When it comes to managing your health and your weight, it’s no secret that exercise and sleep are huge factors.
You know that exercise will help you burn off some extra calories and boost your metabolism. But you also know that sleep is essential for your overall health and well-being.
Better to skimp on sleep and get up early to workout?
Or better to sleep in and skip the gym for another day?
Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. We need exercise to sleep better but we also need sleep to exercise. And when it comes to weight management, we need both.
So let’s take a closer look at how exercise and sleep affect each other and which one takes the lead when it comes to managing your weight.
The Exercise & Sleep Connection
If you’re looking to get a better night’s sleep, it’s time to lace up those running shoes.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation found a 65% improvement in sleep quality for participants who performed 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. [https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/study-physical-activity-impacts-overall-quality-sleep]
That means that something as simple as a brisk walk for 30 minutes, 5 times a week can help you feel more rested and refreshed.
Want Muscle? Get More Sleep
!If you want to see big results from your workouts, you’ve gotta catch some zzz's!
Sleep is crucial when it comes to exercise recovery...and recovery is where the post-workout magic happens!
As we rest, our body is busy repairing the microscopic muscle tears from our last weight training session. As these muscles repair, they come back bigger and stronger; increasing your strength and boosting your metabolism.
If you’re not seeing the results you’d like from your gym sessions, the answer may be an earlier bedtime. Make sure that you’re getting adequate sleep to help your body repair and recover.
Does lack of sleep affect gym performance?
If you’re still thinking of hitting that 6am PiYo class after a late night out, you may want to reconsider.
An ACSM study showed that sleep deprived participants had a slower response time and fatigued much quicker than when they were well rested. [https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2013/12000/Does_Central_Fatigue_Explain_Reduced_Cycling_after.5.aspx]
The study participants also reported a higher RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) and were more likely to quit their workout early.
The conclusion? This doesn’t mean that you should skip activity altogether on those groggy days. Instead consider a lower intensity activity such as walking or yoga and leave the high intensity training for days when you’re well rested.
To sleep or to train? Which one will help you button your jeans?
When it comes to weight management, both exercise and sleep are important. But if you had to focus on one thing only, it turns out sleep trumps exercise.
One study compared weight loss efforts of sleep deprived adults versus those who were fully rested. The sleep deprived group rested for only 5.5 hours while the fully rested group got a full 8.5 hrs of shut-eye. [http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/746253/insufficient-sleep-diet-obesity]
The results? Those with limited sleep lost less body fat and more lean muscle mass.
So does this mean you should just forget about exercise?
In a word...NO.
Exercise still has tremendous health benefits so you don’t want to quit altogether. You may need to temporarily reduce the intensity of your workouts if you’re not getting adequate rest.
Once your sleep game is strong, you can resume those higher intensity workouts and have energy to spare.
Having trouble winding down at night?
Add some sleep hormones to your diet!
In fact, did you know that it has been suggested that foods that contain naturally occurring Melatonin (dubbed the “sleep hormone”) may be a better alternative than over-the-counter supplements? [https://sleepjunkies.com/tips/can-cherries-enhance-sleep-quality/]
This Sleepy Time Cherry Smoothie Recipe is made with tart cherry juice - an ingredient that contains Melatonin, and has been proven to help you sleep better. Plus, it just happens to taste pretty great too!
Detox diets…body cleanses…colon cleanses…bowel cleanses…
You’ve probably heard all of these terms used in reference to “ridding your system of unhealthy toxins” -- but what do these terms actually mean?
Do you really need to be on a ‘detox diet’ or ‘cleansing’ your body?
Are programs and products marketed as detoxes and cleanses even safe to do?
To start us off, all of these terms get a LOT of hype in the media, and people tend to use various terms interchangeably, which makes it especially confusing for consumers.
So what IS the difference between a Detox Diet and a Cleanse? Generally, both detoxes and cleanses are methods that people use to clear or flush toxins out of their body.
But, there are some important differences...
Detox Diet: Requires you to be on a very restrictive diet that only allows you to consume a small selection of food. Food that some consider to be “detox foods”, and usually for a specified amount of time, often several days to even several weeks.
