You’ve heard the phrase “trust your gut,” but did you ever think that you need to take care of it too? A healthy gut is directly related to your overall health. But just what is gut health, why is it so important, and what are the connections? Let’s find out!
First of all, let’s define gut. Your gut includes your digestive tract: your stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and colon. When medical professionals talk about gut health, you’ll more than likely hear them use the term “Gut Microbiome.” Your gut microbiome refers to the collection of trillions of microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. In fact, you have more microorganisms in your gut than human cells! Think of your gut microbiome as the population of a diverse city, except instead of people, you have bacteria, archaea, yeasts, viruses, and fungi living there!
These microorganisms, or gut flora, play a critical and essential role in your overall health. Generally, your gut flora can be divided into two categories of gut microorganisms: beneficial (good) and harmful (bad). The balance of the good and bad microorganisms determines whether or not you have a healthy gut which determines your overall health, especially immune health.
The Importance of a Healthy Gut
Why do you need to be concerned about your gut health? It may sound daunting, but we need our trillions of microbes present and balanced if we want to achieve overall health optimization for three main reasons.
- Some gut flora produce a range of hormones and vitamins without which your body couldn’t survive.
- Your digestive tract plays host to most of the cells that make up your immune system. In fact, about 80% of your total immune system lives in your gut! Good gut health therefore equals fewer sick days and a lower risk of allergies and autoimmune conditions.
- If you don’t have a healthy intestinal lining to digest your food, it won’t matter how perfect your diet is. That’s because you won’t be able to receive the nutritional benefits of what you’re eating.
How Your Gut Affects Your Health
Let’s look at how your gut health affects specific body systems.
The connection between gut bacteria, your heart, and your kidneys
Researchers have been learning that some kinds of gut bacteria may contribute to the link between cholesterol and heart disease. When you eat foods like red meat or eggs, these bacteria produce a chemical that your liver turns into TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide). Studies show that TMAO may help the build-up of cholesterol in your blood vessels. Too much TMAO may also lead to chronic kidney disease. People who have chronic kidney disease don’t get rid of as much TMAO as they should, leading to a surplus that can lead to heart disease.
Gut bacteria and your brain
Many researchers believe that your gut is like a second brain that sends messages out to the rest of your body, including your brain. Some studies have shown that the balance of bacteria in your gut microbiome influences your emotions and the way your brain processes information from your senses.
Gut bacteria and obesity
Studies have shown that the gut flora in obese people are less diverse than people of average weight. They also found that obese people with a less diverse supply of gut flora gain more weight. A 2018 study discovered a link between obesity and gut health when they found that certain amino acids in our blood can be connected to obesity and the composition of the gut biome. Gut health may also be linked to the pituitary gland, which produces hormones that affect your appetite.
These are just a few examples of how your gut health is linked to other body functions and health conditions. If you’re still not convinced of how important your gut health is, here are a few other conditions that may be linked to poor gut health:
- Autoimmune disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Acid Reflux
- Liver disease
- Chronic fatigue
Convinced and asking yourself, “How do I know if I have a healthy gut?”
Gut Health Checklist
Signs that you have an unhealthy gut can be many and varied. Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, stomach cramps, acid reflux, heartburn, and nausea can indicate a possible imbalance or overgrowth in your gut flora. However, signs of an unhealthy gut are not limited to GI symptoms. In fact, an unhealthy gut can cause a multitude of symptoms including fatigue, depression, anxiety, memory loss, headaches, joint pain, insomnia, and more.
There are many factors that can impact gut health, leading to many of the symptoms mentioned above including your
- stress level
- sleep efficiency
Fortunately, new technology is available that can use DNA testing to get a better understanding of what’s going on in your gut. This PCR technology can test levels of
- healthy bacteria
- pathogenic bacteria
- opportunistic bacteria
In addition to measuring microbial populations through PCR technology, we can also measure
- how well you’re digesting and absorbing your food,
- how well your gut is detoxing,
- the status of your gut-immune system, and
- the overall level of damage any microbial imbalance has caused to the lining of your gut (sometimes referred to as “leaky gut”).
With this information, clinicians can accurately assess microbiome and metabolic imbalances to help create a personalized plan to heal chronic illnesses and restore your gut microbiome to a state of balance.
How to Restore Gut Health and Healthy Gut Flora
Here’s some good news: There are plenty of ways to restore natural gut health! Many are as simple as making appropriate lifestyle and dietary changes to positively alter the diversity and number of microbes in your gut.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria similar to the good bacteria that live in your gut. If good bacteria take up more space, there’s less room for harmful bacteria. You can load up on probiotics by taking probiotic supplements or eating fermented foods.
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates.
Probiotics love to eat prebiotics, which of course, can boost the number of probiotics in your biome. A 2017 study also suggested that prebiotics may make probiotics more tolerant of pH and changes in temperature. Prebiotics can be found in foods like asparagus, bananas, garlic, and more!
Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics
It’s no secret that antibiotics can severely damage the gut microbiome. Although it may be necessary to take antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, doctors in the U.S. tend to over-prescribe them. Talk with your doctor about alternative options before taking a course of antibiotics.
Do You Need a Healthy Gut Diet Plan?
Your microbes do rely on you to feed them well. However, before you jump onto a drastic gut health diet and supplement plan, it’s best to consult with a physician and a nutritionist to ensure that you’re doing what’s best for your unique body. In the meantime, you can start to cut out the worst foods for gut health like chips, crackers, and pretzels loaded with preservatives and additives, and processed foods containing high sugar levels.
We’re Here to Help!
We believe nutrition is fundamental and can prevent and reverse disease. Our NAVA team of Functional Nutritionists is ready and waiting to help you achieve optimal health and wellness. Make an appointment today and find out how to improve your gut health!