Gut health is a trending topic, with everyone from gastroenterologists and nutritionists giving out advice to your housing colony sharing links on the subject. The brain-gut connection is now being studied in the top research institutes of the world, while terms like gut bacteria, the microbiome, intestinal fauna, have made their way into everyday speech.
All this is heartening for a naturopath because the gut is where it all starts in naturopathy.
Once you become a serious student or practitioner, you realize the constant emphasis on ‘cleaning the gut’ before anything else. Naturopathy believes that in the human body, the genesis of all disease or what we call waste accumulation starts in the gut.
Loosely defined, the gut is the alimentary canal extending beyond the stomach into the small intestine and large intestine. Think of it as a pipe in the sink. If things accumulated there do not gets flushed out each day or go through a thorough cleaning once in a while, matter will rot, stink, and smell, because old food particles stuck there will, over time, become breeding grounds for all kinds of creepy-crawlies!
To explain this scientifically, the human body absorbs water through the large intestine every 24 hours. So if you do not ‘go potty’ every 24 hours, there is a high probability that the water entering your bloodstream from the large intestine is also bringing along noxious gases and liquids that get produced by rotting stools.
This is why understanding constipation becomes important. Our ‘urban’ diets and sedentary lifestyles are one of its largest contributors, but there are 5 actual reasons why you may be constipated.
- Lack of water
Drinking enough water during the day is not just for hydration but also to maintain good gut health. This is where drinking about 500 ml- 1 litre of water first thing in the morning comes in. During your night sleep, your body has done a fair amount of repair and maintenance work, throwing the debris of this into your gut. Plus the end products of all the food that you have eaten the previous day are now ready to be taken out of the body. These solid particles need a flowing stream (the water you drink) to smoothly flush them out. So chug (rather than sip) the first 1-2 glasses of morning water, on an empty stomach.
If you have to exert a lot of effort to push your stools out, have dry skin and eyes, constant fatigue, chances are that your water intake is low.
2. Lack of fibre
I recently put myself on an all juice diet for 3 days and voila my stools stopped. One of the biggest reasons this happens on a liquid diet, is the lack of fibre in our food. The fibre in our food is what gives bulk to our stools, making it easy for the colon to push it out. This fibre is also a natural broom that sweeps our intestines as it moves along. When deficient, food sticks along the intestinal walls and the stools stagnate and rot in the colon. Most of us eating processed foods (anything that comes out of a bag, box, or bottle, is processed), will be deficient in dietary fibre, unless we are also eating large quantities of raw fruits and vegetables with rind and whole grains.
Loose, watery stools can sometimes indicate low fibre. If eating a large quantity of fruits for dinner gives you a smooth motion in the morning, then chances are you need more fibre.
3. Lack of lubrication
If you are one of those people who likes drinking milk at night or a spoon of ghee or castor oil either at night or early morning, because it clears your stomach in the morning, then lubrication is a likely issue. Just like water is needed to push the stools out, the body must have enough good fats and oils to make this pushing smooth.
Dry and hard stools, dry skin and eyes, constant gas build up in your body, can all indicate a lack of lubrication.
4. Lack of intestinal tone
This is by far the most important reason why gut health gets compromised and also the one that took me the most time to understand. Every organ in our body has a natural movement; organs are not static entities. Just like muscles contract and expand (that is their natural movement), the intestines work through peristalsis. Think of this as watching waves in a beach. This wave-like motion is what moves the food along the entire alimentary canal, right from the mouth to the rectum. If, despite eating healthy food, you feel heavy and full even after 2-3 hours, chances are that your organs have lost their natural tone or are not performing their natural movements. Lack of activity, constant sitting, highly overcooked, spiced and highly processed foods are the main culprits behind this.
If drinking tea, coffee, or hot drinks, helps you clear your stomach, then there is a lack of tone in the alimentary organs currently.
5. And then there is stress
The human body when stressed, moves its nerve energy (which is needed for the organs to perform their natural movement) and blood circulation away from the alimentary canal and into the extremities i.e. the arms and legs. Remember the purpose of stress is to get us ready to fight or flight and not to rest and digest. So if there is constant stress, the organs (stomach, intestines) are not getting either enough blood or enough nerve energy to perform their natural movements and functions. Sadly, the urge to have a stimulant like coffee or tobacco further increases once stress levels are high.
If you have a diagnosed condition of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where you are constantly alternating between constipation and diarrhoea, stress has been your major contributor.
Ensuring simple gut health
- The key is to get rid of accumulated stools every 24 hours. Daily potty is a mandatory task for you and your children, irrespective of what else is happening in life. This is best enforced as an early morning habit after drinking water. Figs work wonders with young children. Give them 2-3 soaked (soaking for 2 hrs is enough) figs every day. If you can’t soak, let them eat them dry as candy whenever they feel like eating something sweet.
- If you are frequently constipated, experiment a bit with your body to see what works for you and then make it a daily habit:
- Drink 500 m – 1 litre of water first thing in the morning.
- Eat fruits (preferably one of a kind), at least a dinner plate full at night. Depending on whether it’s a fibre or tone issue, the following fruits will help: papaya, guava are high in fibre; apple, pears are a good combination of fibre and are good toners; muskmelon, stone apple(bael) are good toners. Only eat what is in season. Experiment with whether eating that plate of fruit for breakfast or dinner works better.
- Drink a glass of slightly warm full fat milk at night. Or drink a spoon of ghee (for some it works early morning, empty stomach) or a spoon of castor oil at night. If this works for you, lubrication, which is provided through fats, is what you need.
- Sometimes all your gut needs is space. So if you are feeling heavy or bloated, skip a meal or two.
Some of us will need to do a combination of all the above to keep our guts clean, and for some only doing one will suffice. It doesn’t matter. What matters is understanding one’s body and flushing out the toxins daily.
3. Do a gut detox under the professional supervision of a naturopath every quarter or every 6 months.