The term ‘gut health’ is a buzzword within the health community, but did you know that gut health is more than fueling your body for optimal performance? You’ve undoubtedly seen quite a bit of information circulating regarding the necessity for good gut health for overall well-being. But the term can be a bit confusing and is often misused, as health buzzwords often are. So let’s dive into gut health and why it is vital for everyone.
Gut health is more than digestion
If you are not clear on the term ‘gut health’, you are not alone. To understand what a healthy gut looks and feels like for you, we need to start with what the ‘gut’ is and is not. The gut refers to the digestive tract, which is much more than your stomach. The digestive tract begins with the esophagus, ends with the anus, and encompasses everything. Therefore, gut health is more than good digestion, although this is one aspect of a healthy gut.
Each section of the gut has a profound job to do and assists the body in breaking down foods and utilizing nutrients to help with systems throughout the body.
The gut microbiome
The gut cannot work without the assistance of what experts think are trillions of microbes housed within what is known as the gut microbiome. According to the National Library of Medicine, microbes are “living things that are found all around too small to be seen with the naked eye.”
Many different types of microorganisms, primarily bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that are helpful but may also potentially cause harm comprise the gut microbiome. In a healthy individual, a symbiotic relationship generally exists between the human body and the microbes, although this is not always the case.
Interestingly, the gut microbiome is unique to the individual, and DNA determines this. Humans are exposed to microbes for the first time at birth via the birth canal and breast milk. As we age, our microbiome grows in diversity, dependent upon many things, including environmental factors, exposure, diet, antibiotics, and more.
The mind-gut connection and the second brain
It is a safe bet to say that we have all had a “gut feeling” before. Maybe some of us make decisions based on our “gut instincts.” But did you know there is a genuine and potent connection between your gut and brain? The gut is often referred to as the second brain.
The enteric nervous system, a little-known part of the autonomic nervous system, lives within the entire digestive tract (the gut) and utilizes the same neurotransmitters and neurons as those in the central nervous system. Communication between the brain and the gut via these neurotransmitters, neurons, immune system, and hormones allows us to comprehend things like hunger. Another example of cross-communication between the brain and the gut is the physical response of the slowing down of the digestive tract when a person is in fight or flight. The CNS and the enteric nervous system communicate, and the body responds to protect the individual.
What does it mean to have a healthy gut?
A healthy gut has a balance and diversity of good bacteria. Gut health plays a role in your immunity, may be a factor in weight gain/loss, and can impact your risk for chronic disease and mental health. Did you know that more than half of your immune system is in your gut?
Some physical signs that something might be amiss with your gut health are diarrhea, bloating, constipation, reflux, or indigestion. In addition, if you are experiencing sleep issues, skin rashes or allergies, mood swings, suffering from autoimmune conditions, feeling fatigued, or even battling intense sugar cravings, these can all result from dysbiosis of the gut.
Clearly, gut health is important for so many aspects of health, and you can take steps today to help fuel and increase the healthy organisms within your microbiome.
What can I do to improve gut health?
The great news is that gut health and the microbiome are forever changing, and you can always do something to improve the diversity of flora within your gut to help get yourself back into alignment.
- Limit antibiotic use. Antibiotics are often necessary, and we encourage you to take them at your doctor’s advice. However, these medications wipe out not only the dangerous bacteria making you sick but the healthy ones as well, creating an imbalance in your gut.
- Focus on whole, unprocessed foods. The microbes that assist your gut need whole foods, and that’s just the truth. Eating foods in their whole form – an apple versus an apple-flavored gummy – to thrive, so the more you fuel your body with unprocessed foods that agree with your individual gut, the better off you are.
- Reduce stress. Remember the whole mind-gut connection? Here is where learning to manage your stress levels in a healthy way can assist your gut health. Because your brain and gut are constantly communicating, it is crucial to manage your stress to help with your gut.
- Consider adding probiotic foods or supplements. Diversity within the microbiome is crucial to gut health, so the more, the merrier. Probiotic foods contain live bacteria, which can be beneficial to microbiome diversity and help with your gut. Yogurt, kefir, sour kraut, and fermented foods are excellent sources of probiotics. You can also take probiotic supplements.
- Don’t forget fiber. Fiber is essential for the body and is a fuel source for gut bacteria, so these microorganisms won’t turn to the gut lining for food when the fiber is readily available.
- Stay hydrated. Our bodies need water for multiple reasons. Water assists with digestion, can help stimulate movement of the bowels, and may even be critical to increased diversity within the microbiome. Drink up!
Good gut health is essential.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the power of the gut, but we hope this simplistic post will help you with your health decisions in the future. You are what you eat, and how you eat impacts how your microbiome operates, so it is necessary to learn all you can learn about gut health and ways to improve your own.
Innova Primary Care exists to revolutionize healthcare from the inside out. This mission begins with our patients and the information we provide because education is power for and to health. If you have questions about ways to improve your gut health, please reach out. We are here to work alongside you for your overall health and wellness needs. Let’s get thriving!