Gut health has become an increasingly popular topic of conversation, both in and out of doctor’s offices. Generally speaking, this is a great thing! Gut health is an instrumental part of overall wellness and maintaining a healthy balance in your entire body. With that said, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting the best possible information when it comes to keeping your gut healthy. The best way to do this is to consult with a functional medicine physician in order to find out what your unique plan should be for optimizing both gut health and holistic wellness. However, there are some general facts about gut health that are definitely worth knowing. Today, we’re breaking down some important information about gut health and its impact on overall wellness. Let’s go ahead and get started.
Your gut is full of bacteria, and that’s a good thing.
The bacteria found in your gut, also known as your gut microbiota, are critical components of both your digestive process and your immune system. There are over a trillion of these “good” bacteria all over your GI tract, and they accomplish several extremely important things. This includes turning fiber into short chain fatty acids like butyrate which provides energy to the gut cells; breaking down medications and drugs to help bring about their intended effects; fortifying your gut’s mucous membranes; fighting against pathogens and keeping your immune system in balance; synthesizing certain vitamins like B12 and Vitamin K; and communicating with your brain to keep your emotions and neurological function optimal. Your gut bacteria aren’t just critical to your immune and digestive health; they help to keep your entire body going!
You have control over the “good” bacteria in your gut.
The lifestyle choices you make can definitely impact your gut health. In fact, diet is one of the most important factors when it comes to the balance and health of your microbiome. Keeping up at healthy diet composed of fiber-rich whole foods is a great way to keep your gut full of good bacteria that keep your neurological, immune, and digestive systems going. Adding some probiotic rich foods fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt (preferably grass-fed with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners), tempeh, and miso. These foods naturally replenish the good bacteria in your gut.
Your medications can impact your microbiome.
Because your gut bacteria are in charge of breaking down the active ingredients in the medications you take, they can be impacted by your drug consumption. This is particularly true of antibiotics. Taking antibiotics can be a crucial part of fighting off an illness caused by harmful bacteria, such as strep throat or UTIs. Because antibiotics function to help kill the harmful bacteria in your body, there’s a chance that some of the good bacteria in your microbiome might become casualties, as well. Of course, this is a calculated risk that is likely to be worthwhile in order to treat your illness. That said, it can be a good idea to talk to your doctor about taking probiotics and prebiotics (more on these later) in order to maintain the appropriate levels of good bacteria in your gut.
Your stress levels can affect your gut health
There are studies that show a link between heightened stress levels and digestive problems. There are also studies that highlight a connection between increased meditation and improved gut health. We know that important neurotransmitters are produced in the gut; in fact, over 90% of the body’s total serotonin (one of the hormones that controls your mood and stress levels) production happens in the small intestine. Talk to your functional medicine doctor about the ways in which changes in your diet might impact your overall mental and emotional well-being.
Processed foods are likely to cause inflammation in the gut.
Your food is absorbed in the GI tract, which is one of the areas of the body where your microbiota are the most populous. When you consume foods that are highly processed or high in chemicals like high fructose corn syrup, your microbiota can have trouble recognizing these compounds as foods that are supposed to be there. Instead, your body might interpret these foods as “bad” bacterial invaders and begin to fight them off as though they were an infection. This can cause a series of uncomfortable side effects, like indigestion, inflammation, or acid reflux. Artificial sweeteners can also negatively impact your microbiome balance so steer clear of those chemical sweeteners!
There may be a link between food and mood
If your gut bacteria aren’t receiving the nutrients they need in order to stay healthy, their ability to communicate with your neurological system can suffer. When not enough neurotransmitters like serotonin are produced in your gut, it can have a noticeable impact on your overall mood. This relationship isn’t perfectly linear for everyone, and it’s important to talk to your doctor about the connection between your gut health and mood. That said, it’s good to be aware of the impact of your diet can have on not just your digestive process, but on your mental and emotional health, too.
Your gut will tell you in no uncertain terms when something is wrong.
Chances are that, if something is wrong with your microbiome, you’ll know about it. If you’ve eaten something that upsets your gut balance, you’ll likely feel the effects of it fairly quickly with symptoms like nausea, heartburn, indigestion, or bloating. However, if you notice that these symptoms are becoming persistent or even chronic, make sure you consult with your physician; it may be a sign that more longstanding changes should be made to your diet.
Your immune system is closely tied to your gut health.
As we mentioned above, the microbiota in your gut includes bacteria and cells that help to fight off invading bacteria and harmful infections. They also help to break down medications to get the active ingredients working. The more balanced your gut health, the better equipped it is to respond quickly and effectively to infections.
If you’re having digestive issues, certain foods can really help.
If you’re experiencing discomfort during digestion, try eating whole foods that are rich in fiber. Foods like asparagus, garlic, onions, nuts, beans, and bananas are prebiotics that help to promote healthy microbiota, keeping your gut health balanced and well-functioning.
Prebiotics and probiotics affect your gut differently. Here’s how.
Probiotics is another word for the good bacteria found in your gut. These bacteria help to promote an effective immune system, digestive health, and the promotion of important neurotransmitters. If you have to take antibiotics, talk to your doctor about whether you should take a probiotic supplement to help replenish the “good” bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotics are plant-based fibers that feed the good bacteria. Eating prebiotic foods (like bananas, legumes, leeks, oats, apples, and onions) is an excellent way to soothe digestive discomfort and promote gut health long-term.
Post-biotics, a relatively new term, refers to the short chain fatty acids like butyrate that certain bacteria make when they feed on prebiotics. Postbiotics provide energy to the cell lining your GI tract and also reduce inflammation in the gut. In other words… Prebiotics + Probiotiocs = Post-biotics.Your gut health is an instrumental part of your holistic wellness. We hope that this has been a helpful resource at breaking down the impact of your gut health on various systems within your body. Every microbiome is unique, and we highly recommend talking to a physician about how to make sure that yours is as healthy as possible.