By Michelle Carbery, Corporate Wellness Specialist, Independent Health

There’s a lot more going on in your midsection than you might realize. The many different micro-organisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract help transport food and nutrients through your body, remove waste, and synthesize serotonin that helps regulate your mood and sleep. In fact, scientists estimate about 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. 

Poor gut health has been linked to autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, mental health issues, heart failure, and certain gastrointestinal cancers. Therefore, it’s important to keep your gut balanced.  

If you are experiencing an upset stomach, extreme food cravings, skin conditions like eczema, fatigue and/or mood swings, you may have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Making small changes in your daily lifestyle can help. Here are a few tips to consider: 

  • Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, garlic and onion, fermented foods (e.g., yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.) and fiber-rich foods (e.g., nuts, seeds, legumes, brown rice, whole wheat bread and cereals, etc.). These are all foods that actively promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, contributing to your overall health. At the same time try to cut back on processed foods, high-fat foods, artificial sweeteners, and foods high in refined sugars because these foods destroy good bacteria and promote growth of damaging bacteria.
  • Make sure you eat slowly. Chewing your food thoroughly and eating your meals more slowly can help promote full digestion and absorption of nutrients. This may help you reduce digestive discomfort and maintain a healthy gut. 
  • Manage and reduce stress, since high levels of stress can negatively impact your gut health. Some simple ways to do that is by taking a walk, meditating, spending time with friends, laughing, diffusing essential oils, getting a massage, and decreasing caffeine intake. 
  • Exercise regularly to reduce your risk for digestive problems and other stomach issues, such as heartburn, constipation, and ulcers. 
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water has been shown to positively impact the mucosal lining of the gut, as well as on the balance of good bacteria in your gut. Plus, dehydration can lead to constipation which can cause stomach upset and pain. 
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Not getting enough sleep can have serious impacts on your gut health, which can in turn contribute to more sleep issues. In addition, when you sleep, it allows the stomach to digest food fully and properly. 
  • Take a prebiotic or probiotic supplement. Adding these supplements to your diet may be a great way to improve your gut health. Talk with your doctor to learn more. 

Remember, it’s important to always listen to your gut. Chronic stomach or intestinal pain may be a sign of something more serious. Contact your doctor if you experience symptoms for more than a few days.