What if I told you there was one common denominator associated with more than 70 different chronic diseases?
It’s true! Research shows, whether it’s digestion, metabolism, immune system, or mood-related—health originates deep inside the gut. This means what you feed your gut plays a huge role in disease prevention! Let me explain.
Did you know there are trillions of microorganisms living inside of your digestive system? This vast variety of bacteria, known as the “gut microbiome,” plays many different roles in keeping the body in good health. Let’s just take a minute to praise God; for we are without a doubt “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)!
Maintaining the proper balance of gut bacteria influences our:
- Immune system
- Absorption of nutrients, and synthesis of certain vitamins and amino acids
- Bowel function and digestive health
- Inflammation management
- Weight management
Accumulating research suggests that the gut microbiota may be a mediator between what we eat and the function of our entire metabolic system. Furthermore, about 70% of our immune system is found inside our gut. It makes sense then that gut dysbiosis—the disturbance of healthy microbial communities—has been associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and many other metabolic disorders.
What Disturbs the Gut Microbiome?
- Low fiber diet
- Stress and anxiety
- Poor diet (ultra-processed foods, lack of diet diversity, artificial sweeteners, contaminated water or food)
- Antibiotic use
- Medications that alter stomach acid or affect the colon
- Illness that causes diarrhea
To put it simply, diet and stress management are two major controllable factors that can correct gut dysbiosis. Let’s look at these two factors in more detail.
Photo by PhotoMIX Company
Diet & Gut Health
A variety of plant foods is the top priority! Why? Because fiber feeds the good gut bacteria. A whole food, plant-based diet is naturally high in fiber and prebiotics, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
A byproduct of microbial fermentation of fiber are short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). The SCFAs, like butyrate, are the primary energy source for normal, healthy colon cells, which guard against colon cancer and inflammation. This byproduct of fiber is also the healing material for the gut lining.
Where’s the Fiber?
- Fresh fruit
- Unprocessed whole grains
- Nuts & seeds
Add fiber in slowly—a little at a time—and try to spread it out evenly across the day to help avoid gas and bloating. Try to build up to 25-30 grams per day from natural food sources. Remember to also increase your water intake as you increase fiber.
Those with IBS or IBD may need to work with a dietitian to find their personal fiber tolerance and dietary limitations.
Eat a variety of different plant foods each week in order to get the most health benefits. God gave us a wide variety of fruits, veggies, and grains with various growing seasons for a reason. How many different plant foods can you include each week?
Try adding fermented foods into your diet as well. Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kim chi, tempeh, and cottage cheese with live active cultures are all probiotic-rich foods.
Limit foods that deplete gut microbe diversity: alcohol, ultra-processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and processed meats.
Stress & Gut Health
The gut has hundreds of millions of neurons, which are in constant communication with the brain—no wonder you feel “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re anxious! Stress and anxiety can affect the brain-gut connection immediately, as we see in people with irritable bowel syndrome, causing gas, bloating, stomach pain, or diarrhea.
Long-term stress can negatively alter the gut microbiome as well. Then it goes full circle and gut dysbiosis can further influence mood, emotions, and even the ability to think clearly! The gut-brain axis is further demonstrated as research shows an association between gut dysbiosis and neuropsychiatric disorders as well.
How to Handle Stress?
- Prayer—Philippians 4:6-8 tells us that prayer leads to peace
- Memorize and recite Scripture – remind yourself that God is in control
- Exercise daily—research shows even as little as 10 minutes of exercise can help counter anxiety
- Sleep adequately each night
- Practice good work-life balance
- Allow time for rest and recreation
- Deep breathing exercises
- Maintain a good support system
- Talk to a Christian health coach, counselor, or pastor
While there are certainly some areas of health and disease outside your control, there are many things you can do to be a good steward of your personal health. Let’s thank God that he created our bodies with the ability to heal and restore and grow through good nutrition and proper self-care.
Harvard School of Public Health; https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
Plant-Based Diets and the Gut Microbiota; Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD; Today's Dietitian
Vol. 20, No. 7, P. 36; https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0718p36.shtml
American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MD MSCI, ACLM conference lecture 11/2022
National Institutes of Health, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/05/keeping-your-gut-check