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Gut Check

Get your digestive tract on track.

By Deborah Williams

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According to a 2013 report in the journal Science Daily, health issues as diverse as obesity and clinical depression might be linked to digestive health. Researchers at Oregon State University report that “the chronic inflammation linked to most of the diseases that kill people in the developed world today—heart disease, cancer, diabetes—may begin with dysfunctional gut microbiota.”

That microbiota or gut flora is a combination of good and bad bacteria and microorganisms that not only help with digestion but also fight infection. Compounding science suggests that an out-of-balance gut ecosystem can lower your body’s ability to regulate mood, process foods for energy and manage sleep cycles, all of which might cause a cascading effect of fatigue, inflammation and other chronic conditions.

Keeping your digestive tract in balance will not only keep tummy aches at bay, it will help you fight everything from the common cold to insomnia. Here’s how:

1. PRO- AND PREBIOTICS: Sometimes the foods you eat, germs you catch, habits you engage in and even environmental factors outside of your control can cause the “bad” bacteria in your GI tract to outnumber the good. Reinoculate your gut flora with pro- and prebiotics, live strains of “good” bacteria that you can get from foods such as yogurt and kefir and from dietary supplements. Choose products that say “live active cultures” or “live active strains” on the label.

2. FIBER: Soluble fiber (which you can find in apples, beans, oatmeal, flaxseeds) combines with water to form a gel-like substance that slows digestion and makes you feel full longer. Insoluble fiber (found in whole grains, seeds, leafy greens) doesn’t dissolve in water. In essence, it acts like a mop as it passes through your system, clinging to and moving waste through your digestive tract. If you don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts—and who among us does—take an afternoon fiber supplement to keep your GI tract moving efficiently.

3. CLEANSE: Every day we’re exposed to and ingest harmful toxins that, in high enough concentrations, can make us feel out of sync or even quite sick. Everything from refined sugar to chemical-based household and beauty products can be harmful. Detoxification is one way to rid your system of impurities. There are myriad programs and products out there designed to flush your system. The most basic is as simple as drinking two or more quarts of water every day and taking more deep breaths. Carefully planned elimination diets such as a sugar detox or juice fast can also give your digestive system, liver, kidneys and other organs a chance to rest and recover. Supplements and cleanse kits that are high in antioxidants, enzymes and amino acids can help to remove pollutants and waste by-products from your system without requiring you to plan an elaborate diet.

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