Your health and your gut health are closely tied. The trillions of bacteria that line your GI tract contribute to your immune system, you brain’s function, and risk factors for heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. With its critical role, how can you make sure to take care of your gut?
Unsurprisingly, what you eat plays a pivotal role in the health of your gut microbiome. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and probiotics gives your microbiome what it needs to thrive.
You must also be careful of foods and practices that will leave you susceptible to inflammation and gut infections.
Here are 4 items to avoid in order to protect and heal your gut.
Alcohol in excess will overset your gut’s balance and health. Even a single episode of overindulging (having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08g/dL or more) can cause leaky gut and a significant increase of bacterial toxins in your bloodstream.(1) When your gut is leaky, inflammatory food particles and yeast can also permeate your gut lining, leaving you open to immune flare-ups and Candida overgrowth.
Alcohol is essentially liquid sugar. Sugar in all its forms feeds the bad bacteria and Candida in your gut. You may want to stick with a clear liquor, lower in sugar, such as vodka, mixed with soda water and a squeeze of citrus for flavor. Keep to just one drink a day for women and two for men. This is the amount of alcohol that your body can safely detox without any serious consequences.
Sugar can be detrimental to your health in multiple ways, including changing the way your gut functions. Like alcohol, sugar is an inflammatory food that can cause leaky gut and put you on the path to autoimmune disease.(2,3) Consuming sugary foods and beverages leads to increased production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) (which cause oxidative stress), and spikes levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP). Inflammation causes almost every chronic disease, including Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Sugar has the power to shift the bacterial communities in your gut, influencing how much and what types of bacteria live in your GI tract. This can affect your weight and cause a whole host of issues related to an imbalance of microflora.(4) Sugar also directly fuels Candida overgrowth, which leads to its own host of related health issues.
Gluten and Dairy
Gluten and dairy are two of the most inflammatory foods I recommend everyone avoid for optimal gut health.
Studies have linked gluten to a wide range of chronic health issues including eczema and other skin rashes,(5) Alzheimer’s and dementia,(6) irritable bowel syndrome,(7) and, of course, autoimmune disease.(8)
Refined grain products are especially dangerous. Found in most baked treats and white breads, refined flour can spike your blood sugar, disrupt your delicate gut balance, and create a breeding ground for Candida to flourish.
Many people have sensitivities to dairy, as well. That’s because around 70 percent of the population stops producing lactase–the enzyme needed to digest lactose–once they have finished breastfeeding.(9)
Even if you aren’t lactose intolerant, you might still be sensitive to casein and whey, two dairy proteins. You may be damaging your gut lining without even being aware of it. These two dairy proteins may be difficult for you to digest, creating inflammation in your body and triggering your immune system in the same way as gluten. In fact, it’s a common scenario for both sensitivities to turn up at once: 50 percent of patients in one study were found to react to both casein and gluten.(10)
Stress and Sleep Deprivation
Life is busy and hectic, causing stress and difficulty sleeping for many. Increased levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol due to excess stress and a lack of sleep triggers your immune system to produce inflammation in response to acute or chronic stress, which means stress isn’t just a feeling–it’s an inflammatory state.(12,13)
Don’t turn to alcohol to find relieve stress, though. Drinking alcohol can actually compound that stress, activating your HPA axis and increasing levels of cortisol.(11)
Stress also deeply affects your gut health because of the way your brain and your gut interact.(14) Studies show that your gut bacteria change when you are stressed out. Stress can also increase gut permeability and decrease motility in your GI tract, making digestion less effective.(15) This, along with the way chronic stress impairs your immune system, creates the perfect environment for Candida to flourish.
It’s important to arm yourself with stress-relieving strategies for when you’re feeling overwhelmed. In the moment, deep breathing exercises can be very centering and help ease your sympathetic nervous system (which controls your fight or flight response), while simultaneously activating the “relaxation response” of your parasympathetic nervous system.(16)
Scheduling in some “me-time” can be extremely valuable. It’s essential to block off time each day when you can focus on YOU: do some yoga, get a massage, or just enjoy some time “vegging out” to unwind from the hectic.