How ‘Regular’ Are You? 5 Exercises to Rate Your Gut Health
Forget about remembering what you had for dinner last night. The more important question is: Do you have any idea where that dinner is now?
It’s a wonder that our bodies are capable of digesting everything we put into them, typically without complaint, while we go on our merry way. But maybe you should take a few moments to wonder about what’s going on in there.
A healthy digestive system does so much more than turn food into energy and push what’s left out of your body. When it’s running well, your gastrointestinal tract strengthens your immune system, it regulates your mood, and it helps you sleep.
But when it’s not running well, you might experience a range of symptoms you wouldn’t normally link to your gut, including skin irritation and migraines.
Check In With Your Gut: 5 Easy Tests
Your gastrointestinal tract is astounding. At about 30-feet long, it’s essentially one extended muscle that methodically breaks everything you eat into nutrients that are carried in your blood to cells throughout your body.
Along those twisting 30 feet, there can be occasional hiccups – 60 to 70 million Americans experience signs of digestive illnesses. But sometimes the symptoms aren’t noticed or considered abnormal until it’s too late. Here are five ways you can assess how well your GI tract is working.
Play the “chew-chew” game – The GI tract starts at the mouth, so while eating, chew slowly and pay attention. Chewing should increase your saliva production, which improves your ability to taste and swallow. When you do swallow, is the process automatic and easy, or does it occasionally catch? Swallowing disorders can signal gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), when the contents of your stomach, including acids, back up into your food pipe, or esophagus.
Perform regular post-meal gut checks – After eating, tap into how your digestive system responds. Burning in your chest might indicate GERD. A sharp pain in your stomach could suggest a food allergy or gas, but if persistent it may be cause by gallstones. Feel your gut with your hands for unusual bloat; frequent bloating or cramping can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Sounds, such as gurgling, are typically normal – unless accompanied by pain.
Look into your bowl – Poop’s appearance says a lot. In particular, it reveals which foods your body absorbs well, and which not so much. A healthy stool is sausage-shaped, passes easily, and is a shade of brown. A stool that is red or black might contain blood from hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease, or colon cancer (unless you ate beets). A greenish-yellow stool could be a sign of gallbladder issues. And if your stool is green, you might not be absorbing vegetables and therefore losing nutrients.
Gauge your fuel tank – If you regularly feel low on energy, you could have an out-of-balance gut microbiome, which is made up of beneficial bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. Much of your body’s serotonin, a hormone that carries messages from the brain and aids in functions such as mood and sleep, is made in the gut. Two studies, released in early 2023, connect disruptions in the gut microbiome with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Train for when you pass “go” – Keep a poop-and-diet diary to see if your GI system is running on schedule (typically one normal bowel movement a day). Flag days when you skip, and look back on what you ate and drank to narrow down the source. One way to clock the time it takes for food to pass through you is the beet test. Eat a meal with beets, then wait for it to come out (your poop will be reddish or purple). Ideally, your body will pass the beets in 24 to 48 hours.
Food for Thought, and Digestion
Digesting the Results of Your GI Checklist
If you are happy with the results of these exercises, congratulations! Just keep checking in with your gut, staying hydrated, eating natural fibers (especially fruits and vegetables), and exercising when you can.
If you do not feel confident with the results of this checklist, it might be time to call a doctor who can make a wellness diagnosis. Like many of the daily essentials we count on to run smoothly, our GI tract can occasionally break down. Self-awareness, and good eating habits, can help keep it to a minor hiccup.
If you have a question about your digestive health, you can submit a general inquiry through our website here or request an appointment. Learn more about why the gut microbiome keeps you healthy from our blog, here.