‘Gut Health’ has emerged as the new buzzword of the health and wellness community, but what does it actually mean, and why should you pay attention to it?
Your gut is home to trillions of microbes that together comprise the gut microbiome. Many of these microbes, found in the intestines, fulfill important functions in the body, meaning that the composition of a person’s microbiome can have significant bearing on their overall health and wellbeing.
Why is a healthy gut important?
The gut microbiome impacts more than your digestion; its functions are numerous and expansive. A healthy gut is one which contains a diverse range of good bacteria and supports key bodily functions. For example, studies have shown that a diverse gut microbiome can reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes as the makeup of the microbiome influences how nutrients are handled and absorbed by the digestive tract. On top of that, the gut microbiome can also affect how we react to certain foods, plays a key component to our immune system, and can also have an impact on our brain functions.
Why gut health matters for your brain.
The Gut-Brain connection refers to a bidirectional link between the brain and the gut microbiome. In short, due to chemical and nervous connections, the brain affects gut health, and the gut affects brain health. This explains why anxiety can often be felt in the gut, but what is often overlooked is the ways in which poor gut health can negatively affect the brain. The gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals and components for neurotransmitters that can impact how the brain functions. The gut is responsible for 95% of the body’s serotonin production meaning that gut health can impact mood, stress and memory.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
An unhealthy gut is one where there is an imbalance between the good and the bad gut bacteria and is linked to enhanced possibility of weight gain and certain gastrointestinal diseases. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can manifest in subtle and surprising ways and can often be confused for other illnesses. It can lead to physical symptoms such as chronic bloating, fatigue, brain fog, acne and sugar cravings, but can also affect our susceptibility to poor sleep, stress, and anxiety.
Eating for improved gut health
When we’re born, we have a sterile gut; therefore, the population of the gut microbiome is a combination of one’s genetic dispositions as well as the environment/factors one lives in and eats. The increase in processed and fast-foods in traditional western diet does not lend itself to the maintenance of a healthy gut. Processed foods containing additives harmful to gut health are often favoured over unrefined, plant-based whole foods. When combined with regular alcohol consumption and largely sedentary lifestyles, the balance is tipped in favor of bad gut bacteria.
The addition of certain foods to your diet can help diversify the gut microbiome and prioritize the good bacteria. Including a broad range of fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans is a simple way to enhance gut health. High fiber foods such as grains, nuts and seeds promote the growth of the good bacteria. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that stimulate growth of healthy bacteria and are found in bananas, asparagus, oats and apples. Fermented foods such as yogurt are a great way to ingest healthy bacteria and can easily be incorporated in your diet. Probiotics, which are live bacteria with health benefits, can be taken in the form of a supplement as a straightforward way to improve gut health.