What Is Gut Health and Why Does It Matter?
“Quite literally, your gut is the epicenter of your mental and physical health. If you want better immunity, efficient digestion, improved clarity and balance, focus on rebuilding your gut health.”
-Kris Carr, author of Crazy Sexy Cancer
That’s a pretty bold statement, isn’t it? Could it really be possible that what goes on in our gut has that broad of an impact on our overall health and well being? Surprisingly, yes!
What is Gut Health?
Gut health refers to how well your gastrointestinal tract and digestive system function, which is in part due to the bacteria living in your gut. Our gastrointestinal tract is home to over 100 trillion microorganisms. These bacteria, viruses, and fungi collectively make up the gut microbiome. Over the past 10 years, the microbiome has been studied extensively and found to play a role in metabolism, immune function, prevention of disease. The microbiome even communicates with other organs in the body, such as the heart, brain and liver.1 Much like a fingerprint, our gut microbiome is specific to us. However, there are both good and bad bacteria that can inhabit our microbiome. Through diet, lifestyle and targeted supplementation we can help our good gut “bugs” flourish while squashing the less desirable ones.
What is Dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance in the gut. There can be many causes – stress, obesity, alcohol use, illness, antibiotic use, and a diet high in sugar and processed foods are just a few. Most of the symptoms of dysbiosis, are what you’d expect like gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. But there are many other symptoms you’d likely not tie to your gut health like weight gain, anxiety, constant fatigue, or disrupted sleep patterns.
Reasons to Care about maintaining a Healthy Gut Microbiome
- In order to properly break down our food and absorb nutrients, our bodies must have healthy gut bacteria.
- The mucosal lining in our guts is the first line of defense we have against the viruses, bacteria and toxins we ingest with our food. Healthy gut bacteria are needed to produce the nutrients that make up this lining.
- A healthy immune system is directly correlated with a healthy gut.2
- Our gut microbiome is metabolically active – Vitamins K, B1, B12 and folate are synthesized by the bacteria in the gut. These bacteria also ferment the fiber we eat to create energy.3
- Healthy gut bacteria has been linked to reduced systemic inflammation. Inflammation plays a role in the development of many pathologic conditions including the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.4
Healthy Gut, Healthy You: Signs of a Healthy Gut
When your gut is a thriving home to many trillions of good bacteria, you should experience daily bowel movements along with a healthy transit time, have sustained energy throughout the day, have healthy skin, and be able to eat and digest a variety of foods comfortably.
How to optimize the health of your gut microbiome
If you read through the symptoms of dysbiosis above and a few hit a little too close to home – never fear! There are a few easy ways to restore gut health and increase your levels of healthy gut flora.
- Eat a nutrient-dense whole foods diet. The best and easiest way to keep your gut healthy is to feed it real food. Minimize processed foods and sugar which feed the bad bacteria in your gut. Instead, eat lots of lean protein and leafy greens. Consider adding foods like beans, legumes, bananas, onions and asparagus. These foods are high in prebiotic fiber. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in our gut. They ferment the fiber into short-chain fatty acids, specifically butyrate. Butyrate provides energy to our cells, reduces inflammation and helps to maintain the integrity of our gut lining, among other things.5
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. On a daily basis, people should drink half of their body weight in ounces and add a little extra for every diuretic beverage such as coffee, tea or alcohol consumed. For example, a 150 lb woman should aim for at least 75 ounces of water per day. Many people don’t consume nearly enough water. Proper hydration is critical for a number of reasons, but in terms of gut health, it is crucial for elimination and removing waste and toxins. Eliminating on a regular basis is how our bodies take out the trash, so to speak. If the body does not have adequate hydration, it will pull from the large intestine, which causes your stool to become hard and difficult to pass. It’s a vicious cycle of dysbiosis causing constipation, and constipation furthering the dysbiosis.
- Try fermented foods. Adding a serving of kombucha, kefir, kimchi or even greek yogurt to your diet. These foods are natural sources of probiotics and their consumption has been shown to increase the diversity of the microbiome.5
- Add a targeted probiotic. If gut health is tied to various other bodily systems, it makes sense to take a targeted approach to supplementation based on one’s individual needs. There are specific strains proven to help support the immune system, the cardiovascular system, gut-related anxiety, women’s health and more. As always, reach out if you need help to choose the right product for your individual needs.
The importance of a healthy gut cannot be underestimated. Your diet and lifestyle play a large role in maintaining the health of this crucial ecosystem. And while we cannot change our gut health overnight, small steps every day are a great start towards a healthier you.
1.) Sidhu, M. & van Der Poorten, D. (2017). The gut microbiome. Australian Family Physician. 46(4), 177-256. https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2017/april/the-gut-microbiome/#3
2.) Wu, H. J., & Wu, E. (2012). The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut microbes, 3(1), 4–14. https://doi.org/10.4161/gmic.19320
3.) Rowland, I., Gibson, G., Heinken, A., Scott, K., Swann, J., Thiele, I., & Tuohy, K. (2018). Gut microbiota functions: metabolism of nutrients and other food components. European journal of nutrition, 57(1), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-017-1445-8
4.) Lobionda, S., Sittipo, P., Kwon, H. Y., & Lee, Y. K. (2019). The Role of Gut Microbiota in Intestinal Inflammation with Respect to Diet and Extrinsic Stressors. Microorganisms, 7(8), 271. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms7080271
5.) Bedford, A., & Gong, J. (2018). Implications of butyrate and its derivatives for gut health and animal production. Animal nutrition (Zhongguo xu mu shou yi xue hui), 4(2), 151–159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aninu.2017.08.010
6.) Wastyk, H. et al. Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status. Cell. 2021, July 12. Retrieved from: https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(21)00754-6