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Published on December 31, 2019

healthy fruits and veggies in shape of stomach

How “Going With Your Gut” Can Help Overall Health

Gut feelings are more than just premonitions or hunches.

Americans know more about their microbiomes – that universe of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses and more that live between our esophagus and rectum – than ever before. It’s a critical system that impacts almost every part of our lives – not just the stomach. So how do we make it work better?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach – but some good places to start, according to Dawn Flickema, MD, Kandace Brands and Becky Hanzen, Certified Health Coaches, all from Avera Medical Group Integrative Medicine Clinic.

“Everyone assumes that poor gut health can lead to an upset tummy, and all that goes with it, but it can also lead to unintentional weight gain, skin irritation, poor sleep and chronic fatigue and other conditions,” Flickema said. “While autoimmune conditions trigger many gut-health related symptoms, food intolerances and diets high in sugar also can contribute to poor gut health. Poor gut health can lead to a wide array of conditions.”

That’s why choosing oh-so wisely when eating can really help.

“The adage is true: food can be the best medicine or a slow-acting poison. It’s up to you,” Brands said. “There are many conditions that you can almost completely avoid if you take the steps to re-balance your gut health. It works.”

Foods for Thought

Inside each of us is a network of living things, some good, some bad, all interacting based on one factor: what you chew and swallow to supply this world its fuel.

“Fermented foods and drinks are sometimes a great help, and they can lessen signs like diarrhea, gas and bloating or irregularity in bowel movements,” Hanzen said. “Introducing these microorganisms to our bodies can help restore healthy bacteria and remove or destroy the bad stuff that can try to make its home in our gut.”

Cabbage-based foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi can help re-balance the gut and its inhabitants. So too can some yogurt products, including kefir, a yogurt-like liquid, and miso paste made from soybeans, barley or rice. Sauerkraut, as a fermented food, is easily digestible and can be a big source of nutrients for the microorganisms we need.

“Spices are another powerhouse for gut health,” said Brands. “From ginger to turmeric, many herbs and spices, even in small quantities, will boost things for the better in your tummy.”

How Spices – and Bone Broth – Can Help

There’s a gold mine in a simple foodstuff: bone broth.

“The key minerals that help our gut health to be its best are almost all found in bone broth,” said Flickema. “These trace amounts of zinc, calcium and other minerals make big differences in our health. The nice thing about bone broth is it’s easy to make at home.”

The key ingredient, as you might have guessed, is bones. Simmering them in water with vinegar and vegetables can create a batch. Brands said it can also help seal and heal the lining of the organs in the gut.

“Pickled ginger is another lesser-known foodstuff that can really add good things to our gut,” she said. “It’s a natural digestive aid and a powerful antioxidant. It’s another helpful food that we can make at home.”

Ginger is both a seasoning and a food, but other spices such as cinnamon, cumin and coriander, along with turmeric, all help those tiny galaxies of bacteria thrive.

“Many spices had a place in traditional medicine for centuries,” Hanzen said. “They stimulate digestion and encourage the production of enzymes and gastric juices. They can also help calm an upset stomach.”

When people realize the reality of gut health, try some approaches to make it better and consider eliminating things that might make it worse, they can have success and with it – better feelings, overall, not just in their digestive system.

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