Gut health is complex. To address these problems, many people seek out lifestyle consultations to improve their symptoms and conditions.
·October 7th, 2021
Chronic gut health conditions impact many adults. Our modern lifestyle can cause problems for our gut and microbiome. Many people seek our lifestyle consultations and changes to improve their symptoms.
There is strong evidence of the mind-body link between chronic gut illness, lifestyle, and psychological factors, often referred to as the brain-gut-microbiome axis.
Lifestyle changes can include changes in diet, exercise and sleep patterns.
Behavioral therapy including cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy as well as stress management or mindfulness focused therapy have also shown to be impactful.
Specialists like nutritionists, dietitians or behavioral therapists can help you manage symptom and make lifestyle changes.
Today in the US, chronic illness affects 6 out of 10 adults, and 4 out of 10 adults live with two or more chronic illnesses. Gut health issues impact a large percentage of US adults. In a survey of more than 2,000 adults, 72% experienced gastrointestinal symptoms at least a few times a month. Issues ranged from gas to stomach pain to diarrhea to non-specific gastrointestinal discomfort.
Given the complexity of the gut and gut microbiome, it’s not surprising that the modern lifestyle causes so many problems for so many of us. To address these problems, many people seek out lifestyle changes and lifestyle consultations to improve their symptoms and conditions. This holistic healthcare approach is often what is needed.
Gut microbiome complexity
Our gut microbiome is a complex system that has evolved with us over millennia. The gut microbiome consists of micro-organisms that have a symbiotic relationship with our human bodies. Your gut microbiome, 90% of which is made up of bacteria, interacts with multiple systems in your body including the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.
There is strong evidence of the mind-body link between chronic illness, lifestyle choices, and psychological factors. In particular, clinical studies have shown the connection between chronic gut issues and the brain, often referred to as the brain-gut-microbiome axis.
The enteric nervous system (ENS), often called your “second brain”, is located in your GI system and consists of a network of nerves stretching from your esophagus to your anus. The ENS is involved in the secretion of hormones and the general functioning and perception of the pain in the GI.
When things are balanced, you don’t have a conscious perception of this “second brain” of the gut. However, when there is pain or other negative impacts to the GI system, the second brain triggers a response. There is bi-directional communication between the ENS and the central nervous system (CNS).
It’s been proven that the brain can impact the composition and function of the gut biome. In turn, the gut biome can impact the brain. For example, imaging studies of women who drank a four-week course of fermented milk showed changes in the emotional and sensation regions of the brain. This axis of the gut, brain, and gut biome has direct implications for those with chronic gut illness.
Chronic gut illness and your lifestyle
Having a chronic diseases or chronic gut illness such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis (UC), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or general undiagnosed gut issues can be distressing. The symptoms themselves are difficult to manage. You may have to make changes to your lifestyle and eating habits or try new medications and treatments.
Living with these chronic diseases and conditions can often cause anxiety and depression. Moreover, the symptoms of chronic gut illness come with their own unique issues and stressors. You may be worried about issues such as:
Attacks of pain, gas, or diarrhea in public
Eating out or eating at a new restaurant
Trying to find a bathroom in a new place
Eating with colleagues or friends at a social event
Symptom flare-ups before an important meeting, event, or exam
These situations often create more anxiety and stress. Moreover, the brain-gut-microbiome axis means that your emotional and mental health can directly influence your chronic gastrointestinal illness. Thus, it is not surprising that many people seek holistic lifestyle consultations and changes to help manage their symptoms and provide relief to their chronic gut conditions.
Types of lifestyle consultation changes
Because gut health is a complex, multi-faceted condition. It is important to look at each factor and determine if you have made any unhealthy lifestyle choices and what changes are needed.
Diet and nutrition changes
Diet and nutrition can significantly impact the makeup and balance of your gut microbiome. There is evidence suggesting that probiotics, prebiotics, and high fiber diets can help your gut. Specific types of diets can also be recommended. For example, the Mediterranean diet has been proven to impact gut health.
Similarly the FODMAP diet, a diet low in fermentable carbs, has been able to help those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, since each of us have a unique gut biome and our gut issues can also be unique to us, it is important to work closely with your health practitioner, nutritionist or dietician to develop the program that best suits your needs.
It is no surprise that physical activity is a key component of any healthy lifestyle and can have profound impacts on your weight, obesity, gut, and broader health.
However, increasing evidence has demonstrated what an important part of gut health exercise can be. In fact, exercise has been shown to independently be able to alter the composition of your gut biome in positive ways. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week for adults.
Behavioral & mental health therapy
Because there is such a strong connection between physical health and mental health with gut issues, behavioral therapy may be included in any lifestyle consultations and changes that need to occur. Two types of this therapy that have been shown to be helpful include
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Through this short-term structured process you’ll work with a trained therapist to diagnose the thinking that is negatively impacting your chronic illness. For example, you might keep a diary and self-monitor your moods and problem behaviors. Then, you will build skills and tools that help change those negative thought patterns. You would then practice these skills through ‘homework’ assignments and review these assignments over time with your therapist. Your therapist might also include other tools focused on relaxation techniques and overall stress management.
Gut Directed Hypnotherapy: This approach was developed in the 1980’s by a gastroenterologist after it was found to improve GI symptoms. Using relaxation exercises, a gut-focused hypnotherapist will guide you through suggestions and imagery to help you calm your digestive tract. Clinical studies have shown an 84% efficacy rate with gut directed hypnotherapy.
Stress can have a detrimental effect on the gut and stress management is an important part of any lifestyle consultation and associated changes. Two types of techniques that can help are Mindfulness Therapy and Stress Management Therapy. A holistic practitioner can work through these and other stress management skills with you.
Mindfulness Focused Therapy: Mindfulness techniques were developed by Shakyamuni Buddha over 2500 years ago. These techniques focus on bringing awareness to your present state of mind through your senses, thoughts and emotions. This process of focusing on present-moment experiences works to calm the mind and release fixation. There is growing evidence that this therapy can restructure the brain and aid in chronic gut issues. A trained mindfulness focused therapist can guide you through meditation techniques to improve your emotional well being.
Stress Management Therapy: Through relaxation, breathing techniques, and mindfulness techniques, a therapist will help you develop skills to improve your stress management.
Improving sleep habits
Sleep habits are a key contributor to mental health and stress management. You should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and other healthy sleep habits. Consistent sleep patterns can keep your overall health, including keeping your gut health in balance.
Evidence has shown that sleep can impact your gut biome and vice versa. Your practitioner can work with you on developing healthy sleep habits, which might include:
Keeping electronics away from the sleeping area
Stopping the use of electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime
Having a bedtime routine, for example, reading or drinking tea before bed
Going to bed at the same time each night
Changing environmental factors
A lifestyle consultation might also include looking at your environment and what factors are contributing to or exacerbating your issues. These can include the impact of allergens or antibiotics, or even understanding which cleaning products you use and whether you’re exposed to other pesticides or second-hand smoke.
Consult your lifestyle consultation practitioner
Lifestyle consultations and lifestyle changes that can positively impact your gut health will be unique to each individual. Is important to work with specialists like nutritionists, dietitians or behavioral therapists in addition to your primary health care provider to determine your custom needs.
Many also seek out holistic health practitioners who can help them evaluate their lifestyle changes holistically. Ultimately making changes to your lifestyle can help you create a holistic chronic illness management plan and improve your quality of life. See our list of qualified providers to find one to suit your individual needs.