Have you noticed as you’ve gotten old that you can't eat the foods you did just a few years ago? Those favorite dishes you once enjoyed no longer sit well with you?
Your digestive tract (aka your gut) is home to trillions of bacteria, known as gut microbes. These microbes send and receive signals from all over your body. Your gut also acts as a barrier, protecting your blood and tissues from pathogens and (potentially) damaging microorganisms, playing a huge role in your overall health.
A healthy gut has a rich diversity of microbes and has an important role to play in combating conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, as well as tackling inflammation, which is linked to autoimmune diseases, in addition to being responsible for breaking down and delivering essential nutrients that fuel and nourish every part of you.
Sounds pretty important, right? That's why it's important that you maintain a happy, healthy gut!
BUT . . . As you get older, your Gastrointestinal system ages just like your knees, eyesight and other body parts do.
It’s common for external lifestyle factors such as diet, stress, physical activity, environment, sleep, and medications (such as antibiotics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) to affect our cells, but the good news is that these external factors are completely under your control!!
So if your noticing new age-related alignments like:
Leaky Gut (gaps in the lining of their intestines) which can lead to symptoms such as food sensitivities, diarrhea, bloating, brain fog, fatigue, and chronic inflammation
Heartburn (a.k.a. Acid Reflux) Although anyone can get heartburn at any age (and it’s often brought on by food), it tends to be more common and chronic as people get older, because the muscle that helps the esophageal sphincter stay contracted naturally weakens with age
Constipation - unfortunately older adults prevalence of chronic constipation is between 12.5% and 30% due to less naturally produced acid and/or lack of adequate amounts of dietary fiber
Diverticulitis - This inflammatory condition starts out as diverticulosis — when sac-like pouches (called diverticulum) protrude from the colon. By age 60, about one-third of Americans develop these protrusions, often in areas of the colon where the muscle is weak or the colon is narrow.
Ulcers - breaks or sores on the lining of the stomach or upper part of the small intestine are more common in older adults
It's time to make some changes!!
You may be able to improve these conditions by a simple change in diet, promoting a healthier gut!
Hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself - let’s take a step back and first introduce what Gut Health is and why it's important that you're paying attention to it . .
The gut is made up of a whole host of microbes that keep your body and brain functioning as they should. These gut microbes affect the way you store fat, how you balance levels of glucose in your blood, and how you respond to hormones that make you feel hungry or satisfied. Gut bacteria produces neurotransmitters that regulate your mood. The nervous system in your gut (known as the “second brain”) communicates with the brain in your head. Gut health (or the lack of) also plays a role in certain diseases and in mental health.
So as you can see, your gut health plays a huge role in the overall wellness of both your body and your mind.
When it comes to gut health there are positive bacteria (healthy “gut bugs”) that help your body digest and absorb nutrients, synthesize certain vitamins, and fight off toxic-forming carcinogens.
To maintain as many healthy gut bugs in your system, nothing is more important than what you eat and drink. Meaning the foods you choose to eat are a crucial component of maintaining optimal gut health and mental wellbeing .
The good news is, even a lifetime of bad eating is fixable — at least as far as your microbes are concerned. Amazingly, your body can create a new microbiota in as little as 24 hours — just by changing what you eat.
Your best healthy gut plan - a plant based diet!! A 2014 study published in the journal The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found that vegetables, grains, and beans fed into a positive gut environment. Another great way to get that healthy gut - fabulous FIBER!! Did you know that only about 3% of Americans get the recommended 40 grams of fiber they need each day? Fiber is the most crucial ingredient for gut health.
Fiber feeds the good bacteria we’ve been talking about, so it’s important to eat fiber-rich foods as often as possible. Our microbes extract the fiber’s energy, nutrients, and vitamins, including short-chain fatty acids, which can improve immune function, decrease inflammation, and protect against obesity.
Great fiber options to add to your diet include oatmeal, legumes, fruits and veggies, whole grains, and certain beans.
Another component that's super important to your gut health . . . Your hormones! (Come on sis, you should have seen that one coming!)
Not only does perimenopause mess around with our weight, our mood and our brain, it can also cause imbalances in our digestive system and affects gut health.
You may notice an increase of uncomfortable bloating, constipation and acid reflux. As if we don’t have enough going on in your bodies already!!
Many women aren’t not even aware that their hormones and their gut health are connected, but it is so super important to understand what gut health issues you may be experiencing due to your fluctuating hormones.
Your estrogen and progesterone levels affect hormone receptors in your gut, and these, in turn, affect how efficiently your gut works. So, a drop in those hormone levels means a change in your microbiome. At the same time, if your gut is having to cope with inflammation, triggered by factors such as alcohol, certain foods, lack of sleep, or medication, for example, it will affect the way your hormones, including serotonin – the happiness hormone – work.
If you’re struggling with perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, low mood, or lack of energy, they could be due to a less than healthy gut microbiome. During this particular season in life, an unhealthy estrobolome (the microbes that help process estrogen) can contribute to higher levels of estrogen and more problems with estrogen dominance. The more your symptoms fluctuate, the more you should be paying attention to your gut health. Notice the effect different foods have on your GI tract and how your hormone symptoms come and go. A food journal can help sort this out.
Paying attention to your gut health during peri/menopause is super important. Managing gut issues generally involves lifestyle changes . Start off simple incorporating a more whole foods, plant based diet (think 80/20). Get in your fiber!! Notice how you feel after eating certain foods. Try to reduce stress (cortisol affects that gut health too). And finally, talk to your doctor about supplements including probiotics.
I’d love to hear from you! How is your gut health? Do you notice a difference? Have you tried to change up your diet in order to optimize your gut health? What have you tried?
Looking for a program to help you get back on track? The Mind Body Solution may be the answer you've been looking for!