Why is Gut Health Important?
What is Gut Health
The microbiota is made up of approximately 10 trillion bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that live in our bodies mainly in the digestive tract. It is estimated that the gut contains approximately 35,000 different strains of bacteria. Our gut health has implications beyond simply healthy digestion; the state of our gut health can also regulate our mood as 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut! Whilst we only really think about bacteria when we’re fighting off an infection, the majority of the bacteria in our bodies is extremely beneficial (Visuri, 2018).
What Affects Our Gut Health
Research on our gut health is still in its infancy but it shows that our environment, stress, food, genetics, and the nature of our birth all can influence our gut health. Everyone’s microbiome is unique, but in those who are healthy there is a diverse array of organisms whereas in unhealthy individuals there is less diversity (MacMillan, 2019).
In terms of our environment many scientists claim we are too clean of a society. Exposure to germs and bacteria (within good reason) can strengthen our microbiomes. It’s important to spend time outside, play with dirt, and play with animals, these all help establish a healthy gut.
Medication, over-the-counter painkillers, and drugs used to treat infections can all alter the microbiome. Antibiotics prescribed to kill harmful bacteria are effective when you’re sick and need help ridding yourself of bad bacteria, but in accomplishing this, they also tend to destroy the good bacteria. Even one dose of a commonly prescribed antibiotic can wipe out microbial diversity for up to one month! Of course, antibiotics are necessary at time, but remember to give your gut a little extra love following such treatment.
What is An Unhealthy Gut
When your microbiome is out of balance symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea, stomach pain, or nausea is present letting you know your gut isn’t working. Most of the time the imbalances fix themselves but if it becomes chronic, it might require medical diagnosis and treatment.
The Gut Brain Connection
Have you ever had a gut-wrenching experience? Do certain situations make you feel nauseous? Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? Most of these expressions are used with reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation, all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
By altering the types of bacteria in your gut, it may be possible to improve your brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids, fermented foods, probiotics and other polyphenol-rich foods may improve your gut health, which may benefit the gut-brain axis (Komaroff).
How Can I Maintain My Gut Health
To maintain your gut health it’s important to follow a balanced diet, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, and get adequate sleep. Staying healthy will help you maintain a healthy gut. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Think DIVERSITY rather than good and bad bacteria: Aim for 30 different plant-based foods (nuts, seeds, whole-grains, legumes and fruit and veggies) a week.
Eat fibre-rich foods to FEED gut bacteria: Fibre found in high fibre foods contain prebiotics which ‘feed’ the beneficial or ‘good’ bacteria which live in your gut. Foods that contain beneficial prebiotics include beans, pulses, artichoke, legumes, and brussel sprouts.
Include healthy FERMENTED foods in your diet every day: Fermentation involves bacteria or yeast, to make foods such as yoghurt, kefir, and kombucha. They generally contain a wide range of different types of bacteria so are beneficial for the gut microbiome.
Avoid artificial sweeteners if you can: Although artificial sweeteners may help you reduce your calorie intake, they may also destroy the diversity of your gut microbiome.
Take a probiotic, but only if you are taking antibiotics or have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome): There isn’t any evidence that taking a probiotic supplement confers health benefits to healthy people, but there are studies that show specific strains of bacteria can help treat certain conditions (Rossi, 2019).
What are Probiotics and Prebiotics
In humans there are many strains of two main species of friendly bacteria, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Probiotics and prebiotics both help those friendly bacteria, but in different ways. Probiotics are live bacteria that can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, and prebiotics are a special form of dietary fibre that nourishes the good bacteria that everyone already has in their gut.
Science is still researching the benefits of probiotics pills and since the supplement industry isn’t well regulated it’s more beneficial to get good bacteria from fermented food sources such as yogurt, kombucha, tempeh, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi which have nutritional benefits as well.
Prebiotics include non-digestible part of foods like bananas, onions and garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, the skin of apples, chicory root, beans, oats, asparagus and many others. Prebiotic fibre goes through the small intestine undigested and is fermented when it reaches the large colon.
1. Jenni Visuri (2018, July 21). A story of your microbiota. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://thefoodmedic.co.uk/2018/07/a-story-of-your-microbiota/
2. MacMillan, A. (2019, April 01). What Is Gut Health? What to Know and How to Improve It. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://time.com/5556071/gut-health-diet/
3. Komaroff, A. L. (Ed.). (n.d.). The gut-brain connection. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.
4. Rossi, M. (2019, July 15). Your 10-Step Gut Makeover Plan. Retrieved from https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/all-articles/10-step-gut-makeover-plan-healthy-gut.