Students, staff explore gut health’s role in success

Published by Rachel Arceo on

Transfer student and TOP tutor, Sarah Collins, admits coffee is her main fuel when she is at school.
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Stress and a poor diet are unfortunate realities for many college students; often there is little time to consider a nutritious meal. With the busy work-life balance that many students have to navigate, gut health is frequently put lowest on the priority list.

However, not all students disregard their diet.

“I have plenty of time to think on my diet during school; I have no time to do anything about it,” transfer student Sarah Collins says.

“I try to pick the healthier options on campus, but there are days where you just want a cheeseburger, and unfortunately that’s what we have,” Collins says. “The hardest part is when you get home, trying to fit the time in to make dinner with homework and my kiddo. I live on a diet of coffee during the term.”

So with all the stress and responsibilities students and staff endure, why should they spare the mental energy to consider the well-being of their gut?

“Nutrition affects every aspect of the body, either promoting or deterring strength, endurance, mood, ability to handle stress, healing, energy level, well-being, disease risk and more,” Nutrition science instructor Jenny Young Seidemann shares in her course syllabus.

Now that UCC has partnered with Meals on Wheels, fresh food, like this home-made lentil and veggie stew can be found Monday through Friday from 7:30 am – 1:30 pm.
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TOP academic adviser Jennifer Driskill says, “Gut health is a huge factor in everything we are on a daily basis, mental clarity and just how our body feels in general. Bad gut health can make a super-healthy person feel like they have the worst disease in the world. It can also make you have skin problems like give you bumps on your skin.”

What is a healthy gut?

A healthy gut refers to a balance of microbiome in the stomach. Essentially, the more ‘good’ bacteria in the stomach, the less chance harmful bacteria can dominate. An imbalance of harmful bacteria can contribute to inflammation, disease, and mental health issues.

Gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, acid reflux and heartburn are becoming frequent worldwide, and this can have an impact on student and work success. A 2015 survey of 1885 students and employed people with IBS reported decreased productivity for an average of eight days a month and missed an average of one and half days of school or work a month.

Even though IBS may not be a concern for all students and staff, gut health does play a role in the well-being of all.

Gut health and focus

“When I was a student with stomach issues, I couldn’t think straight,” Driskill says. “I couldn’t focus on anything. I had to cut out processed food and all the bad stuff.”

Many experience problems focusing that are related to gut health. “It’s hard to focus when you have tummy problems,” says TOP academic advisor Bryanna Mandes Paradice, who notes probiotic drinks such as Kombucha help her with this.

Gut health and mood

“I think gut health can affect my mood, so I try to have a balanced diet as best as I can, but the stress of life throws that out the window sometimes,” said Chae Reyes, a second-year transfer student. “I am very in tune with my body, so when I’m not drinking enough water or eating nutritious food because I don’t have time, I tend not to be regular.”

Second year student, Chae Reyes, shares her advice on maintaining good gut health while at school.
Photo provided by Chae Reyes

Gut health and immunity

Nutrition instructor Seidemann reminds her students that “70% of immune function is in the gut.” A 2021 study found this to be true. The study acknowledges that the immune system, which heavily contributes susceptibility, persistence and alleviation of infections, is heavily related to the balance or imbalance of the gut’s microbiome.

Advice from experience

 “I know it’s hard to pay attention to one more thing because you’ve got lots on your plate already, but if you find one minute out of your day to take a few deep breaths and see what your body is doing; is it hurting?; is it tense?; are you feeling an upset stomach? If you are concerned it may not be a bad idea to get a check-up and call your doctor,” Reyes said in a phone message.

Paradice says, “Anything overly greasy is not good for your stomach. Taking care of what I eat helps in terms of energy and the quality of sleep I get. And not to pressure anybody, but I do better with a plant based diet. I noticed the more fresh produce the better.”

Even though Collins admits to challenges eating well on campus she admits, “I love the Fresh Fruit Fridays that ASUCC offers; I feel that’s what we all need, a big bowl of fruit in the mornings.”

Eat healthy foods regularly if you can. Follow a more plant-based diet if possible, but also make sure to get some of the things listed above, too! Meal prepping is another great way to eat healthier.
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