As appears in: Montclair Local
Everywhere I go, it seems people are reading or talking about gut health. This buzzword is a hot topic of conversation with both my patients and colleagues—and rightfully so. We are continually learning that this emerging area of research has a dramatic impact on the entire body and can affect how we feel on a daily basis.
It is well known that the brain and gut communicate frequently with each other. In positive ways, they can lead to the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin that impact our mood and help our digestive tract feel well. However, stress and anxiety can also cause digestive problems or exacerbate other medical symptoms. A troubled gut can also send signals to the brain and produce anxiety, stress and depression.
Your gut is filled with bacteria and other microscopic organisms. In fact, there are thought to be 40 trillion of these tiny lifeforms in the digestive tract alone! The more diverse these organisms are, the better and the healthier we tend to feel. Having a variety of good bacteria helps protect the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, metabolize food, and absorb nutrients. But sometimes imbalances occur, and an overabundance of bad bacteria develops. An altered gut, which favors bad bacteria, can create unfavorable connections that can contribute to medical conditions including irritable bowel syndrome and certain infections of the intestine. Evidence is accumulating that the gut bacteria may also impact other health conditions such as: cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. Future research may show how to manipulate the gut bacteria in order to improve these conditions.
There are small changes we can all make to improve our overall health. Here are five tips to keep your gut happy.
- Eat healthy foods. Fill your plate with fruits and veggies that have antioxidants, and fiber. This will keep your bowels moving, reduce inflammation, and make you feel more comfortable.
- Sleep well. When you are better rested, it stimulates a more diverse microbiome and releases neurotransmitters that improve your mood.
- Exercise often. Getting the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week will help your digestion.
- Stop smoking and limit your alcohol intake. Toxins affect the delicate balance in our gut and can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
- Limit antibiotics. Only take antibiotics when you really need them to fight an infection, as they can wipe out both good and bad bacteria. If antibiotics are needed, eat yogurt or take a probiotic to help reduce the damage.
I encourage my patients to not to be shy about their symptoms as most can be relevant. About 75 percent of my patients are women and autoimmune diseases can be more common, so it is important to look out for that. Stress, hormone and diets play a major role in digestive symptoms as well and can range from bloating, abdominal pain, weight changes, constipation, and diarrhea. Oftentimes, the patient may have irritable bowel syndrome and we need to work closely together to try and modify changes over time. If you are experiencing any discomfort, please talk to your doctor. Together, you can come up with a plan to get your gut health back on track.
Screening Saves Lives: Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Another way you can keep your gut healthy is to be screened regularly for colorectal cancer. Even though the disease is the second leading cause of cancer death, it is highly preventable. Colonoscopy remains the gold standard in detecting polyps or growths that can develop into cancer, but it has the added benefit of removal of these growths at the same time before they become a cancer. On average, it takes 10 to 15 years for a polyp to become cancerous; hence the importance of getting screened. Most patients without a family history should begin screening at age 50. Some agencies suggest that African Americans and other persons with higher rates of colon cancer should consider starting screening at a younger age. Speak with your physician about the right age for you to start colon cancer screening. At Summit Health, our Direct Access Colonoscopy program allows healthy, age-appropriate patients to schedule a screening without a pre-procedure visit.