The importance of gut health in an overall healthy lifestyle

If you’ve been wanting to start creating an overall healthy lifestyle and don’t know where to begin, consider starting with your gut health. There are a lot of factors that go into an individual’s overall health, but maybe none more important than how your gut is functioning. The gut houses trillions of microorganisms, including species of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and is responsible for the breakdown of food. Each person’s gut microbiome — or the combination of organisms that makes up your gut — is unique to them, which is why you and other people break down foods in different ways and why some things may bother your GI system but not others’.

 

Your gut is made up of a combination of good and bad bacteria. Yes, there are bacteria that you actually want residing in your system because there are kinds that are necessary to a healthy functioning gut. Good bacteria aids in the digestion process and helps break down food and absorb nutrients. Since food is the fuel that energizes your life, you need to make sure it’s digesting properly.

 

The gut isn’t just an individually functioning organ, though. It has important connections all throughout the body that are vital to other systems, too. For one, the immune system. A healthy gut helps support a healthy immune system. Cleveland Clinic notes the gut as the largest immune system organ, as it contains up to 80% of the body’s immune cells and is able to help rid itself of everyday pathogens.1 The gut also has an effect on the nervous system. Many studies have shown the gut microbiome and the nervous system interact closely. The connection between the two can have an effect on stress, anxiety, and memory.2

 

More than a feeling

 

One of the most important connections, though, is the one your gut has with your brain. You know the times you’ve had butterflies in your stomach because of nerves or made a decision based on going with a gut feeling? It may seem silly that these feelings — all that come as a reaction to something — start in your gut. But in all reality, there is truth behind them. How? Because your gut and brain talk to each other. In fact, the brain and the gut have the closest connection in the body, as the two share more information than any other two systems. Cleveland Clinic notes that besides in your brain, there are more nerve cells in your gut than anywhere else in your body.3

 

The gut has often been noted as the body’s “second brain.” But not in the way you’d think. Obviously, it can’t help you solve problems or make decisions, but the gut actually uses the same alert system of chemicals and cells as the brain does when something is wrong.4 The gut and brain are literally always communicating. One case in point? Around 90% of your body’s serotonin and around 50% of your body’s dopamine is produced in the gut — two neurotransmitters that are known to stabilize mood. So how well your gut is functioning actually affects your mood.

 

Not only is it good to remember that a healthy gut is important to keeping you healthy overall, remember that this also means that a healthy gut can help you avoid health markers like more inflammation and sickness.

 

Now knowing the importance of gut health and the connection between the brain and the gut, what can you do to support the health of your gut — therefore supporting your body’s overall health? Here are a few places to start: 5

 

  • Eat healthy. Limit the amount of processed or high-sugar foods that you consume, as they can lead to inflammation by promoting a growth of the bad gut bacteria. Increase your intake of foods with fiber like legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. A balanced diet helps build good bacteria.
  • Exercise can promote diversity of the gut microbiome as well as help combat obesity, which in and of itself can lead to additional digestive system disorders. It also promotes heart health, cardiovascular health, and more. Exercise also promotes serotonin and dopamine production, which, again, are created in the gut and are good for the gut-brain connection.
  • Decrease stress. We know that this is much easier to say than to actually practice. But experiencing stress, especially over long periods of time, can have a negative effect on several parts of your body, gut health included. Lowering stress will lessen the stress hormones released by your body. Try getting outside for a walk or practicing meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises.
  • Get enough sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults. Lack of quality sleep can have an effect on you physiologically, in the obvious ways of being tired and having less energy for things like exercise, but lack of sleep can actually affect the microorganisms in the gut.
  • Stay hydrated. Hydration has an effect on the balance of the gut microbiome by promoting waste removal along with other healthy gut motility.
  • Consider taking a probiotic. Probiotics promote growth of healthy bacteria in the gut by being a “food” source for the healthy bacteria. It also can help prevent inflammation.
  • Seek a doctor’s advice for GI issues. For problems like constipation, a doctor may suggest an enema to clear out the colon.
  • Avoid antibiotics when possible. Antibiotics are known to damage the gut bacteria.
  • Watch for symptoms. Things like bloating, diarrhea, and changes in bowel patterns can point to an unhealthy gut.

 

Next time you have a gut feeling, go with it! Remember that it’s likely sending you a message based on the communication it’s had with your brain. Keep gut health a top priority as part of a healthy lifestyle.

 

 

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Gut Microbiome. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/25201-gut-microbiome
  2. National Library of Medicine. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/
  3. Cleveland Clinic. The Gut-Brain Connection. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/the-gut-brain-connection
  4. Harvard Medical School. The Gut and the Brain. https://hms.harvard.edu/news-events/publications-archive/brain/gut-brain
  5. Signs of an Unhealthy Gut and What to Do About It. https://www.healthline.com/health/gut-health#what-to-do

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