We hear the term, “anti-inflammatory” a lot, especially when it comes to food. But what does it really all mean? Can we reverse inflammation? Or can we just live a lifestyle that prevents it? Let’s dive into the facts, explain the importance of gut health, and how our diet (anti-inflammatory or not!) affects the microbiome.
Why Gut Health Matters
Gut health is the foundation of health. The gut is often referred to as the 2nd brain thanks to the direct connection between the gut and the brain through the vagus nerve. The gut speaks to the brain and vice versa.
The “happy” hormone, serotonin, is made there and roughly 70% of the immune system resides in it thanks to the microbiome—a combination of good and bad bacteria. When your gut is inflamed or imbalanced we can see anything from depression to anxiety, skin issues (i.e. eczema & psoriasis), digestive issues (i.e. bloating), chronic yeast or bacterial infections, and poor immune response.
The Effects of Poor Gut Health
I named a few above already, but we are seeing more and more autoimmune disorders because of something called leaky gut. When the gut is inflamed or out of balance the gut lining (which usually forms a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream) may have cracks or holes. These cracks allow partially digested food and bacteria into the bloodstream. Since they are not supposed to be in our bloodstream this activates an immune response. Emerging evidence suggests that leaky gut is a result of the standard American diet which is high in sugar and low in fiber, which may initiate the process. Also, heavy alcohol use, prescription drugs, overuse of antibiotics, and toxins in our environment (pollution, pesticides & plastics in our food) are also thought to be blamed. This is not to trash antibiotics, they are very much needed when they are needed, but they are being overused and they wipe out the whole microflora (good and bad bacteria) living in the gut, so they should only be used when really needed! There is an overwhelming amount of research and studies coming out showing us that inflammation and modifications in the gut microbiome (bacteria) play a role in the development of many modern chronic diseases.
Foods to Avoid
- Vegetable oils (i.e. soybean and canola oil)
- Margarine (opt for pasture-raised butter)
- Processed packaged foods
- Dairy, especially conventional dairy!
- If you’re going to consume it, sheep’s milk and goat milk are easier on the gut. You can also try organic dairy that comes from pasture-raised cows.
- Foods that have pesticides
- Pesticides act like antibiotics, killing good and bad bacteria, and are more prevalent in conventional food. Opt for organic when you can.
- Artificial trans fats (hydrogenated oils)
- Fried foods
- -Refined carbohydrates (white bread and pasta)
- Fast food and soda (even diet!)
- Excessive alcohol
- A food sensitivity test can determine if you should avoid gluten.
Foods to Eat
- Gut healing bone broth (it has glucosamine which helps reduce inflammation)
- Probiotic-rich foods such as unsweetened yogurt (i.e. coconut yogurt), kimchi, and sauerkraut
- Green leafy vegetables
At the end of the day, it’s more about reducing foods that bring on inflammation than trying to reverse inflammation. Diet plays a huge role in the health of our friendly microbiome down there!
Optimizing Gut Health
Get good sleep! This is a huge one. Your circadian rhythm and your gut microbiome are connected. Your circadian rhythm is what tells your body when it’s dark and to release melatonin and in the morning it tells your body when it’s light and to start releasing cortisol to wake you up! When you don’t get good sleep, your circadian rhythm and gut microbiome are greatly affected. Chronic sleep deprivation not only changes the microbiome but also leads to inflammation and insulin resistance, according to studies.
Another huge one is Vitamin D! So make sure you’re getting at least 20 mins of sunlight a day on your skin without sunscreen. Sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to synthesize vitamin d! You can put your sunscreen on after 20 mins and I always recommend sunscreen on the face. Or supplement if you live somewhere with less sun exposure. Research shows that low levels of vitamin d can result in insomnia and difficulty staying asleep. It’s also vital to the immune system so more important than ever!