Updated: Aug 21, 2021
With ‘New Year – New Me’ Resolutions in full swing; I felt this would be the perfect time to discuss the topic of Gut Health.
As more people begin to understand the paramountcy of health through disease aversion; more people are digressing from Modern medicine and harnessing natural ways of boosting health.
This all commences in the gut which is why Gut Health has increased its popularity and in recent years.
Scientists have also discovered that the Gastrointestinal (GI) system has an even bigger, more complex job than previously appreciated and therefore, today we are going to take a closer look at what exactly we mean by ‘Gut Health’, its importance and how we can improve ours to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
The digestive system is one we often do not think much about, yet it is the most important system within your body.
What Is Gut Health:
Gut health describes the function and balance of bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract, which not only helps us process food but that also helps our bodies maintain homeostasis and overall well-being. It is the balance of healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents like other bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
For Example, some bacteria fight inflammation, while others promote it. When the gut works as it should, these two types keep each other in check. But when that delicate balance gets affected, inflammatory bacteria can take over—and they can produce metabolites that pass through the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream, spreading the inflammation to other parts of the body.
It is believed that the key to achieving Gut health all lies in the microbiome which refers to the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms in our digestive system.
This is because all food is ultimately broken down in the gut to a simple form, that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients throughout our bodies - provided we have a healthy digestive system.
There is still much ongoing research as to what influences our gut health but, studies have found that everything we eat and drink does influence our delicate internal gut ecosystem; as well as How we manage stress, exercise, medications we use and even our genetics can all have an impact on our gut health either for better or worse.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
A mentioned above – our Gut Health is influenced by our Gut Microbiome (also known as Gut Flora) which is the makeup of trillions of bacteria and microorganisms all living together in balance.
Everyone has a unique microbiome incorporating a diversity and abundance of gut flora which influences our general health. These microbes have evolved to live with humans for millions of years and have learned to play particularly important roles in the human body. In fact, without the gut microbiome, it would be exceedingly difficult to survive. Often, a reduced diversity and profusion in gut microbiome, can be seen in people with certain conditions or bowel issues such as IBS. These Microbes affected you the moment you were born, and recent studies suggest that babies may meet some microbes while inside the womb. As our bodies develop so does the bacteria and microorganisms in our bodies. From the moment we were born we were already affected by microbiomes which assisted in the following:
Digesting breast milk: A bacteria called Bifidobacterium can be found in babies’ intestines and aids in the digestion of the healthy sugars in breast milk that are important for growth.
Digesting fibre: Some bacteria aid with the digestion of fibre and produce short-chain fatty acids, which are important for gut health. Fibre also assists with the feeling of fullness and therefore may assist in preventing weight gain, diabetes, etc.
Helping control your immune system: The gut microbiome also controls how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiome can control how your body responds to infection.
Helping control brain health: New research suggests that the gut microbiome can also affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function.
Now, let us take a more in-depth look at the certain aspects that our Gut Microbiome/ Gut Health affect us and why we need to be aware of its health.
Importance of Gut Health:
Our Gut Health is important as our gut is responsible for putting our body into working order. It is essentially the soil for your body to grow on.
As our digestive system breaks down the foods we eat, our gut absorbs nutrients that support our body’s functions — from energy production to hormone balance, skin health to mental health, and even toxin and waste elimination.
In fact, about 70 percent of the immune system is housed in the gut!
Your Gut Health can affect brain function because (besides your brain) your gut is the only organ with its own nervous system, as well as your small intestine alone has as many neurons as your spinal cord.
Your brain function is also impacted by your Gut Health because every class of neurotransmitter in your brain, resides in your gut. The gut cells and the microbiome also produce neurotransmitters like GABA which influence mood, adequate production of melatonin to reduce sleep loss due to indigestion and more than 90% of the body’s serotonin levels are produced by your gut nerve cells. Therefore, changes in serotonin levels in the body not only affect the brain but reflect the gut as that is where they are produced.
Due to this research, studies have found that the gut-brain connection plays an important part not just in gastrointestinal function but also states of feeling, intuitive decision-making and for your brain to be in balance – your gut must be in complete balance as well!
Regarding your moods, it can be shocking to learn that about 90 percent of the fibres in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around. Your moods depend much more on your gut health than your brain health and that is why Japanese people view the gut as the seat of the mind and soul.
When anything gets in the way of gut-brain communication, your health suffers.
Our Immune system is one area of our health that has had the most of attention this year, to protect ourselves against the COVID-19 virus.
That said, we all know that gut health is associated with better health, and that includes the state of your immune system. Which in previous studies revealed that around 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut and new research has emphasized the important link between your gut and immune system.
Our immune system is a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body that help protect us from certain diseases. Our immune system can only function optimally if our gut is as well. This is due to the gut being a major site for immune activity and production of antimicrobial proteins.
Our diet plays a large role in determining what kinds of microbes live in our intestines and a high-fibre diet is known to support the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes. Helpful microbes break down fibres into short chain fatty acids, which have been shown to stimulate immune cell activity.
Our gut also assists the immune system through communication. Since our digestive system houses many bacteria, necessary for life, it sends signals to the immune cells to prevent them from attacking as the immune system does not know the difference between good and bad bacteria, therefore, attacking everything in its path when it sends cells to destroy invaders (bacteria/viruses) and dysfunctional cells. However, when this system fails, we see irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other chronic inflammatory diseases emerge.
