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As an integrative physician, I am often asked about what things can be done that can help improve gut health. With so much confusion about which medications are safe to use and what supplements are best to take, many are left wondering if what they are doing is the best or if they are just wasting their time and money. While there are many things you can do to improve your gut and overall health, I wanted to focus on something we often forget to talk about: social interconnectedness.
Social interconnectedness means your social connections, relationships, and friendships. Yes, you can do things to be healthier that don’t cost you anything. Here are my top 3 tips.
- Kindness. Kindness and compassion are two of the most powerful medicines. Helping others has a much more powerful impact on our bodies than if we just did something to help ourselves. When we are kind to others we are being kind to ourselves. Our heart rate and blood pressure is improved and stress levels are reduced. On the flip side, if we get angry or even have negative thoughts towards someone, we are just creating negative energy against ourselves. We now know that there is a connection between the gut (i.e., our digestive tracts) and the brain and that this is a two-way superhighway. How we think, feel, and act can influence the trillions of bacteria that live inside our gut. Additionally, those bacteria can influence how we think, feel, and act as well. A study performed at UCLA showing that taking probiotics can influence brain activity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839572/) helps show us how closely connected our brain and gut really are.
- Breathe. One of the best ways to heal your gut is by taking a few minuteS to slow down and take a few deep breaths. Meditating or yoga doesn’t have to be as complicated as we might think it is. There are so many ways to relax during the day so find what works best for you. Meditation has been associated with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure and heart rate, lower triglycerides, and the leakiness of the gut (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27576169). There is no medicine that exists that can do all of these things and more!
- Talk. Talk to your friends. Talk to a stranger. We know that social connections play a huge role in our health. In neighborhoods with lower levels of trust and social interactions between people we have seen that there is an increased risk of heart disease and depression and lower life expectancy. What’s fascinating is that under these circumstances we also see a decrease in the diversity and amounts of good bacteria in our gut (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26859894). Even if there is one person in your life that you can trust and count on, that is all you need.
Human beings are social creatures. We are all so unique yet built in the same way. If you are kind, compassionate, mindful, and just make some time to have fun or connect with someone, you are giving your body a dose of very powerful medicine, one that you cannot buy in a pharmacy! Your gut will definitely thank you!
There is a lot of press and chatter in the medical community about stool these days. Some of you may be wondering why and what the big deal is?
Well, this is actually a very important topic. There are over 100 trillion microorganisms that live inside of our intestinal tract. They make up 10 times the amount of human cells on our bodies and have 100 times the amount of DNA compared to human DNA. It's no understatement that these tiny bugs that live inside of our gastrointestinal tracts are important. We are learning more and more about this ecosystem of microorganisms in our guts (referred to as the gut microbiome) and discovering new things on a daily basis it seems. We have found associations in gut imbalance with diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinsons to diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and various cancers. We are seeing literature surface on stool transplants to help those with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and Ulcerative colitis) and we have known for a while now that stool transplants for the severe bacterial infection in the colon called C.diff (Clostridium difficile) can be extremely helpful. What these stool transplants do is rapidly change the environment inside the colon to help reset balance very quickly so that you can regain health. This supports the notion that the composition of the gut microbiome is central to health. Just recently there was a study suggesting that infection with a particular virus (reovirus) could be contributory to an immune response whereby people can develop celiac disease and be symptomatic when eating gluten.
These little bugs may be invisible to the naked eye but understanding their importance is paramount to preventing and managing various conditions and diseases. Manipulating the microbiome and shifting its abilities to produce various different substances is going to become a focus of medical care for patients in the coming times (in fact, it already is).
So, in a nutshell....yes, your stool is important. It is very important. It is a reflection of your health. It is a reflection of your microbiome. It is a reflection of the inner you!
Cheers to your (gut) health!
There is a lot of talk about lifestyle medicine these days and people often ask me what this really means and why it is important. I thought I would take a few minutes to address this.
Lifestyle medicine simply means that you are living your life in a way to optimize overall whole health. It's not so much a "medicine" as it is a way of treating yourself to reduce inflammation and prevent chronic disease. Here are some of the main principles of lifestyle medicine:
1) Avoiding toxins (environmental toxins, excess alcohol, excess tobacco, plastics, pesticides, flame retardants, etc)
2) Eating healthy: avoiding processed foods, trans fats, fast foods, sugary beverages, artificial sweeteners and focusing on whole foods that are organic and non-GMO and include plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats (aka the anti-inflammatory diet or Mediterranean style diet)
3) Movement: exercise, be active (especially out in nature), shooting for at least 150 minutes per week
4) Sleep: often neglected but paramount to maintaining a healthy lifestyle; shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep per night
5) Stress reduction: including a meditative practice in your daily routine, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, among others is extremely important so that we can soothe the gut-brain pathways and cultivate a healthy mind-body relationship
6) Love: Cultivating meaningful relationships, enjoying life, laughing, singing, dancing!
These are all components of a healthy lifestyle. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that is continuously being added to that demonstrates the importance of these elements in order to obtain whole health and longevity. The best part is that these are things that you don't need a prescription card or a doctor's appointment to do!
Cheers to your health!
Everyone wants to know what the secret to life is. What is it that will make us live long? What is it that will keep us well?
