By now, there's no doubt you've heard the buzz words: "microbiome"; "gut health;" "gut-brain connection;" and all the fantastic health benefits associated: disease prevention; decreased inflammation; great skin; improved mood.... so whats the deal? Too good to be true? Here's your gut health 101.
It might seem crazy to think that our stomach could have such a profound impact on our health; but within the last 10-15 years, scientists' understanding of our gut composition and function has grown exponentially- and more and more research is confirming the amazing influence our gut can have on our health.
Gut Health 101. Everything you need to know
We have trillions (yep, trillions) of bacteria in our bodies and on our skin. These bacteria influence everything from digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals, to hormone production, weight loss, disease risk, to mood. Studies show that a shift in the composition of our bacteria (the types of bacteria that we have in our gut- we have both "good bacteria, that promote health, and "bad" bugs that make us feel lousy), can drastically change our health.
So lets break it down:
Your Gut + Mental Health
Feel like you can't snap out of that funk you've been in? Irritable at work for no reason? Our gut has been referred to as our second brain.
Certain strains of bacteria within our bellies may modulate the concentration of neurotransmitters we produce, including feel-good chemicals like Dopamine and Serotonin. These hormones are produced in our gut and sent to the brain. With adequate amounts of neurotransmitters, we are more alert, happier, and focused; however, reduced amounts of good bacteria can negatively affect mood. Stress is one factor linked to a reduction in good bacteria. Research in mice has shown that, when subjected to high stress environments, good bacteria within the mice diminished. However, boosting the amount of good bacteria in our gut while reducing stress may reduce inflammation, resulting in decreased anxiety, better mood, mental health, and more energy.
Bottom line- happy gut- happy you.
Your Gut + Metabolism
Struggling to lose those last 10 lbs? Having digestive issues regularly (bloating, nausea. constipation)? Feel like you're "doing everything right" but still feeling sluggish or like your body isn't at its best? Experiencing irritable bowel, acid reflux, or inconsistent bowel movements?
When the bad bacteria outweigh the good, our gut is in what we call, "dybiosis" - essentially, out of balance. In dybiosis, we see a reactive immune response, subsequent inflammation, and increased fat storage. Over time this imbalance can lead to obesity and subsequent disease risk, like diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, good bacteria can even impact how efficiently our bodies break down and metabolize food! More good bacteria means better efficiency.
Your Gut + Immune Health
Recent research shows that microbes can influence and regulate the development and function of immune cells. Microbiota may be able to alleviate certain infections, and even decrease the risk of allergies and asthma. More, higher quality studies are needed in this area.
The best news is we have an opportunity for improving our microbiome and to restore gut health through the foods we consume, and in turn, improve our overall health.
When we're born, our guts are sterile, but as we grow and consume new foods, our bacterial profile (if you will) develops with us. As adults, we can continue to manipulate our bacteria by intentionally choosing foods that enrich our gut environment, especially fermented foods. In fact, recent studies show that dietary changes can impact our gut environment within a single day!
Probiotics Vs Prebiotics - what's the difference?
Probiotics are the "good" bacteria that live in our digestive tract. These good bacteria are also found in foods that we eat - by consuming them, we may be able to repopulate our intestines with the good stuff, and improve our immune system, digestive system, and overall health.
Prebiotics feed probiotics.
Probiotic foods (a lot of fermented foods)
Kefir (fermented yogurt)
- Fiber-rich foods:
fruits and vegetables (especially raw broccoli, asparagus, leeks artichokes, tomatoes, garlic and onions)
Eating healthy is the first step in improving our gut health and digestive system. With much more to learn about such a complex organ, it can't hurt to increase our probiotic- rich foods like fruit and veggies, balance out our diets, and decrease intake of inflammatory foods like processed or fried foods.
The information on this site should not replace individualized advice from your doctor.
Remember, whatever you do-
do it well, and by design