Some detox diets actually involve fasting for a period of time. As a result, your body might not get the necessary nutrients it needs to function properly, and your energy level could be negatively impacted - sometimes dramatically, and can even be accompanied by “detox flu” symptoms.
Cleanse: Typically involves consuming some sort of herbal or supplement product (pills, powders, tinctures) intended to flush out your digestive tract - namely the large colon or bowel.
What you must understand is that these products could cause undesirable side effects, and may contain chemicals that might not be healthy or safe, thus defeating the purpose of performing a “body or bowel cleanse” in the first place.
Some cleanses also involve being on a restrictive diet for at least a short period of time - usually the number of days that the cleanse supplements have been recommended for.
Why do people feel they need to ‘cleanse’ their body anyway? Besides getting rid of an overaccumulation of toxins in their system (known or suspected), there are other reasons why people may wish to try detox diets and cleanses, including the following:
Our body does have its own built-in detox system that works on its own every day. One of the main functions of the liver is to remove toxins from our blood.
Tips to help you naturally support your body’s own detoxification processes
Here are things you can be doing day-to-day and year-round:
Speaking of reducing the toxin load on your body….”mocktails” or beverages that imitate cocktails but don’t contain any alcohol, have become a huge trend, especially for those seeking healthier, more natural beverages - without adding additional toxins to our system.
This Strawberry Orange Mocktail recipe is as refreshing as it is healthy, and can easily be made in just a few minutes. Impress your friends with it the next time you entertain!
Interested in a Hormone Resetting Program that is natural, safe and effective that not only detoxes your body, but your mind as well?
I’m looking for women interested in resetting their hormones, their minds, and their bodies to test out a new 10 day wellness program that includes a "mindset reset", hormone-balancing meals and simple, gentle movements designed to refresh and rejuvenate your wellness habits to be the best "POST-QUARANTINE" version of you!
We can live each day trying to avoid getting sick,or we can live each day doing our best to be healthyRead Now
I hope your Wednesday is going well. I have a bit of departure this week from my usual Wellness Wednesday Blog post. (Oh don't worry, there IS a post I will bring your attention to, it is just an older one for your consideration today, rather than some thing new). 😉
Let's talk about mindset for a minute and how it impacts your wellness.
I know right now, people's mindset is all over the place--and so is their overall wellness.
The last few months have been rough on everyone, physically and mentally. Even for wellness professionals like myself. Everything is just so weird.
Even with all of that, we can take back control--and we need to start--areas are starting to re-open, people are beginning to navigate what our world, our new lives, are going to be like.
And we have a choice:
We can live each day trying to avoid getting sick
or we can live each day doing our best to be healthy
I am going to repeat that:
We can live each day trying to avoid getting sick
or we can live each day doing our best to be healthy
I prefer the latter, myself....
It is part of the mindset that I have had for at least the last 10 years.
"Live each doing our best to be healthy". Healthy--not perfect, just healthy~healthier
One of the greatest joys I have had these last few months was creating and then delivering a 28 day "in home" wellness program. I created it for you--for every one of the people on my email list, that follows me on Social Media, that is in my Free Private Facebook Group, that I have had the honor to walk into the doors of my Wellness Studio. I created that for YOU! Not for me. FOR YOU!
Maybe you chose to participate, and may be you didn't. Maybe it just didn't feel "right" at the time.
And that is ok, I still created it for YOU.
Because it brought me such joy at time that many were feeling down and lost and so deafeningly sad, coupled with the fact that the people who really took the program to heart, had so much fun and got amazing results at a time when so many were sitting on their couches binging on junk food and even junkier TV,
I HAD to do it again.
I had to re-create this program.....
And I hope that this time the LIVINGROOM LOCKDOWN feels right to you. That your mindset is one of HEALTH and not ILLNESS
The Early Bird discount of over 75% off ends tonight, Wednesday, May 13 and doors close tomorrow, Thursday, May 14 at 8 pm EST Click here for all of the details- or message me using the button at the bottom of the page with any questions
Space is limited to 10 and I do have a few spots open-
And if you need more Mindset "stuff", you can check out this blog from the Wellness Wednesday archives
The immune system is your body’s protector against germs and viruses that can make you sick.
