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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

The Key to a Healthy and Happy Back-to-School

Aug 01, 2021 12:00AM ● By Jackie Furlong

RawPixel MetroEast Natural Healing Center

Start the new school year right—healthy with a strong immune system and good energy, happy with less anxiety and more self-esteem, and all with a strong memory and focus.

The key to all of this is the gut-brain connection. Emotions can influence the gut while the gut can influence emotions. A troubled gut can send signals to the brain and a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Our gut has been referred to as our second brain because there is such a strong connection.

Gut-Brain Connection
The gut 
microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, and it plays a major role in mental and physical health. A balanced microbiome is critical for healthy digestion and the absorption of nutrients from food. It is also critical for healthy brain function and good moods since food is broken down by the microbiome. It affects the production of brain chemicals that help with feelings of being calm, relaxed, capable, and high self-esteem. As much as 95 percent of the hormone serotonin, which helps with feelings of emotional well-being, is produced in the gut. Since 70 to 80 percent of our immune system is in the gut, a balanced microbiome is critical for the strength of overall health.

Brain-Gut Connection
Brain (emotional) stress affects the gut. 
Stress increases cortisol which is the fight or flight hormone produced to protect the body when in life-threatening situations. It moves more blood flow toward the large muscles and limbs but away from the digestive tract.

Since most people, including children, are under chronic stress, cortisol levels are elevated most of the time. This has a negative effect on the gut microbiome and increases intestinal permeability which can lead to a lowered immune system, leaky gut syndrome and other illnesses and diseases.

Balancing the Gut Microbiome
Too many of the following items will negatively impact the gut microbiome:

·  Antibiotics, antacids, and anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, have been shown to compromise the gut microbiome by feeding the bad bacteria, killing off the good bacteria, causing inflammation, breaking down the intestinal lining and creating small holes (a leaky gut).

·  Wheat products. Wheat grown in the U.S. is sprayed heavily with glyphosate which binds to essential minerals making them unavailable to the gut microbes.

·  High amounts of refined sugars have been linked to increased inflammation in the body. Pay attention to:

o   Soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and juices are all concentrated sources of sugar.

o   Foods with added sugar like cereal, baked goods, candy, and dairy desserts.

o   Foods that turn into sugar such as bread, pasta, chips, pretzels, crackers.

·  Processed foods and fast foods are laden with bad fats, additives, and preservatives, and have low nutritive value.

To improve gut health, including in the diet probiotic foods that add good bacteria to the gut. People can increase their intake of fermented foods such as plain kefir, sauerkraut, fermented pickles (not vinegar-made), kimchi, plain yogurt (organic, full fat, no added sugar), and kombucha. Adding aged cheese and raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar will also help.

Prebiotic, fiber-rich foods will feed the good bacteria and repair the intestinal lining. These include spinach, romaine lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, wild rice, steel-cut oats, flax seeds, and almonds.

When it comes to developing and maintaining gut health, the simplest approach is to eat real foods. Ask yourself if the food you are eating has a root or a parent. Choose healthy proteins, fats, and vegetables at each meal. Exercise regularly to help reduce stress and increase physical endurance.

Jackie Furlong's passion for nutrition began in 1986 when she and her husband, Dr. Marty Furlong opened MetroEast Natural Healing Center. Furlong has a Bachelor of Science Degree in chemistry from the University of Minnesota and is certified with the American Fitness Professionals & Associates and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Holistic Health Coach. She developed the Guided Nutrition Program in 2014 has not only been successful in helping patients make the changes necessary to achieve greater health but is now being offered in clinics all over the nation. To learn more, visit


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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities June 2024