Winter can be a difficult time of year for your gut. With the lack of fresh air, cold temperatures, reduced activity, and less sunshine, your digestive and detox systems can suffer. It’s important to prioritize gut health during this season in order to ensure that your entire gut is functioning optimally. By taking proactive steps such as eating nourishing meals and getting enough exercise, you can help keep your gut microbes healthy throughout the winter months. In this article, we will explore why it’s so important to look after our gut microbes and digestive function this winter and some simple strategies on how you can do just that.
Why Gut Health is a Priority
Gut health is closely linked to overall well-being and the gut microbes (microbiome) play a vital role in this. Our gut microbes are responsible for breaking down nutrients, synthesizing vitamins, and helping our bodies absorb essential minerals—all of which can be affected by winter weather. As well as providing us with these important services, gut microbes also protect us from illnesses by preventing harmful bacteria from invading the gut and by playing a role in activating your immune system when needed. During the winter months, gut microbes need extra support to stay healthy and function properly.
Beyond just the microbes themselves, if your digestive system isn’t operating properly, you won’t have adequate stomach acid, digestive enzymes, or digestive organ function to bring food in, pass it through the system, and adequately clear the wastes. Many people are left with heartburn, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain when their digestive system isn’t working properly. Did you know poor digestion can also lead to stiff joints, headaches, skin issues, and fatigue? Gut health is so much more than just your digestion.
Steps to Taking Care of Your Gut
Taking care of your gut requires living an overall healthy life, taking in quality nutrients, getting adequate exercise, sleep, and sunshine, and properly managing stress loads. Winter season comes with shorter daylight hours, more clouds, fewer warm days to get outside, more recycled air, closer contact with other people indoors, and of course, several key holidays filled with sugar, refined foods, alcohol, and excess stress. All of these can take a toll on gut health.
One key element to gut health is following an overall healthy diet composed primarily of fresh, organic whole foods that are rich in nutrients, healthy fats, and quality proteins. You can also boost your microbe population by taking in fermented and cultured food (watch for added sugar in some products) and whole non-starchy vegetables (pre-biotics). It’s also vital to keep refined sugars, grains, alcohol, and added chemicals out of your diet. These ingredients all work together to kill off good microbes and can even feed undesired microbes, leading to overgrowth of the wrong bugs (like yeast).
Outside of your diet, it’s also important to reduce your overall toxin exposure. Toxic chemicals are found in cleaning products, personal care products, air fresheners, tap and bottled water, and many other household items. These chemicals can kill off microbes or even contribute to resistant microbes, by only killing off the weakest bugs. Many of these chemicals can accumulate in your body, leading to long-lasting damage to your tissues, hormones, and overall function.
Managing stress is a vital component of a healthy gut. Stress not only interferes with the digestion of your food, but also causes the release of chemical messengers in your body that increase your blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation. All of this can cause weight gain, brain fog, memory issues, mood instability, hunger, chronic infections, joint and muscle pain, skin issues, and digestive symptoms.
Finally, exercise is a great way to support gut health. Exercise stimulates movement of food through the gut and helps with gut motility which is important for gut health. It also supports blood flow to gut organs, helping them work more efficiently. You can do this by simply adding an extra walk outside each day (also provides fresh air and daylight), dancing in your living room, doing squats during commercial breaks, or even walking up and down the stairs several times.
Gut Health is Vital in the Winter
In conclusion, gut health is important year-round but especially in the winter months. You can take simple steps to protect your gut microbes and promote healthy gut function during this season by following a nutrient-dense diet, reducing toxic exposure, managing stress, and getting regular physical activity. All of these simple strategies will help you stay healthy and provide your gut microbes with the support they need to keep you thriving.
If you are already doing all of these things, but still don’t have the optimal health you want, reach out. It’s likely you have a hidden imbalance, nutrient deficiency, or unknown gut infection that is preventing your body from feeling its best. I can help you investigate these challenges through functional assessments and laboratory testing.