It Takes Guts
If your gut is not working properly, you can't be healthy, says Steven Lamm, MD
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
What’s your favorite way
Spending time with family and friends and watching a sporting event.
What dietary supplements are essential to your daily regimen?
Vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and a good digestive enzyme before every meal.
What is your favorite food?
Do you have a guilty pleasure food?
What motivates and inspires you to do what you do?
An inner drive to make a difference.
If Steven Lamm, MD, had his way, gut health would garner the same amount of attention as heart disease or Alzheimer’s. But that’s not the case-yet. Estimates show that as many as 90 million Americans have gastrointestinal problems. “People take their guts for granted,” says Lamm. “They abuse them and are totally unaware of how fundamentally important they are to overall health.” Lamm, who is the “house doctor” for ABC’s The View, an internist in New York City, and the author of No Guts, No Glory, is on a mission to get people back in touch with their guts and on the path to better digestion and ultimately, total wellness. Here, he discusses how easy it can be to improve gut health.
BN: Why is the gut so vital to our overall health?
SL: Most people don’t realize that the gut is a critical and extremely complex organ system. Not only is the gut where nutrients are absorbed, but it also may be the center of the immune system. The fact is that many of the physical and mental disorders that affect millions of Americans-including gastrointestinal illnesses and even some like autism and heart disease-begin quietly under the radar with trouble in the gut. Few of us are even aware of problems brewing until something really starts to go wrong. In other words, long after the difficulty begins.
BN: What are the most common signs of an unhealthy gut?
SL: Maldigestion, bloating, gas, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome are among the most recognizable signs; however, fatigue, mood swings, depression, and arthritis can all also stem from poor gut health. Just because you eat something doesn’t mean it will be digested. If you’re not taking in all the nutrients you need because your food doesn’t contain many or your gut is damaged and unable to extract and distribute what nutrients are there, it can affect your health. You may think smoking is the prime cause of illness in the United States. But the meager nutritional content of our food is the real culprit.
BN: What are most of us doing wrong when it comes to our guts?
SL: For one thing, we don’t consistently eat the right kinds of foods-even those of us who try to. For most of our history, the human gut was perfectly adapted to the fresh fruits, greens, and wild game our ancestors found in abundance. However, in recent times, that sort of naturally balanced diet has fallen by the wayside in favor of potato chips, microwave dinners, soft drinks, and other processed concoctions-foods pumped full of fat, sugar, salt, and preservatives that allow us to store them longer and prepare them faster, but offer us little in the way of nutrition. We’re expecting our guts to adapt to these new foods overnight in evolutionary terms.
Continual stress and anxiety, too little sleep, contaminants in the environment, and medications also all take their toll on your gut.
BN: How should we eat to heal our guts?
SL: Focus on cleaning up your diet and eating more natural, nutritious foods such as raw vegetables and fruits. In my book, I suggest focusing on low-glycemic foods that aren’t packed with diabetes-producing carbohydrates. Also important is eliminating foods that trigger allergies and intolerances, which can send you gut into overdrive and hamper its ability to function properly. Also, start thinking of food for its nutrient value. It can be as easy as eating an egg white omelette with fresh vegetables for breakfast instead of sugared cereal.
BN: What supplements are essential for a healthy gut?
SL: In addition to vitamin D and omega-3 fats, which I think everyone should take, there are two key supplements for restoring gut health:
- Digestive enzymes. Your body has only a finite supply of digestive enzymes, and they diminish with age. Enzyme supplements can help replenish the gut’s dwindling stores. Take them with (or right before) meals-especially when you eat out-to aid your digestion process
- Probiotics. Friendly bacteria really make a difference in gut health and can help repopulate your gut’s magnificent colonies of microflora.