Gut health – why is it so important? I had always thought that the concept of good gut health was a myth and only lived on the side of a bottle of Kombucha. I could not have been more incorrect!
It turns out that a happy gut is critical to live a long, happy, and healthy life! The gut, also known as the digestive tract or gastrointestinal track, includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, colon, and rectum. Therefore, it processes all of the nutrients you take in, fights diseases, serves as a center for communication, and produces hormones. These are all critical tasks that affect your everyday well-being!
When thinking about gut health, scientists are usually referring to the gut microbiome. In short, the gut microbiome is all of the microbiomes in your intestines. Humans would have a very hard time surviving without the gut microbiome. It digests breast milk when babies are first born, controls the immune system, digests fiber, and even helps control brain health. In fact, a recent study done with mice suggests that gut health affects social interaction/behaviors, stress, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, in 2011 another study was done with mice, which involved antibiotics killing “bad” gut bacteria, also known as, gut flora. These mice became scientifically less anxious after killing the gut flora and “showed [positive] changes in their brain chemistry that have been linked to depression” according to Live Science.
Gut flora is not the same for everyone. Another study done with gut flora showed that obese individuals tend to have less diversity in their gut flora when compared to lean individuals. This difference is because of an increase in Firmicutes and decrease of Bacteroidetes in obese individuals. Gut flora also affects an individual’s metabolism because of its affects on the breakdown of a key organic compound we have learned about in biology, carbohydrates. As we know, carbohydrates provide energy for the body which is imperative for all individuals. Another subject we have discussed in our class, amino acids, can have an increase in production because of gut flora (Live Science).
Now, you may be wondering, “how can I keep my gut happy?” The key to a healthy gut comes from diet. After an extensive amount of research, here are some tips I have gathered and why they work:
- Eat a variety of foods – to keep your microbiome diverse (recommended to eat specifically a variety of fruits and vegetables for fiber, vitamins, and minerals)
- Eat fermented foods (ex. yogurt, kefir, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut) – it “can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut” (Healthline)
- Eat nuts, seeds, and legumes for fiber and protein
- Eat whole grains for dietary fiber
- Eat prebiotic foods (ex. bananas, artichokes, apples, asparagus, oats, flax seeds, garlic, onions, broccoli) – to “help boost the population and diversity of good bacteria” (Orlando Health)
- Limit antibiotics – they kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut, which decreases necessary variety
- Take a probiotic supplement – it “can help restore the gut to a healthy state after dysbiosis” (Healthline)
These are all relatively small changes for the huge benefits that they reap. Start incorporating them today to improve your gut health and live a longer, happier, and overall healthier life!