What is Gut Health?

nutrition Jul 24, 2018

A few years ago, it was difficult to find a grocery store that was stocked with kombucha. Now it’s hard to find one without it. Even Target carries it. This new trend in sparkly probiotic beverages is reflective of an even bigger trend in nutrition: recognizing the importance of gut health.

According to the most recent research, it appears that the gut is almost like a second brain. Poor gut health cause symptoms seemingly as benign as funny poop to much more sever conditions like different mental health issues and cancer.

Your gut is full of 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria. The different bacterium that make up your gut are called your gut microbiome. Your microbiome is like a fingerprint, unique to each individual. But unlike a fingerprint, which you are stuck with for life, your gut bacteria can change throughout the day based on what you eat, your stress levels, your exercise, and many other factors.

Many people are under the impression that the only symptoms of gut issues are digestive issues—bloating, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, gas, etc. But this is not entirely incorrect. Digestive issues are certainly an indicator of gut issues, but they are not the only indicator. Poor gut health can impact all different systems of the body:

  • The Immune System: 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut. The gut is where your immune system’s T cells develop, it is where the T cells learn the difference between a foreign substance and your body’s own tissues. If, for example, you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your gut, it can cause your immune system to attack your own body, which is the hallmark of autoimmune disorders.
  • Your Weight: The composition of your microbiome can actually impact how many calories your body absorbs from food. One study showed that lean people have 70% more diversity in gut bacteria than those who are overweight. There are also certain bacteria strains specifically that can cause the body to ultimately store more or less fat. 
  • Your Mental Health: The 500 million neurons that make up your Enteric Nervous System (ENS) are embedded in your gut. Your ENS plays a role in the production of different neurotransmitters like serotonin and epinephrine, which are responsible for regulating mood. If your gut health is off, it can impact the production of these neurotransmitters, causing an imbalance of them in the brain, the hallmark of different mental health issues.

These are just three examples of the drastic effects that gut health can have on the body outside of digestion. So what can you do to improve your gut health and thus your overall health? First, there are a few things you can try to limit:

  • Antibiotics are the biggest killer of good but bacteria. Obviously some illnesses require antibiotics to get better, but they should be used as a last resort because it can take months to rebuild the microbiome that is destroyed from one course of antibiotics.
  • Sugar and processed foods act as fertilizer for bad bacteria
  • Stress can negatively impact the composition of the microbiome
  • Anything you are intolerant to will cause inflammation and damage in the gut. If you are intolerant to dairy but love cheese, you might want to have a heart to heart with cheese and explain, “its not you, its my gut.”

Here are some things to include in your life to improve your gut health:

  • Sources of probiotics: kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, any fermented foods, miso, yogurt, etc.
  • Eat a diet based around whole, unprocessed foods.
  • Apple cider vinegar creates an acidic environment that is difficult for bad bacteria to grow in.
  • Collagen is a building block of connective tissue so consuming it can help repair any damage done to your gut lining.
  • Coconut contains lauric acid which the body converts into a compound to fight pathogens so coconuts are a natural antimicrobial powerhouse.

Long story short, if you want to live a happier, healthier life, focus on your gut health. And if you experience any health issues, know that there is a chance they are stemming from your gut and that they might not entirely go away until you fix the root of the issue. So go forth and love your gut!

 

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