Immune system action involves lots of complicated pathways, but in general, it works through the production of antibodies. Antibodies are produced to “fight” and rid the body of foreign invaders.
But what happens when the immune system isn’t in tiptop shape?
For starters, you may be prone to more frequent illness, like the common cold or seasonal flu. But a chronically compromised immune system – when it’s too active or not active enough – can result in a whole host of health disorders called AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES.
A healthy immune system can recognize the difference between the body and foreign invaders.
But in the case of Autoimmune Diseases, the immune system starts mistaking normal, healthy cells as foreign and attacks parts of one’s own body.
Over 80 conditions have been recognized as Autoimmune Diseases.
Commonly recognized Autoimmune Diseases:
· Type 1 Diabetes
· Multiple Sclerosis
· Rheumatoid Arthritis
· Irritable Bowel Syndrome, including Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
· Celiac Disease
· Hashimoto's Disease
· Thyroid Disease
Each one has its own unique symptoms, depending on the body parts that the immune system attacks.
Most Autoimmune Disease begin with the same early warning sign symptoms, such as:
Autoimmune Diseases can be difficult to diagnose, since these early symptoms are generalized. The severity of symptoms also varies and flare-ups and remissions are common (and commonly frustrating!) in people with an Autoimmune Disease.
Healthcare Professionals don’t know exactly what causes most Autoimmune Diseases either. Some have a genetic predisposition, meaning having a family history may increase your risk of getting that disease.
Research has identified several other few factors believed to contribute to the development of Autoimmune Diseases.
Contributing factors to Autoimmune Diseases include:→ Western Diet - A diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, saturated and trans fats is believed to promote inflammation, damage the lining of the small intestine, and weaken immune system function.
In contrast, a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from plant foods has the opposite effect on the body.
→ Compromised Gut Health (i.e. Leaky Gut Syndrome) - Diet, alcohol use, stress, and antibiotics all affect the microbiome - the bacteria that lives in your gut.
→ Exposure to Toxins - includes environmental pollutants, heavy metals, chemicals in personal care products, and residue on foods (pesticides and chemical fertilizers – eww!)
→ Bacterial/Viral Infections
→ Hormones - Women seem to develop more Autoimmune Diseases compared to men, especially during their reproductive years. This may be due to hormonal imbalances and/or an excess of estrogen, known as Estrogen Dominance.
Treatments for Autoimmune Diseases are not curative, but focus is on minimizing uncomfortable symptoms and decreasing the frequency of severe flare-ups.
A combination of treatments may help Autoimmune Diseases:Medication - targeted at managing pain, reducing inflammation, and suppressing immune system activity.
Alternative therapies - acupuncture, chiropractic, and natural remedies may be used to manage symptoms.
Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) – A diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, and meat to reduce inflammation. It’s thought to be similar to the Paleo Diet, but more strict.
Autoimmune Diseases, 2014: Autoimmunity and the Gut
Healthline: Autoimmune Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Causes and More
Office On Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Autoimmune Diseases
Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we're not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We're talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It's here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We're just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of "the gut-brain axis"). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, let's talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can "leak." Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can "leak." When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.
FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
How to improve gut health
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
Recipe (Probiotic-rich): Fermented Carrots
1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don't float (you can use a "fermenting weight").
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.
I know! Meditation is the secret sauce to take your wellness up to the status of the elite gurus. It’s the “be all, end all” for the health of your entire mind-body-spirit. It’s the absolute must-do that is the only path to beating the infamous health-buster called “stress.”
Don't get me wrong; practicing meditation is an excellent approach to optimizing your health and overall well-being. Meditation is great for relieving and dealing with stress, and all of the issues that come along with it. But it's not the only way to get there.
The whole purpose of meditating is to calm the mind and emotions and relax our physical body too. And there is always more than one way to get there.
Let’s talk about some of the other things to try if meditation is not exactly your thing.
Spending some time every day writing out your thoughts can help to relieve stress. You can use journaling to list the things you're grateful for, this is known as gratitude journaling. You can use it as a "brain dump" to get all of your thoughts and ideas out of your head to soothe your mind. You can use "ever since" journaling to describe your life after you reach your goals.
It’s one thing to read to learn something that you have to learn, or to advance your knowledge. And, you can also read for pure pleasure. To get caught up in a story and just relax.
