As an integrative physician, I am often asked about what things can be done that can help improve gut health. With so much confusion about which medications are safe to use and what supplements are best to take, many are left wondering if what they are doing is the best or if they are just wasting their time and money. While there are many things you can do to improve your gut and overall health, I wanted to focus on something we often forget to talk about: social interconnectedness.
Social interconnectedness means your social connections, relationships, and friendships. Yes, you can do things to be healthier that don’t cost you anything. Here are my top 3 tips.
- Kindness. Kindness and compassion are two of the most powerful medicines. Helping others has a much more powerful impact on our bodies than if we just did something to help ourselves. When we are kind to others we are being kind to ourselves. Our heart rate and blood pressure is improved and stress levels are reduced. On the flip side, if we get angry or even have negative thoughts towards someone, we are just creating negative energy against ourselves. We now know that there is a connection between the gut (i.e., our digestive tracts) and the brain and that this is a two-way superhighway. How we think, feel, and act can influence the trillions of bacteria that live inside our gut. Additionally, those bacteria can influence how we think, feel, and act as well. A study performed at UCLA showing that taking probiotics can influence brain activity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839572/) helps show us how closely connected our brain and gut really are.
- Breathe. One of the best ways to heal your gut is by taking a few minuteS to slow down and take a few deep breaths. Meditating or yoga doesn’t have to be as complicated as we might think it is. There are so many ways to relax during the day so find what works best for you. Meditation has been associated with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure and heart rate, lower triglycerides, and the leakiness of the gut (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27576169). There is no medicine that exists that can do all of these things and more!
- Talk. Talk to your friends. Talk to a stranger. We know that social connections play a huge role in our health. In neighborhoods with lower levels of trust and social interactions between people we have seen that there is an increased risk of heart disease and depression and lower life expectancy. What’s fascinating is that under these circumstances we also see a decrease in the diversity and amounts of good bacteria in our gut (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26859894). Even if there is one person in your life that you can trust and count on, that is all you need.
Human beings are social creatures. We are all so unique yet built in the same way. If you are kind, compassionate, mindful, and just make some time to have fun or connect with someone, you are giving your body a dose of very powerful medicine, one that you cannot buy in a pharmacy! Your gut will definitely thank you!