We’ve all had the experience of physically feeling our emotional states — “butterflies” in our stomachs, our insides tied in “knots,” or even the less palpable, but no less powerful “gut feeling.” How does this work? How do our bodies have wisdom, giving us direct signs and physical information that relate to our emotional states of being?
In part one of our gut health series, we learned that the gut is so much more than an organ that helps process our food (or bloats when we eat too much of it). A complex ecosystem, the gut contains billions of bacteria that must stay in balance in order to effectively support optimum nutrient absorption, easeful digestion and strong immunity.
It’s a great start to understand how essential a healthy gut is to overall well being, but it begs the question: How do I support my gut in being the healthiest it can be?
Let's start by taking a deeper dive into what the gut needs most.
Probiotics, Prebiotics & Digestive Enzymes
While the gut carries out a wide array of functions, it relies primarily on a few select tools: digestive enzymes, probiotics and prebiotics.
Enzymes are substances that spark chemical reactions in the body; digestive enzymes are specifically responsible for the digestive process. Produced throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, they are found in stomach acid, the small intestine and even in our saliva! These enzymes are in charge of breaking down the food you eat so its nutrients can be digested, absorbed and utilized by your body.
Probiotics are actual living organisms that primarily hang out in the lower parts of the GI tract, the largest collection congregating in the colon. They serve as beneficial bacteria in the microbiome and help keep the bad bacteria at bay. Probiotics are also key players in healthy digestion, producing their own enzymes that help to break down fats and proteins, and enhance nutrient absorption in the bloodstream.
These healthy probiotic bacteria are directly supported by prebiotics, which are indigestible plant fibers that work to nourish probiotic populations. Prebiotics are vital in maintaining an optimal good-to-bad bacteria balance by helping the existing good bacteria grow and flourish.
In the game of gut health, digestive enzymes, probiotics and prebiotics are the ultimate Dream Team.
Since the microscopic bacteria that populate our guts are living organisms, they need to eat to survive. Unfortunately for us, they don’t love cookies and burgers as much as we tend to enjoy them. So what makes them thrive?
One of the best ways to support your intestinal flora is to eat a balanced diet of clean, plant-based whole foods. While our bodies are on top of producing their own digestive enzymes, we can—and should—amplify our supply of good bacteria. Luckily for us, this can be a delicious endeavor! Fermented foods, such as plain yogurt, kombucha, pickles, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir naturally contain the probiotics that our guts L-O-V-E.