Amy Shah, MD, an Ivy League-trained, double board certified physician, is one of the few doctors who masterfully integrates mainstream medicine with Eastern thought and a mind-body approach. This week, we're thrilled to share Dr. Shah's expertise in a new series on total gut health. To learn more, head to her new mindbodygreen course: The 7-Day Gut Reset: How To Get Your Digestion Back On Track In Just One Week.
The gut has become a big area of interest for me and many other physicians, thanks to its close relationship to our immune system, brain, and metabolism. I’ve been fascinated by the incredible research that's emerging on fecal transplants, the gut-brain connection and immunology of the gut — it really is the future of medicine.
And so when patients or friends ask me how to boost their immune system, get more energy or lose fat, I always tell them that the power is in their gut.
Now let's get specific. If you’re looking to focus on healing your gut for optimal health, there are a few simple rules you can use every day to promote better gut health. Here's what I recommend:
1. Cut out sugar.
Sugar nourishes pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungus in your gut. Think of it as food for the bad types of bacteria and other organisms. It's also absorbed early in the GI tract and though it gives you quick energy, it also leads to a big crash.
I recommend you make it a goal to cut out all sugar except for fruit or raw stevia. Naturally occurring sugars in raw foods—e.g. sweet potato or carrots—is also fine.
2. Avoid antibiotics when possible.
Antibiotics are the big guns — they basically kill all bacteria, the good and bad indiscriminately!
Through multiple medical studies, we know that antibiotics disturb the microbiome, even causing some species to go extinct. It’s very difficult to recover from this “nuclear bomb” to your gut.
Of course, sometimes there is no way to clear an infection without antibiotics, and they’re often truly life saving. What I am saying is make sure it’s absolutely necessary when you do take them.
3. Avoid processed foods.
What does processed foods actually mean? I tell my patients to steer clear of anything that comes in a bag, box or can with more than three ingredients—that's everything from Doritos to ketchup.
This is important because the less a food is processed, the more it can make its way through the GI tract and feed the microbiota. Plus, there are countless benefits beyond the gut that you will get from avoiding overly processed foods and following a plant-based diet. My rule of thumb: focus on real, whole foods 90 percent of the time.
4. Add probiotic and prebiotic foods.
Probiotic foods contain naturally occurring good bacteria that “seed” your gut, like kimchi, fermented vegetables, natural pickles, and kefir. Prebiotic foods are full of natural fiber and feed the good bacteria. Think asparagus, artichoke, leafy greens, garlic, onion and chicory root.
Of course, adding in probiotic pills can help. However, I prefer to stick to the naturally probiotic foods as the mainstay and then add on probiotic pills if necessary.
5. Practice stress management.
As a society, we spend too much time in sympathetic nervous system mode—that's the part of your system associated with fight-or-flight. Of course, this is great for when we need to be alert and focused. But what about digestion, repair and rest? We need to make time for that, too!
Building in more parasympathetic time—the mode associated with rest and digest—can help to decrease cortisol levels so you can digest, repair and heal your gut.
I used to hate relaxation techniques like massages, yoga and mediation because I thought they were a waste of time. And when you've stayed in sympathetic mode for so long these activities can feel boring.
But in fact, they’re crucial to decreasing your cortisol levels so you can focus on gut health. Here are a few methods I recommend to get started:
- Take a yoga class.
- Practice meditation for just five minutes day.
- Listen to calming music.
- Pray or practice gratitude.
- Put your phone completely away for an hour.
- Set an intention for the day in the morning.
Start using these five rules now to get you gut into gear. And if you'd like to learn more, check out my new course, The 7-Day Gut Reset: How To Get Your Digestion Back On Track In Just One Week.