Adult coloring books are all the rage! Not *that* kind of adult, but coloring pages with lots of detail and tiny areas to color in. Something that can take you hours. You can always opt for something simple, like kids coloring pages too. The idea is the same. Repeated movements and focusing on the art you’re creating can help to clear your mind.
Knitting or crocheting (or other crafts)
Knitting, crocheting or other yarn activities are a great way to de-stress; this is a skill that comes in all levels from beginner to advanced. You can choose a quick little rectangular scarf to make, or a detailed sweater. You can choose the pattern, size, and yarn. Once you get into the flow of these skills, they're great to do when you're feeling stressed. Not only can they relax your mind to focus on your work, but you can end up warming yourself or others with the products you create.
Gently moving your body is another great way to de-stress. Activities that are slower and less intensive are ideal. Things like walking, yoga, stretching, or tai chi can all be great ways to relax your mind and improve your strength and balance at the same time.
Sleep in or take a nap
A common cause of increased stress hormones is lack of sleep. Too little sleep and too much stress go hand-in-hand. So, getting enough good quality sleep is important to help you break free from stress without having to meditate.
Maybe you love getting massages or mani/pedi's? Maybe you love a long bath or lighting candles? Perhaps you can add your favorite relaxing music to the mix for a pampering evening? Spending some time to pamper yourself regularly is great for your mind, body, and spirit.
Spend time in nature
You don’t have to head away for vacation to relax in nature. While a calm beautiful beach or cabin in the woods may be amazing, you don’t have to go that far. Even spending time on the grass at your local park or playground, or walking on a wooded trail in your neighborhood can do the trick.
Make time for people and pets you love
It's so important to spend time with family, friends, and pets whom you love. New research is coming out about the health issues related to loneliness. Reach out and plan to hang out with your besties, or even offer to take your neighbor’s dog for a walk in the park.
Stress reduction is the goal. How you do it, be it meditation or otherwise, is not that important. What’s important is that you find what works for you.
Try journaling, reading, coloring, knitting/crocheting, gentle exercise, sleep, pampering yourself, spending time in nature, and making time for people and pets you love.
Have other great ideas? Let me know what helps you de-stress in the comments below.
Despite the growing trend of healthier and safer food products being introduced into the marketplace, you might be surprised to learn that the consumption of artificial food colors, has been increasing over the years, especially among packaged products marketed to children.
Food colors and dyes have been around since the mid-1800’s and were originally created from coal tar – today, they are typically made from petroleum. (yum!)
Many food manufacturers choose to use artificial dyes vs. natural ones because they create more radiant hues, whereas natural food colors tend to create more of a pastel look.
Artificial food colors are used by food manufacturers in a variety of products, including candy, maraschino cherries, cereal, baked goods, sports drinks, pickles (yes, pickles!), smoked salmon (think pink), and even medications.
The safety of artificial food colors has been very controversial among consumers for some time now, despite several regulatory agencies stating that artificial food colors do not pose significant health risks and are therefore safe to use.
One reason behind the controversy, which has resulted in conflicting opinions regarding their safety, is that some countries have deemed artificial food colors to be safe while some countries have banned them from human consumption.
There have been claims that artificial food colors cause serious side effects in some people, including cancer, allergies, and hyperactivity in children. [1, 2, 3, 4]
The following colors are approved by the FDA for use in food:
Keep in mind that there is no nutritional benefit to using artificial food coloring - not even if it makes it “look” healthier because it looks more fruity!
Should you avoid food coloring and food dyes?On the whole, food dyes are likely not dangerous for most people, but some are more sensitive to them than others - and some children should be especially mindful of their consumption.
Taking steps to avoid processed foods that contain dyes is a good idea for most everyone, and can improve your overall health.
If you are concerned about the safety and health implications of using artificial food coloring, you can easily make your own natural food dyes using fruits and vegetables, right in your own kitchen!
Healthline: Food Dyes - Harmless or Harmful?
* Other relevant studies linked in [1, 2, 3, 4]
Your physical appearance can tell you a lot about your internal health.
Most natural health practitioners include a physical examination since the condition of your hair, skin, and nails can be indicators of underlying health issues, like nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and the health of your digestive system.
