Having a healthy gut seems to be the latest fad when it comes to improving your health. You may have heard popular buzz words like microbiome, leaky gut and probiotics. Or maybe you’ve tried kombucha because someone told you it would help with your digestion. Well, all of this relates to gut health and the latest research suggest it isn’t just a fad. Poor gut health is now being linked to a myriad of health conditions.
SO, what does it all mean and why is gut health so important?
What is a healthy gut?
There is no scientific definition of a healthy gut at this time. In fact, there aren’t any tests to determine if your gut is indeed healthy. Gut health is more about what is NOT present, than what is. The overall idea is that a healthy gut’s good bacteria out number the bad bacteria. Physically, you want to be metabolizing your food and have normal digestion. To put it simply, you have the feeling everything is on track: no bloating, no constipation and no diarrhea.
Why is a healthy gut important?
Gut health has been linked to a number of health conditions, from (IBS) irritable bowel syndrome to depression. Research even links gut health to autism. Some common areas where poor gut health may play a role are listed below; maybe you’ve noticed issues in these areas related to your gut.
Inflammation is the immune systems response to foreign invaders. Poor gut health doesn’t allow for inflammation to be contained, so continued issues may be felt until something in your diet is changed.
Digestion and Absorption
You’ve probably heard of lactobacillus. It is found in fermented dairy foods like yogurt and often gets highlighted on the packaging because of the health benefits. Lactobacillus lives in our small intestine and produces lactic acid which aids in the breakdown of sugars from dairy products. Lactic acid also increases your body’s absorption of minerals such as calcium and iron.
Consuming products like fermented dairy will help keep your digestion and absorption steady and allow minerals to do their job, instead of passing through your system.
Your gut is the first line of defense when you consume a potentially harmful pathogen. Good gut flora can protect you in several ways, while a poor gut can allow these pathogens to wreak havoc on your body.
Good gut flora:
- Eats the consumed food – If healthy gut flora is present, there isn’t any food left for the pathogens to feed on, so they die.
- Strengthens chemical barriers – Healthy gut flora can lower the ph level in your gut, which creates a hostile environment for potential invaders.
The connection between a healthy gut and mental health has been discussed for years. So there really might be something to be said for having “a gut feeling”.
The Enteric Nervous System or intrinsic nervous system (commonly referred to as ‘the second brain’) exists in your gut. An example of the connection between gut health and mental health can be seen in those who suffer from IBS, as they frequently suffer from anxiety and depression. For years doctors thought anxiety and depression worsened IBS symptoms, but many now believe it may be the other way around. Researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes.
Furthermore, the gut produces between 80-90% of the serotonin in our bodies, and serotonin is affectionately known as the “happy hormone.” Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, which may the reason more doctors are prescribing dietary changes to treat a variety of mental health conditions. Looking for a counselor to assist you in your mental health journey? BetterHelp can connect you with a counselor that meets your needs.
Food Sensitivity and Autoimmune Disease
Research suggests various species of bacteria found in your gut depend on the fiber you are getting from your food consumption. If your diet is lacking in high fiber foods, certain species of bacteria may be dying off, which weakens your gut health.
Additionally, mothers pass on their bacterial populations to their babies during child birth and through breastfeeding. So, mothers can also pass bacteria deficiencies to their children. If the diet is not corrected, the child can pass the deficiencies on to their children, and so on. The most recent research from Stanford University shows by the third or fourth generation, it may be too late to reverse the damage. The bacteria may essentially become extinct.
These reasons may be why there has been a spike in food sensitivities and autoimmune diseases (like Crohn’s or IBS) in recent years, especially in children.
How Can You Improve Gut Health?
An easy way to improve the overall health of your gut is to consume fermented foods. Delicious foods like yogurt, kimchi and fermented vegetables (sauerkraut!) are great places to start and are packed full of beneficial bacteria. The best part is you can easily make these foods for yourself at home. Try our recipe for Easy Tangy Sauerkraut. It’s simple to make and turns out great every time!
In a study facilitated by Dr. Mercola, a 4-6 ounce serving of fermented vegetables was found to contain 10 trillion beneficial bacteria! Compared to the average of 10 billion found in expensive probiotic supplements, it’s a no brainer to start eating your beneficial bacteria.
It’s time to get going on that sauerkraut!