Gut health is all the rage these days. Over the course of the last decade, our understanding of how important the gut is to our overall health has grown by leaps and bounds. Whether you are talking about “leaky gut”, the microbiome, or just looking for ways to punch up your digestion, there are many resources you can use to help improve your gut health.
However, most people begin in the wrong place. People almost instantly jump to what supplements they can use to elicit a specific response. While supplements do have their place, they’re meant to be a supplement, not function as the primary way of addressing gut health. Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can do in your everyday life to build an iron gut. Let’s look at 4 simple tips to improve your gut health.
1) Walk Before your Meals
Physical activity and the acquisition of food are intimately linked in all animals, save for modern humans. In our modern society, we simply don’t need to be very physically active to eat. While this is good for avoiding wear and tear on our bodies, it’s not great if physical activity provides a stimulatory response for digestion.
While this hasn’t been well-studied, there is data on the subject. A study done in 1979 looked at bile output in to the duodenum in fasted subjects during physical activity. Bile is critical to the digestion and absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins and plays a major role in regulating the health of the gut.
In the study, participants did the equivalent of walking at 3.2mph as bile output was measured in the duodenum. Within 30 minutes, there was a 10 fold increase in the amount of bile sent from the liver in to the small intestine. Additionally, there was a small increase in bile storage in the gallbladder. This increase of bile release in to the duodenum aids in digestion, helps seal the gut up, and prevents the growth of unhealthy bacteria.
2) Take your Coffee with Meals
If you’re a coffee drinker like me, you aren’t about to give up your morning cup of Joe. But for some, it can really mess with digestion. Fortunately, a recent review on the effects of coffee on the digestive system point to an optimal time to consume your coffee.
The primary findings of the review found that coffee:
- Stimulates the gallbladder to release bile
- Delays gastric emptying
- Increases motility in the rectum and sigmoid colon.
All this data points to drinking coffee with your meals as the ideal time to avoid bad effects, and in some cases, promote better digestion. There is a caveat, however. For some people, drinking coffee stimulates the rectosigmoid portion of the colon within 4 minutes of consumption. For those people, waiting until mid- to late meal is probably better than at the beginning.
3) Have a Set Feeding/Fasting Cycle
You may not be aware of it, but every important biological process in your body is regulated by the circadian clock. The circadian clock refers to a set of genes that regulates the function of every organ system in the body. The purpose of the clock is to sense environmental factors and adjust your physiology to better adapt to the environment.
Most people are familiar with the way light exposure to the eye helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle, but other inputs are important as well. Chief among these other inputs is the feeding/fasting cycle, which seemingly controls all clocks other than the master clock. The feeding/fasting cycle sets a pattern where cells in the gut are used during the portion of the day when you are feeding and repaired during the portion of the day you are fasting. For more details on this, read this blog.
Most people don’t really have a feeding/fasting cycle as much as a feeding/sleeping cycle. This sets people up for a situation where they spend a much larger portion of the day feeding than they do fasting. This negatively impacts the repair process. Therefore, it’s important to spend at least the same amount of time during the day fasting as you do eating. So, if you eat your first meal at 7am, you want to finish eating by 7pm.
4) Eat Larger, Less Frequent meals
You’ve probably been told by your trainer or doctor that you should eat every 2-3 hours. For gut health, this is not a good idea. First, the stomach is more acidic the longer you fast. Second, during the period you are fasting, you begin synthesizing and storing digestive enzymes that you will use to digest your food. Both these factors indicate digestion is probably better after a longer break between meals.
Another important factor that people are unaware of is that more frequent meals appears to increase the entry of bacteria from the gut in to your circulatory system. A recent study found that 5 meals per day increased the amount of endotoxin that enters the bloodstream more than 2 meals. Endotoxin is a component of the cell wall of gram negative bacteria and a driver of inflammation. The higher endotoxin levels were driven by increased intestinal permeability, aka “leaky gut”.
There are many modifiable lifestyle factors that regulate gut health, and it’s important to take advantage of them. Implement these 4 simple steps and you’ll see your gut health improve dramatically.