The growth and maintenance of healthy hair, skin, and nails is dependent on your intake, and absorption of a variety of nutrients, including plenty of vitamins and minerals.
You should regularly check out the appearance and condition of your hair, skin, and nails for clues as to what foods, and therefore what nutrients your diet may be lacking.
Physical signs that you may be lacking something in your diet
FINGERNAILS & TOENAILS
Healthy nails are clear, smooth, and flexible. Like hair, healthy nails should be in a continuous cycle of re-growth.
The following color or texture changes in your nails are common signs of nutrient deficiencies:
WHITE SPOTS – If you notice white spots on your nails, you may not be getting enough zinc in your diet.
Good sources of zinc include:
HORIZONTAL RIDGES along your nails may indicate either a zinc or iron deficiency.
Good sources of iron include:
To enhance your body’s absorption of iron, pair iron-rich foods with a good source of vitamin C, like citrus fruits, strawberries, or bell peppers.
Did you know that the health of your skin is closely tied to the health of your gut and liver function?
These two rather essential organs (your skin & liver) are processing and detoxifying everything – including foods, drinks, supplements, and medicines - pretty much everything you take in from the outside world.
Inflammatory skin conditions, like acne, eczema, and skin rashes are common symptoms of leaky gut syndrome – when the walls of the small intestine become thin and too permeable or “leaky”.
Did you see last week's "Wellness Wednesday" Blog Post on Leaky Gut? You can check that out here if you missed it.
Breakouts and rashes can also be symptoms of a sluggish liver. Your liver’s primary responsibility is detoxification. So a poor diet, medication, and excessive alcohol intake can result in a slow, congested liver that is less efficient at doing its job.
Inflammatory skin conditions can also result from food intolerance and/or allergies. Many people have intolerances to gluten and dairy products. Additionally, excessive intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates can also disrupt normal gut function that often results in skin irritations.
Dry or flaky skin can signal a lack of healthy Omega-3 fats in the diet. (psst, be sure to try out our easy trail mix recipe that can boost skin health!)
Avoiding foods you are intolerant to, adding in more Omega-3-rich foods, and supplementing with probiotics, plus a high quality fish oil may benefit your skin.
Need a great skincare regimen that is affordable and gentle on the environment? Check out my new fav, Willig Beauty, by clicking here!
Healthy hair is soft, elastic, and should also be in a continuous cycle of re-growth. Hair should NOT easily break or fall out.
While no one wants to deal with premature hair loss, that’s exactly what can happen if your diet is lacking certain nutrients and/or you have an undetected health issue.
If you are noticing you’re shedding a few hairs each day though -- RELAX! That’s totally normal as hair follicles move through their growth cycle.
However, excessive shedding that results in noticeable hair thinning and/or changes in hair texture, like dryness or brittleness, can result from:
→ Thyroid hormone imbalance, resulting in hypo or hyperthyroidism
→ Not enough protein – the main building block of new hair growth
→ Not enough omega-3’s – healthy fats help keep hair and scalp conditioned with the production of natural oils
→ Lacking vitamins & minerals
A DIY Trail Mix is an easy way to combine essential nutrients that help promote healthy hair, skin, and nails. Raw nuts and seeds are good sources of Omega-3 fats, as well as key minerals like zinc.
Natural sweet-makers like dark chocolate and raisins are good sources of iron and punch up the flavor & fun of your mix too. Be creative, incorporate more whole and snackable foods into your diet and get to mixing - for your hair, skin & nails’ sake!
Healthline: 9 Tricks for Healthier, Fuller-Looking Hair
CanPrev Blog: What Do My Fingernails Have To Do With My Health?
Study: Frontiers in Microbiology, 2018 - The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis
"Leaky gut" is a popular topic in the health and wellness spheres these days. It's been blamed for many symptoms and conditions that seem to be all-too-common. Allergies, intolerances, joint pain, even autoimmune diseases can all be linked back to leaky gut.
But what exactly is leaky gut? What causes it? What kinds of issues are related to it? And most of all, what can you eat for leaky gut?
What is a leaky gut?
