Generally speaking, “gut health” refers to the balance and function of bacteria in parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Our esophagus, stomach, and intestines work together effectively to digest food without feeling any discomfort.
Microorganisms in the gut are one of the most important parts of our body’s ecosystem, and when they are out of balance, bad things happen.
The type and number of bacteria (microorganisms) that reside in different parts of your digestive system affect your overall health.
In most cases, this has been a perfectly harmonious arrangement. But sometimes the balance is thrown off—and it can hurt our health.
If our intestines are not working properly, we may feel uncomfortable, which can lead to digestive disorders like heartburn or indigestion. Even if there are no symptoms, there could still be problems with the digestive system’s microbial ecosystem.
However, there are more than 70 million people in the U.S. struggling with digestive diseases. In our guts, food is broken down into nutrients, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.
If our digestive system is not working properly, we will not be able to achieve this. Healthy bacteria and immune cells lining the digestive tract fight off infectious agents such as viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
- 1 The Mind-Body Brain-Gut Connection
- 2 Signs Of An Unhealthy Gut
- 3 How Gut Health Impacts Our Bodies
- 4 How To Improve Your Gut Health
- 5 Tips To Improve Your Gut Health
- 6 Foods That Can Help You Create a Healthy Gut
The Mind-Body Brain-Gut Connection
Interestingly, the gut is oftentimes called the “second brain,” because it produces neurotransmitters just like the brain does and the system is wired together in ways that allow communication between them. The gut also contains a huge number of nerves—more nerves, in fact, than any other part of the body. And these nerves play a huge role in how we feel and function. They also help us process food and the chemicals we take into the body.
These nutrients and chemicals travel down the food chain to the gut and help nurture and support its microbial ecosystem. This also happens naturally as we move through our lives: The microbes that live in the gut determine how the brain communicates with our body systems.
The neurotransmitters produced by those microbes—which, as we just mentioned, travel down the food chain—are responsible for giving us feelings of ease or discomfort. These neurotransmitters influence our gut function and also our moods.
When this happens, it’s referred to as the “gut-brain axis,” and it’s one of the most important links between the brain and the body. But there is also another one: We now know that there is an information pathway from your gut to your brain (yes, with two lanes in each direction). The gut-brain axis explains why how we feel affects what we eat.
There is also evidence that the gut-brain axis is involved in autoimmune diseases, like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. When the brain senses an infection or inflammation in the body (an event that many people experience when they get sick), it sends signals to the body, telling it to make anti-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.
As we mentioned before, these chemicals travel through the body down the food chain to affect our gut function. These same cytokines also help break this cycle of inflammation and create balance, which is important for preventing infection and maintaining good gut health.
Signs Of An Unhealthy Gut
What are the symptoms of an unhealthy gut?
Chronic fatigue and sleep deprivation
Poor gut health leads to sleep disorders. We may suffer from chronic fatigue, as well as decreased productivity if we do not get enough sleep.
One of the hormones associated with happiness is serotonin, which is produced in the gut. This is why having a compromised digestive system causes us to produce less serotonin, which is unhappily depressing.
The inability to digest some types of food causes food intolerance, which is completely different from a food allergy (which is caused by an immune reaction).
Unintentional weight change
The primary reason for weight gain or loss is the intake of calories, but unintentional weight changes might also occur due to other factors.
A dysfunctional gut hurts our body in such a way that it has trouble absorbing nutrients. We are also negatively affected by the way our bodies store fat and regulate blood sugar. The decreased absorption of nutrients increases appetite and encourages overeating.
Unhealthy guts do not only harm us internally, they can also harm us externally. Symptoms of an inflamed gut include leaked proteins that result in irritation and itching of the skin. A bad digestive system may also contribute to skin disorders such as eczema.
Many studies have examined the impact of the gut on the immune system. An irritated gut is associated with systemic inflammation, which alters the normal function of our immune system.
As a result, the body will not protect itself against harmful “enemies”, but rather attack itself, resulting in autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune conditions include:
- Celiac Disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Type 1 diabetes
- Crohn’s disease
In addition to these, a poorly functioning gut may show the following signs:
- Abdominal Pain
- Loose stools
How Gut Health Impacts Our Bodies
The gut microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, other microbes, and fungi. The fact that it helps control digestion and boosts the immune system is a major factor in our general health.
The imbalance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the intestines may result in obesity, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and other health problems.
To help support the growth of healthy microbes in your gut, it is recommended to eat a diverse array of fruits and vegetables. It’s like having a garden: The soil is what you eat and drink, and it supports your health and well-being! If you maintain a healthy garden by doing all those things right, those plants thrive.
How To Improve Your Gut Health
It is important to maintain the right balance of microorganisms in the gut in order to maintain good physical and mental health, immunity, and more by means of breaking down the food we consume, which is later turned into vital nutrients.
In fact, consuming healthy food can impact the amount of “good” bacteria we have in our digestive system. Let’s go further into the topic offering some great tips on how to improve your gut health.
