is also the over-prescription of antibiotics (which kill harmful bacteria, but also the good) to contend with. These recurring situations leave us with all sorts of imbalances in our bodies and show up in ways other than just digestive upset.
Science is also beginning to study the unique relationship that our gut has with neurotransmitters—the chemical messages in the brain like GABA, serotonin, or dopamine—that can influence anxiety and depression.
Feeding and supporting the gut and its bacteria is age-old knowledge that now has the backing of science, and should be at the forefront of our […]
Founder Jovial King in her garden (photo from DIY Bitters)
We have all heard that our moods (and even our thoughts) don’t live in our heads. For example, we’ve known for a while that serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood, is found in abundance in the GI tract. Its role there includes managing mucus production and acid production, as well as – possibly – helping to regulate mood. Serotonin-producing cells in the GI tract, furthermore, seem to need the right signals from our gut flora (the beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines) to function properly, which lends additional credence to the notion that our moods are intimately connected to our internal ecologies.
But what of our external ecologies? Is there any evidence that being outside might positively impact our moods? We are, in fact, exploring this connection more and more: from “forest-bathing”, which consistently seems to reduce stress and anxiety, to Dr. Andrea Taylor’s work on relieving symptoms of attention deficit by walking in nature
All health begins in the gut. If you want to optimize your health, loving up your gut is the first step. Here are five ways to improve gut health:
1. Eat (or drink) bitter.
Did you know that we have over 25 different types of receptors that detect bitter? And they line not just our mouth, but our entire digestive tracts, including liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. What do bitters do that’s so important? The bigger question is, what don’t they do? Bitters boost gut health by stimulating stomach acid (boosting digestion of proteins), improving gastric motility (helping with gas, bloating, and constipation), and enhancing the release of bile that break down food and enhance absorption of fats and important nutrients like vitamins A and D. Bitters have a balancing effect on appetite, blood sugar, and insulin release (Black coffee with dessert, anyone?) The bitter receptors, which also line the sinuses and lungs, stimulate gut and respiratory immune systems to protect us. In other words, consuming bitter plants in food and drink are among the best things you can do for your gut– and whole body– health. Some people love consuming bitters– whether coffee, beer, dark chocolate, leafy greens, dandelion root tea, or many more. Others prefer to take a daily herbal tonic before each meal. For kids, a little goes a long way. Bitter is better!
2. Ferment your foods.
These days, most people have heard of the beneficial microbes that live in our guts. Many have even taken the occasional probiotic—“bacteria in a capsule”—to repopulate these organisms during or after antibiotics. The biodiversity of gut organisms demands more than one or two strains in probiotics. Eating fermented foods offers greater microbial biodiversity […]