Simply put, your “gut” (a.k.a. “intestinal tract”) is a tube that makes up part of your digestive system. It’s not as simple as a hose or pipe; it’s an amazing tube made of live cells tightly bound together. Your gut helps your body absorb fluids and nutrients, digests your food, and houses billions of friendly gut microbes.
It's also selective to what it allows past its barrier. Your intestinal tract purposefully keeps some things from being absorbed, so they pass right on through to the other end to be eliminated as waste. You don't want to absorb many harmful microbes or toxins into your body, right?
FUN FACT: About 70-80% of our immune system is housed around our gut, so it’s ready for foreign invaders.
Absorption of fluids and nutrients happens when they're allowed through this cellular tube into the circulation. And this is great! As long as what's being absorbed are fluids and nutrients. The blood and lymph then carry the nutrients to your liver, and then around to the rest of your body; this is so that all your cells, all the way to your toenails, get the nutrition they need to be healthy and grow.
How does a gut become “leaky?”
The gut can become leaky if the cells get damaged, or if the bonds that hold the cells together get damaged. Leaky gut can be caused or worsened by a number of diet and lifestyle factors. Dietary factors like too much sugar or alcohol or even eating things that you're intolerant to can all contribute to leaky gut.
Lifestyle factors like stress, lack of sleep, infections, and some medications can also be culprits in this area. Sometimes, if the balance of gut microbes inside the gut is thrown off, this can also contribute to a leaky gut.
Any contributing factors that alter the balance in your gut may cause our gut to become "permeable" or leak. At this point incompletely digested nutrients, microbes (infectious or friendly), toxins, or waste products can more easily get into our bodies.
Scientifically speaking, a “leaky gut” is known as “intestinal permeability.” This means that our intestines are permeable and allow things through that they normally would keep out. They “leak.”
As you can imagine, this is not a good thing.
What are the symptoms of a leaky gut?
Because so much of your immune system is around your gut, the immune cells quickly recognize a “foreign invader” and start their response. This is normal and good if the gut is working properly and not allowing too many things to “leak” in.
But when that happens too much, and the immune system starts responding, the notorious inflammation starts. Once the immune system starts responding it can look like allergies, food intolerances, and even autoimmune diseases.
Because the first place affected is the gut, there are a number of symptoms right there. Things such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea. Not to mention that if foods, even healthy foods, aren't properly digested, their nutrients aren't properly absorbed. Poor absorption can lead to lack of essential vitamins and minerals for the optimal health of every cell in your body.
Some of the symptoms can also occur on the skin. Acne, dry skin, itchiness, rashes, eczema, and hives can all be symptoms related to leaky gut. Even rosacea and psoriasis can be linked here due to their autoimmune component.
It’s possible that even some neurological symptoms are linked with leaky gut. For example, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, inability to sleep, and general moodiness can also be related.
Finally, a number of chronic inflammatory diseases are thought to be linked with a leaky gut. Things like Crohn's, colitis, celiac disease, IBS, and MS. Even things like heart disease and stroke are possibilities.
What to eat for leaky gut
The general recommendation is to stop eating inflammatory foods and eat more gut-soothing foods.
Incorporating a gut-soothing diet means cutting out grains, legumes, and dairy. Add to that list, food additives, alcohol, and refined sugars.
In their place, add in more green leafy and cruciferous veggies. These are full of nutrients and contain fiber to help feed your friendly gut microbes. You also want to add more sources of vitamin D which can come from fish and egg yolks, and also from the sun. Eat more probiotic foods like sauerkraut, dairy-free yogurt, and kombucha (fermented tea). Make sure you're getting enough essential omega-3 fats found in seafood and seaweed. Finally, make sure you're getting some coconut oil and bone broth. Coconut oil has special fats called MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), and bone broth has essential amino acids.
Leaky gut, or "intestinal permeability" can happen when your gut gets damaged due to too much sugar and alcohol, or eating foods you're intolerant to. It can also be from stress, lack of sleep, or imbalance in your friendly gut microbes. The symptoms of leaky gut are vast - spanning from digestive woes to skin conditions, even to autoimmune conditions.
It's important to cut out problem foods and drinks and add in more gut-soothing things like green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and probiotic foods. It's also important to ensure you're getting enough omega-3 fats, vitamin D, and amino acids.
