Did you know that within your body, there are more bacteria cells than ‘you’ cells? Incredibly, our bodies contain trillions of cells belonging to bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Known as the microbiome, this complex ecosystem has evolved throughout human history. The gut microbiome is an incredibly active and diverse colony of living microorganisms, and many of them are absolutely essential in order for our bodies to function. In fact, this microbiome within the human gut is increasingly considered as an organ in itself. In order to understand why your gut health is important, we have to understand the role this microbiome plays in how our bodies function and how this impacts on how we feel.
Why Gut Health is Important for Wellbeing
Can you imagine a thousand different species of bacteria in one place, competing with one another, some doing good work within the body while others have the potential to cause disease? Some of those bacteria are responsible for the digestion of different substances such as fiber; others help control the immune response via the lymphatic system so that the immune system can respond appropriately to threat or infection. This biome is also responsible for producing certain vitamins (notably vitamin A and vitamin K)
Meanwhile, everything you eat, drink, or do has some impact either on the gut itself or the biome within it. This is precisely why gut health is so important. So, for example, if one strain of bacteria becomes too dominant, others can suffer and fail to do whatever important job they are doing. Or if something (for example, a course of antibiotic treatment) wipes out a large portion of the biome, both good and bad bacteria may be lost, and it may take time (or supplementation) to help the body recover. On the other hand, feeding or boosting the helpful bacteria can have a major positive impact on your health.
The Brain-Gut Link
Sometimes people say that the gut is like the brain or is ‘the second brain.’ There is no doubt that the two are closely connected and in constant communication. Think about how we naturally connect the gut with how we think and feel. We often say things like ‘I felt it in my gut,’ ‘Follow your gut instinct,’ or ‘I didn’t have the guts to do it. You might get a sense of ‘butterflies in your tummy when you are excited, or a ‘knot in your stomach when you are anxious. One of the major brain-gut elements is the production of serotonin, thought of as a brain chemical, which is actually mostly produced in the gut. Serotonin plays a major role in how we feel, our moods, and emotions. This is an important part of why gut health is important.
Signs of Poor Gut Health
There are many different signs that may indicate that your gut health is sub-optimal. Many of these symptoms are common to other conditions, so if you are experiencing discomfort, pain, or unwanted symptoms of any kind, then it is best to seek professional medical advice so that other conditions can be ruled out. Gut health has been shown to impact on the following conditions and symptoms:
- Gastrointestinal issues — IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, flatulence, trapped wind, bloating, etc.
- Autoimmune problems — Rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, thyroid problems, etc.
- Skin issues — dermatitis, eczema, rashes, allergies, etc.
- Sleep problems — insomnia, frequent waking, morning sluggishness, etc.
- Food cravings — especially cravings for sweet foods.
- Weight Problems — difficulty gaining or losing weight, unexplained weight loss or gain.
- Mental Health Issues — mood disorders, anxiety, depression, etc.
- Nutritional Deficiencies — lacking in certain vitamins or minerals, poor absorption, etc.
- Sugar Levels — problems in controlling blood sugar levels.
How to Boost Gut Health
We have looked at why gut health is important, but what control do we have over the mysterious microbiome inside us? Thankfully, there are a lot of things we can do in order to improve gut health and restore a healthy balance. Here are some of the positive things you can do in order to boost gut health.
- Vary your diet — yes, we know it’s not the most groundbreaking advice, but a healthy, varied diet really is crucial to gut health. Eating plenty of different foods, including a wide range of fruits and vegetables (providing you are not sensitive or intolerant to them), is one of the best things you can do to care for your gut health. Polyphenols, found in olive oil, whole grains, cocoa, berries, and beans, are good for healthy gut bacteria growth. Fermented foods promote growth of healthy bacteria too, so consider adding sauerkraut, kefir, or kombucha to your diet.
- Eat enough fiber — very few of us actually eat enough fiber, and this leads to many different problems. Dietary fiber is essential for good gut health and can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes such as beans.
- Avoid processed foods — cut down or avoid processed foods that have had additives, preservatives, or artificial sweeteners added. Artificial sweetener is believed to contribute to the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut.
- Supplement — supplementing with prebiotics and probiotics can help rebalance the gut bacteria and promote a healthy gut biome. This is extra important if you have had to have a course of antibiotic treatment, as supplementing with probiotics reseeds the gut with good bacteria.
One of the major reasons why gut health is important is that it contributes to your wellbeing in so many different ways. It affects the stability of sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and the process of digestion. It feeds into the health of the cardiovascular system and has a major impact on the immune system. So not only does the health of your gut affect how you feel, but it also affects how your body functions. Understanding why gut health is important can enable you to make informed decisions about whether to supplement with good bacteria in order to restore balance.