Health: Go with your gut

December 20, 2007 4:55:53 PM PST
This holiday season, find out how you can take care of your digestive system for better health!

It is the time of year for food and family, but it's also the time we get sick with the cold or flu. Did you know taking care of your digestive system can actually boost your body's immune system and ward off colds and other ailments? Liz Applegate, Director of Sports Nutrition at UC Davis gave us more information that can improve our heath in simple and easy ways.

About Liz Applegate, Ph.D.:
Director of Sports Nutrition, University of California at Davis, is a columnist for Runner's World and regular guest on local and national morning shows.

The holidays are a time for celebration, a time for family and a time for food. Unfortunately, it's also a time when we often get sick with colds or the flu. It's no wonder your diet may suffer, with all of the holiday chaos, added stress and with the hours of lost sleep you may be experiencing. Make this holiday season different by taking care of your digestive system, which can boost your health. According to research, your gut is the window to your health. By taking a few simple steps to ensure your digestive tract is well cared for, good health will come your way and your immunity will be strong for the holiday season.

TLC for your digestive system:
Stay healthy this holiday by taking these simple steps to promoting healthy bacteria in your digestive system and a strong immune system.

  1. Include food with probiotics. These are live healthy bacteria that exist naturally in foods such as yogurt and kefir, and in other specialty products, such as wellness bars and cereals. Studies show that probiotics keep the harmful bacteria populations from outnumbering the good.

  2. Get your rest. Sleep allows your body time to rebuild and recover from the busy day. Studies show that getting at least 7 to 8 hours, nightly helps maintain your body's immunity.

  3. Take relaxation time for yourself. Busy times can make for stressful times and can increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. This in turn can compromise your immune system's ability to ward off illnesses. Set aside time to read, meditate or do other solo activities that give you a little "me time" to lower stress levels.

  4. Stay active. Walking, jogging or other physical activities keep your intestinal tract healthy, improve blood flow and boosts immune health. Preserve your exercise time during the holidays as this is as important to your well-being, as sleeping and eating. It will also help keep the holiday pounds at bay.

Gut reactions:

  • Your digestive system has more going on inside of it, than you may realize. There are literally trillions of bacteria that live mostly in the lower parts of your intestines, like in the colon. These bacteria establish a "city" of sorts with many different "neighborhoods" of friendly (healthy) and non-friendly (harmful) bacteria types.

  • Your immune health depends upon the friendly bacteria outnumbering these bad neighbors. According to research, the healthy bacteria help maintain the proper balance of immune substances called immunoglobulins that ultimately help keep colds, flu and even yeast infections at bay. Scientists view the intestinal tract as the first line of defense against illness. So maintaining ample friendly bacteria ultimately keeps you well.

  • But the friendly bacteria can become outnumbered or weakened due to the overgrowth of the harmful varieties, which triggers a chain reaction that ultimately weakens your immune system. Stress, likely around holiday time, poor sleep, sporadic eating or poor dietary choices can each disrupt the balance of friendly versus non-friendly bacteria.

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