Nutrition for a Happy, Healthy Gut

Written by Lori Bumbaco, MS, RDN, CSO, LDN, Oncology Dietitian

Individuals diagnosed with cancer often have questions about what to eat to help prepare and recover from treatments.  Often, food is used to nourish the body towards an optimal state to support immune function and energy levels.  Sometimes, those diagnosed with cancer also have changes to their gut function.  Individuals may have some pre-existing conditions that affect their gut health as well.  Experts are learning how we can support our gut health through a lifestyle, which includes several approaches using food and nutrition. 

While there is technically no definition for gut health, it is understood to include the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a state of well-being with a normal quality of life.  That may sound like a lot of work for our guts to handle, but a few simple yet important approaches can help our digestive system reach its full potential. 

One main objective of good gut health is the proper balance of bacteria and other microorganisms in the digestive system.  Beneficial gut bacteria help supply the body with essential nutrients, assist in the breakdown of organic compounds, synthesize vitamins, and stimulate nerve function.  Sometimes, there is an imbalance of microbes that includes the presence of less beneficial ones.  This can result in changes to digestion, and commonly lead to side effects. 

The most obvious way to find out that too much “bad” bacteria have colonized the gut is the presence of symptoms, such as chronic diarrhea, constipation, excess flatulence, and bad breath. However, the health of the gut not only affects digestion and bowel movements, but overall health of the body. 

Recently it has been discovered that depression, skin conditions such as acne, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, some cancers, obesity, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies may be caused by an imbalance of gut microorganisms.   

Some of the common reasons for a less healthy balance of microbes in the digestive tract include: 

  • Antibiotics 
  • Illness 
  • Stress 
  • Increased age 
  • Poor dietary habits (high-fat as well as high-fructose diets may disturb gut health) 
  • Poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption 

While we are unable to control many of these factors, we can optimize the gut-friendly choices in our diet and pursue a healthful lifestyle. Check out this resource for more information