Gut health is a bit of a buzzword in the health and fitness industry, but in the field of holistic medicine, it has maintained its position as the number one, most underestimated component of true health.
But what is gut health? How does it affect you?
If you’re new to all things gut health, this article will tell you all you need to know about how to have a healthy gut, and why this is essential for good health.
What is your gut?
Your digestive system is responsible for moving food through the gastrointestinal (GI) system from the mouth to where it needs to go, whether this is for nutrient absorption or to bulk out stools. The GI tract includes several organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus, including the pancreas, liver, gallbladder, stomach, and the large and small intestine.
Food is broken down by the digestive enzymes and bile acids that are present in the saliva that allow the nutrients to be released from the food so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to their necessary destination. The parts of the food that are undigested continue down the GI tract and are excreted as stool.
We have a diverse and complex ecosystem of bacteria in our GI tract, known as the gut microbiota or gut flora, that support all of our digestive processes. Fun fact: there are more bacteria cells in your body than there are human cells, around 10 times more ! So we’re essentially walking bacteria. The health of these bacterial ecosystems are key for healthy digestion, nutrient absorption, immune health and so much more. Let’s get into it.
So what constitutes good gut health?
The more diverse the bacterial ecosystem is, and the more healthy bacteria there is, the healthier your gut is. This is ‘good’ gut health. As per a 2015 study, the current body of research shows that a healthy gut can:
- Fight pathogens
- Supports healthy digestion
- Optimizes nutrient absorption
- Improves mental health
- Improves physical health
- Strengthens the immune system
- Increases autophagy (regenerates newer, healthier cells and slows down aging!)
- Optimizes cell apoptosis (programmed cell death of dangerous cells or mutations to reduce disease risk).
If you have low bacterial concentration or variety in your gut, you are likely to experience issues like bloating, constipation, brain fog and acne, as well as more serious long term conditions like IBS, IBD, chronic inflammation, increased disease risk, acne, anxiety and depression, obesity and more.
How can you improve your gut health?
Fibre supports bulks out your stools to support regular, easy bowel movements. A lack of fibre can lead to constipation, preventing your body from excreting toxins, and causing inflammation.
Inflammation impacts your mental and physical health almost immediately. So eat fibre with each meal for optimal digestion!
Examples of fibre include blackberries, blueberries, chia seeds, lentils, black beans, avocados, broccoli or brussel sprouts.
Not to be mistaken with probiotics, pre-biotics are types of dietary fibre known as fructo- oligosaccharides (FOS). This type of fibre is non-digestible, meaning that throughout digestion they remain undigested, with the purpose of providing fuel for the bacteria in the gut. Once in the gut, pre-biotics are fermented by the bacteria to strengthen and increase the good bacteria.
Examples of these types of fibre include onion, garlic, asparagus, chicory root or artichoke.
Probiotics are live bacterial organisms. Eww right? But actually, they’re super powerful.
When you eat probiotics in your food, they travel to your gut where they help to populate the gut with healthy bacteria.
Studies have supported the use of probiotics (supplements or in food) to treat digestive issues.
One study found that probiotic consumption reduced diarrhoea by 42 percent after antibiotic use, and another study found that probiotics were significantly beneficial at alleviating symptoms in IBS patients.
Examples of probiotic foods include fermented foods like tempeh, tofu, sauerkraut, kimchi and high quality dairy produce.
- Whole foods
Consuming a diverse range of whole foods like fruits, vegetables and plant foods has a profound effect on digestive health, due to the fibre and nutrients they provide. The more nutrients you eat in your diet, the more your general health is improved and the better your gut can function.
A diet high in processed, nutrient poor foods has been shown in research published in the journal Neuroscience in 2015 to damage the gut microbiome.
So now you’ve got the full guide on gut health and how you can help to support it. Your gut is your second brain. Take care of it. If this has helped you, please share it with a friend!