Constipation is the opposite of diarrhea - it's when stool tends to stick around longer than necessary. Often it's drier, lumpier, and harder than normal, and may be difficult to pass.
Constipation often comes along with abdominal pain and bloating. And can be common in people with certain gut issues, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
About 14-24% of adults experience constipation. Constipation becomes chronic when it happens at least three times per week for three months.
Constipation can be caused by diet or stress, and even changes to our daily routine. Sometimes the culprit is a medical condition or medications. And sometimes there can be a structural problem with the gut. Many times the cause is unknown.
Whether you know why or not, there are some things you can do if you get constipated.
1 - Eat more fiber
You've probably heard to eat more prunes (and figs and dates) if you get constipated.
Why is that?
It comes down to fiber.
Dietary fiber is a type of plant-based carbohydrate that we can’t digest and absorb. Unlike cows, humans don’t have the digestive enzymes to break it down. And that’s a good thing!
Even though we can’t digest it ourselves, fiber is very important for our gut health for two reasons.
First, fiber helps to push things through our system (and out the other end).
Second, fiber is an important food for feeding the friendly microbes in our gut.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to make a gel-like consistency. It can soften and bulk up the stool; this is the kind of fiber that you want to focus on for helping with constipation. Soluble fiber is found in legumes (beans, peas, lentils), fruit (apples, bananas, berries, citrus, pears, etc.), vegetables (broccoli, carrots, spinach, etc.), and grains like oats.
Psyllium is a soluble non-fermenting fiber from corn husks. It’s been shown to help soften stools and produce a laxative effect.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, holds onto water and can help to push things through the gut and get things moving. It's the kind found in the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, celery, zucchini, as well as the skins of apples, pears, and potatoes.
It’s recommended that adults consume between 20-35 grams of fiber per day.
If you are going to increase your fiber intake, make sure to do it gradually. Radically changing your diet can make things worse!
And, it’s also very important to combine increased fiber intake with my next point to drink more fluids.
NOTE: There is conflicting evidence on how fiber affects constipation. In some cases, less insoluble fiber may be better, especially if you have certain digestive issues. So, make sure you’re monitoring how your diet affects your gut health and act accordingly. And don’t be afraid to see your healthcare provider when necessary.
2 - Drink more fluids
Since constipated stools are hard and dry, drinking more fluids can help keep everything hydrated and moist. This is especially true when trying to maintain a healthy gut every day, rather than when trying to deal with the problem of constipation after it has started.
And it doesn't only have to be water - watery foods like soups, and some fruits and vegetables can also contribute to your fluid intake.
Always ensure you're well hydrated, and drinking according to thirst; this is recommended for gut health as well as overall health.
3 - Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial microbes that come in fermented foods and supplements. They have a number of effects on gut health and constipation. They affect gut transit time (how fast food goes through us), increase the number of bowel movements per week, and help to soften stools to make them easier to pass.
Probiotic foods (and drinks) include fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut and kimchi), miso, kefir, and kombucha.
More research is needed when it comes to recommending a specific probiotic supplement or strain. If you’re going to take supplements, make sure to read the label to ensure that it’s safe for you. And take it as directed.
4 - Lifestyle
Some studies show a gut benefit from regular exercise.
Ideally, aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.
In terms of stress, when we’re stressed, it often affects our digestive system. The connection between our gut and our brain is so strong, researchers have coined the term “gut-brain axis.”
By better managing stress, we can help to reduce emotional and physical issues (like gut issues) that may result from stress. Try things like meditation, deep breathing, and exercise.
And last but not least - make sure to go when you need to go! Don’t hold it in because that can make things worse.
Optimal digestion is so important for overall health. Constipation is a common problem.
Increasing our fiber and water intake and boosting our friendly gut microbes are key things we can do to help things move along.
And don't forget how lifestyle habits can affect our physical health! Exercise, stress management, and going to the bathroom regularly can also help us maintain great gut health.
Have you found that fiber, water, or probiotics affect your gut health? What about exercise, stress, and regular bathroom trips? I'd love to know in the comments below!
Try out this delicious recipe for Steel Cut Oats with Pears!