How the gut is the foundation of overall good health
The condition of the gut impacts our immunity level, sleep, mental health and more
A lot has been said in recent years about gut health and how important it is, but what exactly does this refer to?
The gut is our gastrointestinal tract, and its job is to break down the food we eat, which then enters the bloodstream in the form of nutrients to keep us feeling well.
It is basically where the following process takes place - food goes from our mouth to our stomach, then gets converted into nutrients and energy and, finally, sent out of the body in the form of waste.
In the past decade or two, experts have discovered that what happens in this part of the body does not just affect how food is broken down and eventually discarded.
The condition of our gut has an impact on a lot more, including our level of immunity, what chronic illnesses we could develop, how well we sleep and our mental health.
One of the most important elements in our gut is the gut microbiome. This is the bacteria and other microorganisms in the digestive tract that work hard to keep our physical and mental health in check.
As with most things in life, bacteria can be good or bad. The good bacteria multiply often to overwhelm the bad ones. In short, the gut needs to have a healthy balance of bacteria to reap the most benefits.
Here are some ways the gut affects our health.
Approximately 70 per cent of the immune system is found in the gut. Having a weak immune system makes one more susceptible to colds and allergies, and likelier to succumb to autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.
You often feel bloated or you are alternating between constipation and diarrhoea.
Or perhaps you have noticed lately that you are gassy but do not know why you have suddenly developed this potentially embarrassing condition.
When the gut has a balanced mix of healthy and unhealthy bacteria, it will have no issues processing food and getting rid of the waste, and we will not experience the unpleasant symptoms mentioned above.
Although those can be a result of food intolerances, they usually disappear when our gut health improves and is able to digest food better.
SLEEP AND MOOD
The gut also produces a lot of the body's supply of serotonin, the hormone that affects our mood and quality of sleep. That is why poor gut health can lead to disturbed sleep or even insomnia. Lack of sleep, of course, will make us feel more tired, which exacerbates a bad mood.
The skin is the largest organ, so it is only natural that gut health affects our skin too.
When the gut is inflamed, our body gets stressed and our skin produces less of what it needs to protect it.
With its defences down, our skin becomes more prone to issues such as acne and eczema.
Food, medication and alcohol can contribute to an inflamed gut, so be careful of what you put into your body. Food allergies or food intolerances should be addressed too.
The gut-brain connection is a strong one, which means what happens in either part of the bodies affects the other. When we are angry or anxious, it can lead to symptoms in our gut, such as stomach pain or loose stools.
Likewise, the health of the gut influences our mental health. An unhealthy balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome affects the brain and the way it processes information.
Conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can develop as a result of an unhealthy gut.
This article was first published in Her World Online (www.HerWorld.com)
Five tips to improve gut health
Adopt a healthy, diverse diet
You know the drill when it comes to healthy eating: Have more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains, and limit your intake of processed foods, added sugar and red meat.
The more diverse your diet (in whole foods, of course), the richer and more diverse your gut microbiome as your gut has a wide variety of nutrients for healthy bacteria to grow.
Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated helps to improve the balance of good bacteria in the gut. It also enables it to do what it is supposed to do: Get rid of waste in your body. That is why we are told to drink water to keep the bowels moving and prevent constipation.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the US recommends women to drink about 2.7 litres of fluid a day. You can also get hydration from water-rich foods such as celery, tomato and cucumber.
Take probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics contain good bacteria that are beneficial for your gut. Instead of swallowing a supplement, get it from foods like yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a type of fibre that encourages healthy bacteria in your gut to grow. They are found in banana, asparagus, oats, garlic, soya bean, leek and artichoke.
Don't overuse antibiotics
This form of medication should be taken when needed. However, while antibiotics help to fight bacterial infections, they can also get rid of the helpful bacteria in the gut, thereby upsetting the balance of bacteria.
Don't smoke or drink excessively
Cigarettes and alcohol are known to disrupt the gut microbiome and promote inflammation. They have also been linked to an increase in the risk of gastrointestinal diseases.