This is a loaded question with many different perspectives. Dan Buettner worked very hard to study the areas in the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest. In his book, "The Blue Zones Solution" he outlines the the secrets of living long:
1) Move naturally: exercise and live in enviroments that push you to move
2) Purpose: essentially having purpose or a goal in life
3) Downshift: relax, take it easy, find a way to reduce stress
4) Hara Hachi bu: eating until you are 80% full
5) Plant Slant: favoring a plant based diet and one rich in beans and lentils with small amounts of meat (mostly pork, interestingly) a few times per month
6) Wine at 5: 1-2 glasses of wine daily with friends/food (assuming no alcohol problem)
7) Right tribe: having a healthy social circle
8) Community: faith based community (denomination is irrelevant)
9) Loved ones first: family first
These are wonderful principles of life and we should all strive towards living like this. All it says is that you should eat well, focusing on real whole foods while finding time to relax in the day, socialize with friends, having a sense of community, and staying active. Doesn't sound like anything too fancy does it? Really, it's not. But it is hard for most of us, in our busy lives to figure out a way to do these things or to appreciate their power and beauty. Stop for a moment and think about these 9 points. In the blue zones of the world, these are the main things that people have in common....they all do this...and they live long healthy active lives. There is no magic fountain of youth or magic pill you can take. It boils down to being present and remaining grounded, doing what you love to do, have social connectedness, and treating your body the way it should be treated.
This book, The Blue Zones Solution, isn't the only text that outlines these principles. There are studies that show how important social interactions and connectedness are and there are studies that show how little things like meditating can lengthen your telomeres, the caps at the end of DNA that keep us young.
So when you think and reflect upon your life and wonder what you can do to be healthier and what you can do to live a long happy life, just remember these above 9 principles. Start working on them one at a time and strive to do your best in these categories. I promise you will be healthier and happier, and in turn this will make your desire to optimize the other categories stronger.
Cheers to your health!
1) The Blue Zones Solution by Dr. Dan Buettner
Many people have seasonal allergies and/or allergies to various types of foods (namely nuts). Most probably wouldn't flinch before taking an antihistamine to help reduce the nuisance of the watery eyes, runny nose, or sneezing that one might experience when it's that time of the year for allergies. What really causes allergies? Well, recent research suggests that the answer may be uncovered in your poo...yes, you got it...your poo!
Within our intestinal tract lives over 100 trillion microorganisms. This is refered to as the gut microbiome. It is essentially a powerful "organ system" that is being researched by many across the globe; we are uncovering many of the secrets to human life that were not really clear before. Now, there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of things are not entirely clear but there is some exciting research coming down the pipelines.
I recently reviewed one study by scientists at the National Cancer Institute. They reviewed data from the American Gut Project (http://americangut.org/). What they discovered was that in those with allergies, especially seasonal allergies and nut allergies, there was "lower richness and altered composition of their gut microbiota." We know that one of the keys to gut health is having a microbiome that is diverse, which means a nice wide spread of different kinds of bugs. What this statement means is that they found that in those with allergies, there was less diversity in the bugs found in the participants' stool samples. This concept is called dysbiosis, which basically refers to an imbalance in the bugs in your gut. People with seasonal and nut allergies were also found to have higher amounts of Bacteroidales and less Clostridialis.
So, what does all this mean? Well, it means that if you have allergies you may have an imbalance in your gut microbiome. It could mean that when you pop that allergy pill all you are doing is just covering up the problem instead of addressing the root cause of the issue, which is that your poo may not be well balanced. Certainly we need more research and studies into this particular issue. This was not a clinical trial and we need to investigate this concept further. We also need to understand how this dysbiosis is established? Does it have to do with being born vaginally or by cesearan section? Does it have to do with being breast fed or bottle fed? Does it have to do with what environmental exposures you may have had? An even more interesting question is, can allergies be prevented or symptoms reduced/eradicated with specific targeted treatment for this dysbiosis? We don't have all these answers yet. But this is definitely exciting new research.
My take on it is that we are discovering more and more that there are a lot of conditions associated with alterations in the microbiome. What we can do to help ourselves is eat a healthy, diverse diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables while including probiotic and prebiotic foods (See The Microbiome), avoiding chemicals and products that can have harmful effects on our gut bugs, and living a healthy balanced and centered life. The gut bugs are the keepers of our immune system. We need them to be happy!
Cheers to your health!
Shi J, et al. Allergy associations with the adult fecal microbiota: Analysis of the American Gut Project. EBioMedicine 3 (2016): 172-179.
Hello everyone! Welcome to my Blog!
I thought I would start off by talking a little bit about food. As a gastroenterologist, I’m often asked what types of foods are good to eat. The old saying “an apple a day will keep the doctor away” certainly does have meaning and value. However, with our increasing awareness of digestion and how the 100 trillion bacteria, viruses, and fungi in our guts affect how we feel and what medical problems we can develop, we should consider other foods that can help us protect those microscopic organisms that are good, while fighting off those that are not.
Everyone wants to know which probiotics are good for you and which ones they should take. The important thing to remember is that overall diversity and balance are very important and key to helping maintain a healthy and happy environment in the gut. Fermented foods, like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, and kefir are examples of some probiotics that help you do this the best. They have some of the best health effects, and they don’t come in a cardboard package you buy in the grocery store or pharmacy. A probiotic supplement may certainly be beneficial. However, if you have concern over costs and don’t like taking pills, think about introducing some of these probiotic foods into your diet.
How can a food be a probiotic? Well, all it means for a food to be a probiotic is that it contains active bacteria. Fermented foods are some of the best sources for this. These types of foods help keep the good bacteria in and help to keep the bad bacteria out. This is in the same manner as the probiotic supplements you might take.
There are proven health benefits of including fermented foods in your diet. They can help you lose weight and regulate your metabolism. We know that these foods help reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and even have the potential to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Not only can you buy these fermented foods in the grocery store, you can make them in your own home. This gives you the power to control your health and be proactive with staying healthy.
So, yes, a pickle a day could keep the doctor away. Just make sure it’s truly fermented!
Cheers to your health!
For more information, check out the following books, which were used as references. Both are both excellent:
The Gut Balance Revolution by Dr. Gerard Mullin
Super Genes by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Rudolph Tanzi