Gut health is an important part of overall health. Much of our immunity is determined by the health of our gut. Up to 95% of the powerful, feel-good Neurotransmitter, Serotonin is made in our gut. Oriental medicine, Aruyvedic medicine and many other disciplines consider gut health a precursor to overall health.
When I work one-on-one with a client, I always ask about their digestive or gut health. If there are issues here, I start here. If you fail to address this, much of the food, supplements, herbs or other things you are using to restore balance and bring back health are rendered useless because you are not effectively absorbing the things you need to help bring your body back to a state of health.
I see so many women that have a complex set of symptoms that I have termed "Tired Mother Syndrome". They have been diagnosed with a number of things ranging from "Chronic fatigue" to "Fibromyalgia" to "Irritable Bowel Syndrome" and the list goes on.
I have found a common pattern. Most of these women have done 2 things that have wrecked their gut and the delicate balance of bacteria that should exist in the digestive tract.
The first thing is antibiotic use. This is so prevalent that I am hard pressed to find many people who haven't been prescribed an antibiotic in the past year. And while the idea behind antibiotics can seem harmless enough, it's like taking a wrecking ball to your digestive tract. It wipes out all bacteria, good and bad. Having the right balance of bacteria in your gut is critical to overall health. It is rare that people spend time re-populating their gut after they go through a course of antibiotics. As a result, many women are running around with an imbalance in their gut flora. Bloating, cramping, IBS-type symptoms are common with this. The fix is to address this imbalance by eating a healthy diet based on whole foods, very limited grain consumption (no wheat) and plenty of fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, plain yogurt and the use of a good probiotic supplement.
The second gut-buster for women is the use of oral contraceptives or birth control pills. This works much like antibiotic use by disrupting the healthy balance of gut bacteria. Specifically, the use of the pill seems to favor the growth of Candida or yeast, which can make use crave sugar and be more inclined to experience yeast infections. I have also noticed the connection to depression and/or anxiety that seems to occur after some time on the birth control pill. If serotonin and dopamine (two chemicals very important for mood) production are negatively influenced by gut bacteria imbalances, it makes sense that the use of these gut-destroying medications and depression/anxiety are intimately linked.
So, what can you do if you are experiencing these issues and have used antibiotics and/or hormonal birth control in the past. For starters, try to reserve the use of antibiotics for situations that absolutely require it. Many people assume that if they take an antibiotic at the first sign of something like a sinus infection, they will be better off. This is not necessarily the truth. Seeking proper medical treatment is important, but not every situation requires an antibiotic. You can also re-consider the use of oral contraceptives. This is a tough conversation because they are easy to use and effective at preventing pregnancy. Many women, however, are unaware of the negative consequences they can have on gut and mood health. It may be worth considering other alternatives.
If you feel like you have compromised gut health, begin by nourishing your health with healthy whole foods like vegetables and fruits in moderation. Aim for 3-4 servings of veggies per day and 1-2 servings of fruit for a total of 5-7+ servings each day. Eat clean sources of protein that include pastured chicken and eggs, grass fed beef, wild-caught salmon. Stay away from most grains, including wheat. Small amounts of wild rice, quinoa and oats are ok if you feel like you need these things. Try to get fermented foods like sauerkraut, plain full-fat greek yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha in your diet. A good probiotic supplement helps in most cases as well.
There are a few situations where the digestion has been compromised in such a way that eating high-fiber, fermented foods and taking probiotics actually makes the situation worse. If that seems to be the case, I recommend seeking the help of a functional medicine doctor or nutritionist qualified to help with this. I have helped many women navigate this and would be happy to speak with you if you are having this issue. You can visit www.DrJeni.com to schedule a quick visit to see if I can help you.