Tips To Improve Your Gut Health
Change Your Diet
What you eat has a big impact on the kind of microorganisms that grow in your gut, which is why it is important to change your diet.
In order to improve your gut health, it is important to reduce the inflammation in your body by eating a diet that is low in inflammatory foods and high in anti-inflammatory foods. Foods like broccoli, cabbage, and whole grains contain substances that can inhibit inflammation.
Other foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory properties include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and leafy greens. Choosing these foods can lead to a better balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut which will help protect against various diseases. To help you make better food choices for your gut health it is important to read food labels.
A Mediterranean dietary pattern and depressive symptoms are associated with the aging process. Probiotics may be helpful in the treatment of depression.
Getting rid of high sugar, trans-fats, and processed food should be your priority if you want your gut to thank you.
Consuming more lean protein such as chicken/turkey breasts, beef topside, fish, and quality fibers (oats, whole-grain bread/pasta) will benefit your digestive system.
In fact, eating a high-fiber diet has been proven to alter our guts in a positive direction.
Keep Yourself Hydrated
Drinking 8 glasses of water per day may sound like the most annoying thing your mom used to tell you, but it is actually true.
Keeping your body hydrated has been shown to positively affect the balance of the good bacteria in our guts.
Don’t Rush When Eating
Keeping a slow pace when consuming food is of major importance for the health of your gut. For this reason, chewing slowly can help you digest your food better and absorb all required nutrients.
Maintaining a healthy gut and reducing digestive discomfort are guaranteed if you stick to this condition. So, next time when you are trying to eat as fast as you can, slow down for a second, and think how your gut will react if you continue at the same pace.
Getting enough uninterrupted sleep is a complicated process for a lot of people, especially those with kids out there. However, not getting enough quality sleep can have a great impact on your gut health.
Try to prioritize getting at least 7-8 hours a night. Not only will it help you maintain a healthy gut, but you will also be more productive throughout the day.
Eat Fermented Foods
You also need to include fermented foods (see the section below) in your diet at regular intervals to create an appropriate environment for the good bacteria to thrive. Fermentation is a process where the sugar many foods contain is broken down into bacteria or yeast.
It converts sugars into alcohols or organic acids, which helps kill harmful bacteria while preserving food. Almost all fermented foods have a high level of beneficial bacteria in them.
This will raise your level of good bacteria, which may help you maintain a healthy balance in your gut ecosystem. If there are not enough good bacteria in the system, then there is more danger of harmful bacteria gaining a foothold and causing disease.
Foods That Can Help You Create a Healthy Gut
The following foods are called probiotics because they help replenish the population of beneficial bacteria in our bodies. They are also very easy to find in your local grocery store, and most people have at least one of them on their shopping list every week.
There are also fermented vegetables, tempeh, miso soup, and other fermented foods that are available in the Asian section of your grocery store.
One of the foods, which is easy to get and cheap is yogurt. Yogurt is rich in lactobacilli, which is a bacteria that can benefit your gut health. It was proven that people who consume a lot of yogurt, have more lactobacilli in their gut. These people have less chance to experience gut inflammation or any other chronic conditions.
Certain strains of lactic acid-producing bacteria that are found in yogurt can help keep your heart healthy by reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure.
However, keep in mind that there are many sweetened yogurts out there with a lot of added sugar, which are not beneficial. Always search for a natural yogurt with no artificial sweeteners.
Kefir contains “live and active cultures,” live beneficial bacteria. It has the advantage of containing even more good bacteria than yogurt.
Kefir grains, made up of a combination of yeast and bacteria, are added to milk. This gives it a similar taste to yogurt.
Kefir may benefit a wide range of health issues, from digestion to inflammatory conditions to bone health.
Native to Korea, kimchi is a fermented cabbage dish that dates back 3,000 years—and it continues to be popular in Korea because it helps with indigestion and relieves heartburn. It is also rich in vitamin C.
Because they contain an acidic environment that is hostile to most bacteria, pickles are a good source of probiotics. Some types of pickles also contain garlic, which boosts good bacteria.
We can almost see the smiles of all chocolate lovers out there. Polyphenols, which are plant-based molecules that are rich in fiber, are found in dark chocolate. They travel to our intestines, where microbes use them for fuel.
Other foods and beverages that are rich in polyphenols are:
- Green Tea
Probiotic supplements can improve mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and memory. A review of 15 human studies found that supplementing with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains for 1 – 2 months can improve mental health conditions.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial found that a probiotic food supplement reduced stress-induced gastrointestinal symptoms.
Probiotics can be taken as tablets, capsules, and powders, and most studies show that they have positive effects when taken in dosages of between 1 billion and 100 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per day.
A disrupted microbiome, which is found in the gut, can lead to many chronic diseases. There are a lot of lifestyle changes that you can make and with some effort, you can maintain a healthy gut.
Avoid artificial sweeteners as much as possible. Eat plenty of vegetables and fresh, unprocessed foods. Beans, legumes, and whole-grain foods should also be in your diet.
What are you waiting for? Your Gut Health is in your hands now. Go and make the most out of it!