The gut microbiome is also home to a massive battle on a cellular level. Good bacteria and bad bacteria are constantly fighting over resources and here is where the immune system matures, identifying different threats and producing antibodies for them.
Therefore, Gut health plays an important role in not just in nourishing the immune system but providing an area for immune activity and regulating the immune system.
Nutrient Absorption and Weight Management:
Excess weight comes from two primary sources: hormone related fat-storage and undigested putrefying food in the gut. Improving gut health naturally causes a weight reduction and, most especially, dissolves inches off around the middle.
There is no surprise when I say that our gut microbiome is crucial for the digestion and utilisation of nutrients. Macronutrients and micronutrients, like key B vitamins, are important producers of energy, while they also play a role in regulating metabolism and mood and that there are many microbes of good bacteria that help with digestion, nutrient absorption, and more.
But when the gut’s bacteria fall out of balance, you can experience various gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, But also weight gain.
Studies have also found that an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes referred to as Gut dysbiosis; may play a role in weight gain as your gut microbiome helps regulate metabolism, nutrient absorption, and weight management.
There are unfortunately no weight loss bacteria but, what matters is microbiome composition of beneficial microbes, such as the microbes that reinforce the gut lining and modulate your metabolism. This could explain why some individuals put on weight more easily than other people. However, much like one’s weight, this is all influenced by your lifestyle and explains why food and exercise are also important for the diversity of your gut bacteria.
Studies have shown that there are Two gut bacteria that are associated with lean body weight. One still under much research is Christensenella which is associated with your genetic makeup, meaning that to some extent, you have higher chances of finding this bacterium in your gut if your relatives have them too. The other is Akkermansia.
Akkermansia - which feeds on the mucus that lines your gut, promoting its production which strengthens your intestinal barrier (a weaker gut lining is detected in people with obesity). These microbes also produce acetate, a short-chain fatty acid that helps regulate body fat stores and appetite.
To assist in boosting the abundance of this bacteria you can intake ‘prebiotic’ foods that fuel their activities, such as Cranberries, Black tea, Fish Oil, Bamboo Shoots and Flaxseeds. You most likely take them in already, but an increase in them will assist even more.
However, Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome can result from other factors too, like antibiotics. This type of medication is linked to weight gain because they disrupt the microbial communities in your gut, either by preventing and slowing bacterial growth, or killing them.
Good news is probiotics can potentially restore gut health and help reduce weight. Although it is still under research probiotic and prebiotic rich food or supplements can assist in over all gut health especially regarding antibiotics.
Gut Microbiome Direct effect on Gut Health:
The gut microbiome can also affect gut heath in the form of communication of digestion and therefore, resulting in IBS and other intestinal issues. A healthy gut microbiome aids in controlling gut health by communicating with the intestinal cells, digesting certain foods, and preventing disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal walls.
When individuals suffer from bloating, cramps, and abdominal pain that is associated with IBS or other intestinal issues, it could be caused by the microbes producing a lot of gas and other chemicals, which contribute to the symptoms of intestinal discomfort.
However, Certain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are found in probiotics and yogurt, can help seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall. In fact, taking certain probiotics that contain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can reduce symptoms of IBS and improve overall gut health.
A recent study in 1,500 people found that the gut microbiome played an important role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
However, Certain bacteria within the gut microbiome can produce chemicals that may block arteries and lead to heart disease. Such as the chemical TMAO which is produced in the conversion of choline and L-carnitine, both of which are nutrients found in red meat and other animal-based food sources.
This is not to say you will have a heart attack after eating a piece of red meat, but those suffering from a high cholesterol may be interested at looking into what they eat and where their Gut Health is and can be assisted by an intake of probiotics particularly that with Lactobacilli which may help reduce cholesterol.
Blood Sugar Levels
Our gut microbiota is constantly changing due to factors like what we eat and drink, our blood sugar levels, and our physical activity level. The bacteria in your gut are vital to your overall health, and even more important when it comes to your blood sugar levels.
Over 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut, and unfortunately that means that the bacteria in your gut can impact our serotonin, which can negatively influence blood sugar levels. The unhealthier foods like refined carbohydrates and sugar we eat, combined with a lack of physical exercise can cause our gut health to decline. When if our gut health is not up to standard, it can not only increase the risk for type-2 diabetes, but it can also set us at risk for other health issues like obesity, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. This happens when you eat a high-fat diet that causes these bacteria to leak out of the gut. This can trigger an inflammatory response that can lead to insulin resistance. Therefore, gut microbiome plays an important role in controlling and regulating our blood sugar levels.
The good news is that you can manage your gut health by reinstating healthy bacteria which can help you to balance the microbes in the digestive tract, which can prevent serious health issues such as diabetes, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and skin disorders.
However, this discovery is very recent and there is still much ongoing research looking into which bacteria affects it and how we can better regulate it, but it is believed that pro and prebiotics aid in stabilisation and digestive enzymes which all aid in balancing blood sugar levels.
The skin is the largest organ we have. If the body cannot discard wastes through the GI tract, as much as 50% of the toxins are reabsorbed through the blood stream and released through the pores in the skin, often causing acne and cystic eruptions and boils. Improving the gut health dramatically increases skin health and beauty.