We all grew up knowing how important our brain and heart are to our overall health. But it’s only been within the past few years that scientists have begun to uncover how absolutely crucial our gut — especially the microscopic colonies of bacteria living there — is to how we look and feel. Everything from immunity and energy to mood and our ability to lose weight is tied to our intestinal tract and the trillions of microbes that make up our microbiome there.
As we age, we tend to develop more problems with our gut due to an accumulation of toxins or an imbalance of bad bugs in this all-important system. Common foods such as sugar and wheat have also been shown to inf lame and irritate stomach lining.
The result of this damage? Toxins leak through the lining of the intestine and into the bloodstream, a condition called “leaky gut syndrome,” causing fatigue, brain fog, food sensitivities, pain and weight struggles.
Thankfully, the gut can heal itself quickly. “It’s amazing how when given the right support for healing, women start seeing improvements in literally days!” says Michael Ruscio, DNM., author of Healthy Gut, Healthy You.
For starters: Weight loss becomes nearly effortless, up to a pound a day. “When the inflammation and bad bugs are controlled, the body no longer has to hold on to fat and water weight, so pounds come off easily,” explains Vincent Pedre, MD, author of Happy Gut. Ready to drive wellness and weight loss with the tasty meals you eat every day? Here, the secrets behind the three most powerful groups of gut-supporting foods.
Probiotics strengthen gut lining.
Given how important the gut is, it’s surprising that its lining is only one cell-layer thick. “It’s sensitive and surprisingly quite easy to damage,” Dr. Pedre says. But probiotics — healthy microbes like the ones found naturally in yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and fermented salsa — stimulate mucus production along the gut barrier, making it thick and strong so bacteria have trouble penetrating the lining.
Probiotics also keep the interior of the gut healthy, preventing unhealthy bacteria species from overrunning the system. William Davis, MD, author of Super Gut, observes, “Probiotics are the cornerstone of ‘reseeding’ your garden with good gut flora and healthy bacterial species.” What’s good for the gut is good for mood: In one study, simply eating probiotics, even without making other changes, relieved mild to moderate depression in 64 percent of subjects!
Prebiotics feed good bacteria.
Probiotic bugs need to eat too. That’s where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are the preferred food source of good gut bugs and are nutritional components found in fermentable fiber and plants — think apples, onions, garlic, beans, and asparagus. “Not only do prebiotic fibers feed healthy bacterial species, they also encourage bugs to produce metabolites — or by-products — that yield a range of health benefits,” Dr. Davis says. Prebiotics are also linked to better regularity. Bonus: One animal study found mice were less likely to experience sleep disturbances after eating prebiotics.
Postbiotics heal cellular damage.
As healthy bacteria break down prebiotics, they release beneficial gases, compounds and signaling molecules called postbiotics that communicate with our cells to work their magic correcting health problems. Although the science is new on this subject, postbiotics have already been linked with improving inflammation, cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Yale-trained nutrition expert Steven Gundry, MD, explains, “In weeks, pain goes away, heartburn goes away. Autoimmune diseases can go away.”
The best-known postbiotic is called butyrate, found in butter and shown to speed metabolism, burn fat and tame hunger. Indeed, in one research study, mice that increased butyrate lost 10 percent of their body weight, while a low-butyrate control group actually gained 15 percent.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.