New Year's resolutions - we all make them - everything from losing weight to working out more to being more productive. Some of us keep them, most of us don't. But if you make one resolution for a healthier new year, I ask you to consider a gut makeover for both yourself and your children. Taking control of your gut (a community of bacteria and other microbes living in your intestinal tract) could lead to major improvements in your mood and overall long-term health.
The fact is that, as published in a recent New York Times article, "a diminished microbial ecosystem is believed to have consequences that extend far beyond the intestinal tract, affecting everything from allergies and inflammation, metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity, even mental health conditions like depression and anxiety." For parents of children on the spectrum and others with various mitochondrial disorders and metobolic issues, taking the steps to alter our microbiome's and those of our children is that much more important.
Taking charge of your gut is no easy task and there is no telling how long it might take especially if your bacterial community has been shaped by a daily diet of processed foods, saturated fats and sugar. However, I guarantee that taking the time to cultivate good bacteria in your system, will traslate to more stable, more resilient mood as well as improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Ready to accept the challenge? Start improving gut health today by making these dietary and lifestyle changes:
1. Cut Out Sugar and Processed Foods
The simplest carbohydrates are digested very easily and absorbed into the small intestine, encouraging microbes to “eat away” at the mucus lining - which is meant to be a strong barrier between the gut and the rest of the body. This leads to inflammation in various parts of the body. Sugar also feeds organisms like Candida Albican, a kind of fungus that grows in the gut and attacks the intestine wall. Findings from a new study at Oregon State University also found that a diet high in sugar caused changes in the gut bacteria of mice, impairing the mice’s ability to adjust to changing situations as well as also affecting long-term and short-term memory.
2. Eat More Plants and Dietary Fiber
Changing your diet (and your family's!) is the best and most direct route for transforming gut bacteria. By eating more plants, you achieve and maintain microbiota diversity, keep the intestinal lining intact, and it will also help your gut sustain a more varied collection of bacteria, which is paramount to good health.
3. Limit Antibiotics
Americans are taking more medications than ever before, but the fact is that regular antibiotic use kills the diverse community of our microbiota, wreaking havoc on our health. American children are typically prescribed one course of antibiotics a year - that amount is enough to permanently change children’s microbiota and affect their long-term health. If you or your child must take an antibiotic, I advise you to take a probiotic to boost the production of healthy bacteria in your gut.
4. Let Them Eat Dirt
Our obsession with sanitization is making us sick. As I have discussed in the past, exposure to germs is not all bad and can actually strengthen the immune system. In fact, research has shown that children who grow up in rural areas or in homes with a dog have a lower risk of developing allergies and asthma — proving that exposure to important strains of bacteria actually help diversify the microbiome community.
5. Catch Some Z's, Consistently
Not getting enough sleep may cause changes to gut bacteria, fundamentally changing your metabolism, affecting a host of bodily systems. According to recent data, getting less sleep can change the levels of specific strains of bacteria in the gut, decreasing them by nearly 50 percent in some cases. The wrong bacteria in our gut is thought to be one of the biggest factors that cause obesity as well as other metobolic diseases.