A healthy gut means a healthy body! For National Digestive Diseases Awareness month in May, a gastroenterologist explains how a healthy gut can ward off diseases and offers lifestyle tips to “reset” the gut.
A healthy or unhealthy gut hinges on your diet, according to Pritesh Mutha, MD, gastroenterologist with UT Physicians and associate professor with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.
“Literally speaking, you are what you eat. The GI tract, or your gut, is the seat of your immune system. Whatever is good for your gut is good for your entire body,” Mutha said.
A poor diet contributes not only to digestive diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal reflux disease, inflammatory bowel disease, etc., but also to other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer.
“Where do the clogs in your arteries originate? Where do autoimmune or liver diseases originate? The majority of it comes from what you consume,” Mutha said. “Whatever you have on your gut wall is either healing or hurting you.”
Mutha recommends a whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet for optimal gut health.
“A WFPB diet primarily focuses on consuming plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, while minimizing or avoiding animal products, processed foods, and refined sugars and oils,” Mutha said. “Whole, unprocessed plant foods are nutrient-dense and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, while also being lower in calories and saturated fats than animal products and processed foods. Studies have shown that following a WFPB diet can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, digestive diseases, diabetes, and certain types of cancers,” Mutha said.
Other steps to take include avoiding consuming alcohol and other items classified as known carcinogens (agents with the potential to cause cancer).
“When carcinogens seep into your body, they can destroy the gut lining and may cause ulcers and cancers,” Mutha said.
In addition to a proper diet, it is important to receive a colonoscopy.
“Currently, 1 in 20 Americans are estimated to develop colon cancer during their lifetime,” Mutha said. “Get a colonoscopy at age 45 and then every 10 years afterwards for prevention, early detection, and occasionally even removal of early-stage colon cancer.”
Finally, don’t wait for symptoms to appear before making changes to your lifestyle.
“Don’t wait until you begin to experience symptoms of colon cancer,” Mutha said, “because by then, it is probably at a later stage. It’s already been brewing in your body for a long time. You may end up with something that can’t be easily fixed.”
“Don’t wait for the body to tell you that something is wrong,” he added. “Start making changes right now.”
Mutha offers the following six-pronged approach to reset the gut and elevate overall health:
- Consume a whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet that provides the fiber, all the essential nutrients, and antioxidants for a strong gut, healthy immune system, and healthy you.
- Exercise regularly to boost good digestion and good bacteria in the gut.
- Do not consume toxins (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, illicit drugs) that destroy healthy cells and healthy bacteria in the gut.
- Get about eight hours of quality sleep to help heal a leaky gut and restore balance in the gut microbiome.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation to avoid stress-related mental and physical illnesses and protect against inflammation.
- Keep in touch with family and friends because good social relationships have been shown to positively impact the gut’s microbiome.
“The above six-pronged approach will not only heal your gut and your overall physical health, but also your memory, mood, and overall mental health,” Mutha said.
*Before making any diet changes, consult with a primary care physician.