What Is Gut Health?
The term “gut health” seems to be popping up everywhere these days! When we talk about gut health we are usually talking about the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as digestion and absorption of food, and the absence of GI illness. Scientifically though, gut health is still really unclear on what it is and how it is defined and measured.
Did you know that a healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestions, and it may help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases! Who knew a healthy gut could improve that many things, well I guess it makes sense. The gut transports foods from the mouth to the stomach and converts food into nutrients and stored energy.
The GI tract is full of trillions of bacteria that help us process foods but also helps maintain homeostasis and our over-all well being. Without getting too scientific I’ll try to make this as simple as possible. Scientists are looking into the makeup of the bacteria in our gut and they have found that certain environments, foods, and behaviors can influence gut health for better AND worse.
Long story short, healthy people have a diverse array of organisms in their body including the gut. The microbiome is the makeup of bacteria and other microorganisms in the stomach and intestines, informally, the gut. Most of the organisms are bacteria, but there are viruses, fungi, and other microbes. An unhealthy individual has less diversity in their organisms which usually tend to be an increase in bacteria that can be associated with a disease. So why does this matter? It all adds up to how you feel!
What Affects Gut Health?
The food we eat plays a huge role in the bacterial makeup of our guts. The environment we grew up can also play a role in our gut health. Being exposed to more bacteria as a kid can affect our microbiomes. Being an outdoorsy kid playing in the dirt, having pets in your household can change your bacteria makeup in your gut.
Emotional stress can also affect our gut health. Scientists call it the “gut-brain axis” which is basically signals from the gut that can affect neurotransmitters in the brain. The mental state we are in and the microbiome can influence each other to some extent. This is still new research but, makes sense to me!
Medications will also change the makeup of bacteria in our gut and although they might be prescribed to us these medications can kill harmful bacteria but it can also kill all sorts of good bacteria too.
Symptoms of Bad Gut Health
We’ve all seen the Pepto commercials, we all know signs of bad gut health, but in case if you don’t know the signs here they are…
- Stomach Pain
Most gut health symptoms should fix themselves but these are signs your gut isn’t working as it should. If any of the above symptoms become chronic and won’t go away it’s time to seek medical attention. But, be aware that some microbiome imbalances don’t cause immediate symptoms but could still put you at risk for things like colon cancer.
How To Improve Gut Health
- Follow a balanced diet
- Stay really hydrated
- Exercise regularly
- Once again, do we need to say it again? Get enough sleep too!
Overall, your healthy life will create a healthy gut. We also suggest you limit your dairy, processed meats, and refined sugars. Make sure you get your daily amount of fiber (20-40 g a day, depending on your age and gender). Add plenty of fruits and veggies to your diet to get the fiber you need. Avoid taking any unnecessary medications, and if all else fails, talk to your doctor about your current regimen that might affect your gut health. When in doubt, stick to high nutrient and fiber packed foods low in saturated fats and sugars! Your gut will thank you for being balanced and healthy! We love your guts, take care of them!