Be Good to Your Gut
Kaiser Permanente’s Jason Guardino, DO, MS, offers advice for keeping your stomach and digestive system happy and healthy.
by Dolores Radding
When it comes to keeping your body healthy, there is perhaps no less glamorous of a topic than the gut. Most people don’t think much about their gut unless they’re experiencing stomach pain or digestive distress. But when Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento gastroenterologist Jason Guardino, DO, spoke with Look InsideKP NCAL, he said, “Gut health is more important than you think.”
Why should we know about our gut?
Your gut is your gastrointestinal tract, or the long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your anus, and it affects your overall health in several important ways. You have thousands of species of bacteria in your gut that help regulate digestion and the absorption of vitamins and minerals. The bacteria also help you fight off illnesses and help with hormone regulation. And you might be surprised to learn that serotonin, which helps with mood stabilization, is largely produced in your gut.
How does our gut’s nervous system affect our health?
The enteric nervous system, or ENS, is sometimes called the ‘second brain.’ It encompasses the lining of your entire gut. The ENS regulates digestion, and it’s also in regular communication with your brain. When you feel butterflies in your stomach before you make a presentation, that’s your ENS kicking in.
If you want to keep your ENS happy, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly. Exercise also helps combat constipation.
Also, find a way to reduce stress. Two of the most common stomach-related issues we see are irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion or dyspepsia , and both are worsened by stress. Try cardiovascular exercise, strength-training, yoga, or meditation. For some people, getting an extra hour of sleep can help.
What kind of diet is best?
It’s best to eat a range of fresh, whole foods, mainly from plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, legumes such as beans and nuts, and whole grains. We know excessive intake of red meat is a risk factor for colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer related death in the United States and has little or no symptoms. You’ll never hear of someone being at risk for cancer from eating too much broccoli.
It’s also important to avoid processed foods. Try to cook fresh foods every day, and try to stay away from anything that comes from a bag, box, or can.
What about fermented foods, gluten-free diets, and digestive cleanses?
I recommend eating fermented foods in moderation. For example, there’s a lot of good bacteria in yogurt, but you don’t need to eat that several times a day or week.
There’s no need to eat a gluten-free diet unless you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, and that diagnosis is uncommon. Plus, eating gluten-free can be expensive and cumbersome.
If you’re eating a healthy diet, you don’t need to cleanse your digestive system with fad pills. You should also be cautious of taking supplements because they’re not regulated, so you can’t be certain of their potency, safety, and purity.
Any other tips for keeping our guts happy?
If you have problems with bloating or gas, cut out the carbonated beverages. Another possible culprit is lactose or dairy intolerance. As we get older, usually around 40, we lose our ability to process lactose. Consider switching to almond, coconut, or soy milk. Constipation can also cause bloating and gas, so make sure you’re drinking enough water.
I know it’s cliché, but you really are what you eat. Your body is regenerating cells constantly, and tomorrow’s cells will be produced by the nutrients you are eating today. Finally, you can eat well, but still overeat, so watch your portion size. It’s also important to listen and be in tune with your body.