Flu season is nigh, COVID-19 is still sticking around, and lines for vaccines are starting to pile up at every flu inoculation site. First off, this is not a post about whether or not you should get a flu shot, mask-wearing, hand sanitizing, or any other craziness that is so divisive these days! Who knew being extra sanitary would divide a country...
This post is about poop! Bet you didn't think that poop was essential to your immune system.
Your gut is your sometimes noisy guardian angel. It breaks down anything we throw at it, despite chewing gum urban legends. The nutrients from our food are broken down in the digestive process and shipped off to support our bodily functions. These include energy production, skin and mental health, hormone balancing, and toxin and waste elimination.
The fact of the matter is, your gut constitutes about 70% of your overall immune system. So, during a global pandemic, you may want to make sure that your digestion is staying in tip-top running order!
Don't let your gut become a desert!
Antibiotics have saved an untold amount of lives, but as the name implies they are not very nice to biotics. That is to say, any bugs that may be living in our system... good or bad. That's right; we have a ton of good bacteria that live in our gut. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium make sure that any bad bugs that make their way in don't make their way through. Plus, they help break down food and extract nutrients. They are also known as probiotics.
However, to help grow your probiotic colonies (or reestablish them), you'll need to take down some prebiotics! These are foods with dietary fiber that feed the good bacteria, and help reinoculate your microbiome. These include onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, and any and all legumes!
So, you may not want to wait for your prebiotics to feed your flagging probiotics. No problem! Fermented food to the rescue! Naturally-fermented foods are packed full of the probiotics that already reside in our gut, and eating them often will help you keep your digestive tract running at full tilt.
Kimchi (Kimchi Fried Rice is AMAZING!)
Natural Ferment Pickles (Bubbies are my fave!)
Depressed? Might want to grab some better food!
Seriously! When our digestion is upset, we tend to underproduce neurotransmitters such as serotonin (small intestine produces 95% of it!). Low levels of serotonin are linked to anxiety increase, depression, and other mental health issues.
Now, I'm not saying your mental health can all be solved by changing your diet. However, if you're normally steady of mind and mood, your diet may be to blame for your bad mood. Your bad mood releases other hormones that dampen your immune system, and your dampened immune system lets in the bad guys!
Are you running like a German train schedule?
That is to say, what time of day do you poo? I'm a 5:30 am, 7 days a week, sort of guy. However, whether it's 7 days a week, or 3 days a week, a healthy gut moves at its own individual pace. As long as you're not feeling bloated, constipated, or uncomfortable, then chances are you're moving things just fine. Your gut pattern is your own!
Now, fair warning, if you're moving to a vegan diet, get ready to spend a lot more time on the porcelain throne! I was not prepared, and sitting on the toilet many times a day can cause hemorrhoids. Ye be warned! Personally, I thought I was dying, but my gut has since leveled out. Again, I digress!
Constipation is the real danger when it comes to poop. If you're not pooping, then you might be holding on to the food you ate days or weeks ago! That sort of thing hanging around in your body means that it's further rotting inside your body and has the potential to cause some serious health problems if not taken care of. .
Processed foods can shoot the gaps.
Processed foods have a tendency to cause some form of inflammation in every GI tract. That is the very place that food is absorbed! The problem comes in when your gut can't tell that what you've eaten is actually real food. So, it treats things such as high-fructose corn syrup like an attacker.
Thus, we produce an inflammatory response as if our body were fighting off infection. Imagine, that junk you crave is fought off like an infection! If this inflammation persists over a series of years, then a more severe condition called leaky gut can occur. This is where particles that were supped to be digested go directly to the bloodstream. So, if you've been having some plumbing issues, it may be time to switch over to a whole-food-based snack regimen! These include things like whole fruits, veggies, nuts, and green tea.
Cortisol is used by the body to handle stress responses when lifting, running, or going through any particular stress. However, the problem comes when our cortisol levels stay too high—scrolling when we should be sleeping, playing our failures over in our heads, borrowing tomorrow's troubles, overtraining, and binge eating our feelings. All of these things keep cortisol in our system, which overwhelms our gut biome.
If you find yourself stressed, why not try the following: Mindfulness exercises, destressing activities, and listening to positive messages if you can't hang out with positive people. All of these things can go towards lowering your overall cortisol levels and helping your gut maintain balance.
In the end, your digestion is the beginning of immunity! Our first line of defence is the easiest one to bolster, and that's pretty great, so if you want to have a better chance of dodging some illnesses that are easily avoidable if you treat your gut right!
This week in Food Myth Friday, we'll take a look at Vitamin C and if it can really keep us from getting colds!