Bacteria! We often associate this supposed microbial monster with the sole purpose for wreaking havoc on our bodies, causing disease and illness. This occurs so much so, that we go to great lengths to stock our homes and offices with everything from wipes, sanitizers, soaps and sprays, aimed at completely destroying them from any surface we touch, including our own bodies. The truth is, the vast majority of bacteria, (particularly on the skin and in the body) can be harmless. In fact, there are 30% more bacterial cells in your body than human cells.1 That’s right, we are more bacteria than we are human. We depend upon bacteria for our survival and wellbeing, helping to tip the scale of recognition to friend rather than foe.
This particularly applies to the bacteria that reside in our own GI (gastrointestinal) tract, better known as the microbiome. Comprised of more than 1,000 different species and strains and having the total weight of an average adult brain,2,3 these bacteria are tasked with many important duties. “The gut is crucial in a person’s overall wellbeing because 70-80% of the body’s immune system is located there,” says Alexendra Grace, D.O., Board Certified Gastroenterologist with Physicians Regional Medical Group. “A healthy gut has been linked to lowering body inflammation, cholesterol and sugar control, and decreased risk of autoimmune diseases.” The microbiome also helps with nutrient absorption, may play a role in weight control, is linked with brain health, and helps maintain normal cell function within the body.
There are many different factors that can affect the composition and health of the microbiome including diet and lifestyle. Stress and an unhealthy diet high in sugar and fats have been shown to negatively affect the microbiome.4 Unfortunately, with the holiday season upon us, these inhibitors to good GI health tend to appear more often, thus creating good reason to pay special attention to our eating habits during this time. “The holidays can wreak havoc on the GI tract,” says Dr. Grace. “Between traveling, holiday parties, overeating, too many cocktails and overindulgence of desserts, the GI tract can be significantly disrupted and overstressed.” Dr. Grace also mentions that indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain and irregular bowels are the largest complaints at office visits around the holidays. “It’s tempting to eat that large holiday meal but you always feel it after,” she cautions. Dr. Grace offers the following tips to help keep your gut in check for the holidays:
1) Eat small, frequent meals that will allow your body to process and digest properly.
2) Limit cocktails to 1-2 servings of alcohol.
3) Everything in moderation. You don’t have to skip the pumpkin pie or the eggnog, but rather limit to one small serving.
4) Make sure to add some fruits and vegetables to each meal.
5) Stay hydrated, especially when traveling.
6) Get plenty of fiber!
“All of my patients get a lecture on the benefits of fiber,” she says. “Foods high in fiber have prebiotics which are components that help cause your body to produce good bacteria. This helps your gut health and immune system.” Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. They help maintain regular bowel movements, healthy weight and lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. They also decrease the risk of developing diseases like diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and even colon cancer.
While you may be thinking that the holidays are only a short time and that you can always return to healthy eating when they are over, it is important to note that a big shift in gut health can happen incredibly fast. According to a new study published in Nature, this shift can happen within days of what you eat.5
There are many ways you can substitute healthier foods into your diet during the holidays. This will not only help maintain good gut health, but will provide overall health benefits for you.
Dr. Grace’s offices are located in Naples at Physicians Regional – Collier Blvd, 8340 Collier Blvd, and Physicians Regional – Pine Ridge, 6101 Pine Ridge Rd. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 239-348-4221, or schedule online at PhysiciansRegionalMedicalGroup.com.