The U.S. houses nearly 12 million immunocompromised people (people with weakened immune systems who can’t rely on their body’s natural defense system to stave off a foreign predator), which is about 4% of the total population.
“Immunocompromised” applies to a multitude of your friends and neighbors – asthmatics, diabetics, those with heart disease, liver disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, lupus, multiple sclerosis, crohns, and more.
When we talk about “flattening the curve”, we’re talking about helping to prevent the spread of the virus to those people…
The people who will have a much easier time catching it and a much harder time recovering from it.
But in recent years, medical science has finally caught up to Hippocrates and now regards the digestive system as the seat of whole body health.
Meaning your microbiome plays a much bigger role in immune system regulation than you may realize. And if the bacterial population of your microbiome is imbalanced, deficient, or functioning sub-optimally due to a chronic gut disorder, your health is at risk.
Now, the good news is, since most of us are quarantined in the U.S. (anywhere from shelter-in-place lockdown to heavily suggested social distancing), we have more time than ever to focus on not only preventing damage to our intestines, but on healing the damage that may already have been done.
And if you live in the Western world, participate in Western dietary habits, and exercise with the frequency of the average American, you can bet your gut isn’t in the shape it should be in.
Let’s talk about how we can prevent damage, maintain current health levels and be proactive in strengthening our best defense against disease.
As it relates to your gut health, this means not over-indulging in refined sugars, processed junk food, and overeating out of stress or boredom.
Here’s what happens to your microbiome when you send sugar, processed food, or too much food through your intestinal tract:
- Sugar feeds harmful bacteria, encouraging it to repopulate, and in turn, starves helpful bacteria. It starts the moment you open your mouth and lay that cookie on your tongue, and continues through the entire digestive process, wreaking havoc along the way.
- When a person has gut dysbiosis, or an unevenly balanced gut favoring harmful bacteria, the intestines often become inflamed. Gut inflammation then leads to intestinal permeability, whereby bacteria and food particles that aren’t meant to escape the intestines during the digestive process can cross through the intestines and into the bloodstream.
Likewise, bacteria from the rest of the body that doesn’t belong in the gut can penetrate the intestines through these access points. Eating processed foods and sugars help feed the protein in the body that loosens the connecting joints at access points throughout the intestines, helping leaky gut flourish.
- And when you overeat, which is easy to do with junk food and processed sugars not only because those habits get built over a lifetime, but because they actually have addictive properties, you actually affect the entire digestive process. The gut isn’t meant to process more food than you should be eating. When you overeat, you clog the works and cause issues like constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowels.
Maintain and Support
That said, if you already consider yourself a healthy person with reverent respect for your gut’s microbiome, don’t stop what you’re doing!
Work hard to maintain your healthy lifestyle. If you were an avid gym goer, continue to exercise at the same time you normally would. Even though that can be tough in a crowded home with your family around, it can be done!
Include your family in your health-building activities, or excuse yourself the same way you would if you weren’t at home – “I’ll be in the basement exercising for the next hour. See you when I get back!” If you drink kombucha every day, include that in your quarantine-grocery trips – plan to be stuck for a while and stock up.
And as far as supporting your gut health, now is the time to go the extra mile. Here are some tricks to try:
- Supplement your routine by drinking coconut milk or eating a tablespoon of coconut oil every day.
- Try your hand at saving kitchen scraps for a week and then making your own bone broth.
- Emphasize fermented foods in your diet – maybe make a batch of homemade fermented pickles while you’re stuck at home!
- Learn about the gut healing benefits of Congee and experiment with various recipes.
- Make sure that your grocery list includes plenty of:
- Sourdough bread
- Olive oil
- Green tea
- Brussels sprouts
- Chicken breasts
Remember, your gut loves steamed and otherwise natural vegetables. Go easy on sauces and complicated dishes – simple, low ingredient meals are your best bet.
Keep your gut safe to keep yourself safe, and we’ll all get through this.