Updated: Oct 1, 2021
How much do you know about the role your gut health plays in your health and wellness?
If you have ever heard of the stomach referred to as the “second brain," it gives you a pretty good idea of just how important your gut health is. And for the past two decades, studies have demonstrated the link between gut health and our immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, some skin conditions, and even cancer.
Is my gut healthy?
If you regularly experience gastrointestinal or stomach issues, such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or heartburn, these could be signs of an unhealthy gut. When your gut is healthy and balanced, you will have an easier time processing food and eliminating waste.
Your body is home to trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Collectively these are known as your gut's microbiome. While some bacteria are associated with disease, others are an important component of good health, supporting a strong immune system, heart, healthy weight, and several other aspects of health and wellness.
As much as 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. If your gut is healthy and balanced, you are armed and ready to fight off illnesses. A person can have between 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract at any given time. And while some of these microorganisms can be harmful to your health, most are beneficial and play an important role in supporting and maintaining your overall health. If you find you are prone to catch every bug that goes around, it might be time to consider your gut health.
There are a whopping 500 million neurons in the walls of your intestines, which make up your enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is heavily involved in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Up to 90% of serotonin is made in the gut! Which is why it is not so surprising to learn your gut health can have a big impact on your mood. In one UCLA study, one group of women was given a fermented milk drink to drink, the other group of women a milk with no probiotics, then each group had their brain's scanned to observe their reactions while viewing photos of emotional expressions. Interestingly, the group of women who had drank the fermented milk were found to be less emotional.
Research is also beginning to see a link between ENS and mood shifts, especially for people that suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and other functional bowel symptoms, such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and stomach upset. Studies have also found evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes, and another more recent study noted a link between IBS and functional bowel with anxiety and depression. Further demonstrating the power of the mind - body connection.
Weight and appetite.
Your gut health can have a big impact on your metabolism by influencing how many calories and the nutrients you are able to absorb from your food. Studies have found that people at healthier weight tend to have a much more diverse range of gut bacteria compared to individuals that are overweight, likely a by-product of a healthy gut and its ability to digest fiber efficiently.
Most of us know that increasing daily fiber intakes (through foods like fruits and vegetables), is an important part of supporting a healthy waistline. But you may not know that good gut health has also been linked to your body's ability to digest that fiber efficiently. When your gut is healthy, the good bacteria in your gut is able to break down and digest fiber to produce short-chain fatty acids, which are important in supporting good gut health. Just another great reason to load up your plate with some fresh in season produce.
A healthy gut can also translate to healthy skin. Research has shown skin conditions, such as eczema, are impacted by the quality of your gut health. Some studies have found that inflammation in the gut, as a result of a poor diet or food allergies, can allow certain toxins into your bloodstream, which then contribute to inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and acne. According to one study, regularly drinking a probiotic drink helped to clear acne.
Bottom line: your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes. A healthy gut plays an important role in your health and wellness in a variety of ways, from promoting healthy digestion and a strong immune system, to supporting a healthy waistline and reducing risk of a variety of health conditions and diseases. What are a few simple things you can do to improve and support good gut health? Consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are all a good source of dietary fiber, and fermented foods, which contain healthy bacteria, are a great place to start.
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