In the past, the word “bacteria” was met with fear and hand sanitizer. It turns out, our bodies are loaded with a trillion bacteria. These bacteria are important in helping us digest food. They also play a key role in the overall health of our bodies.
Why is this so important? Your gut contains 300 to 500 different strains of bacteria. Sometimes they pair with other organisms such as viruses and fungi. This living system inside your body makes up your microbiota or microbiome.
Your microbiome is unique, just like your fingerprint. Everyone’s mix of bacteria is different. The mix of bacteria in your gut was determined when you were born, from your mother’s microbiota. External sources have since affected it, such as your environment since birth, your diet, and your lifestyle.
While bacteria live throughout your body, it is the gut bacteria that has a huge impact on your overall health. The more researchers uncover, the more we are understanding how the bacteria that line your entire digestive system affects everything from metabolism, to mood, to your immune system.
Lack of good gut bacteria is now being linked to diabetes, depression, obesity, and even cancer. That’s why good gut health is such an explosive topic and an important one in understanding how it can and will affect your whole body.
Gut Bacteria and Your Health
If you want a quick break-down and visual tour of How Gut Bacteria Affects Your Health, take a look at this YouTube video. It explains how your microbiome may have a bigger impact on your health than you ever imagined. It breaks down the process of what happens as you transform the living microbiome in your gut.
When it comes to listening to your gut health, don’t get out a stethoscope, simply take note of the times when you feel uneasy or how you feel when you need to make a decision. Healthbeat explains that your gut refers to your gastrointestinal system (GI) health which is determined by the type and level of bacteria in your intestinal tract.
In order to fully digest (pun intended) how gut health impacts our whole-body health, let’s take a look at how gut health works.
• GI tract digests food and breaks it down to the basic parts
• Nutrients are absorbed through the gut wall and transported through the bloodstream
• Gut nerves, hormones, and bacteria are utilized in this process
• Good bacteria form a mucus layer that strengthens the gut wall
• Digestive health is promoted by a balance of good and bad bacteria
This is a simplified version of the process. Gut health goes way beyond just digesting food. It also affects everything in your body from your mood to your immune system. Healthline outlines some of the most important reasons you should listen to your gut.
Why Listen to Your Gut Health?
1. Do you have aches and pains? Poor gut health is attributed to some unpleasant effects attributed to aches and pains. If you experience bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence, acid reflux, headaches, joint pain, or fatigue, your gut may be trying to reach out to you.
2. A good defense is key. If your gut wall is not fortified with good gut bacteria, better known as beneficial gut flora, your body will not be well protected from pathogens. Your gut wall acts as a layer of cells and barriers against dangerous pathogens. In a nutshell, healthy and active gut flora activates immune functions in the wall’s cells. This provides a physical barrier to infection, and affects the gut pH, creating an acidic environment that is hostile to bad bacteria.
3. Systemic inflammation and what is it? Your gut bacteria can either activate or suppress inflammation in its attempt to regulate your immune system. If your gut wall is compromised, pathogens can enter your bloodstream. This creates inflammation. Inflammation is the response to the gut’s immune system when it’s imbalanced or in poor health. A range of conditions such as allergies, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and neuropathy can all result from gut inflammation.
4. Tired of taking Pepto Bismol? Many people suffer from poor digestion and all the symptoms that go with it. Healthy gut bacteria can improve and strengthen your digestion. They do this by helping to metabolize specific nutrients. They also help your body absorb vitamins and minerals. Good bacteria prevent an overgrowth of the bad bacteria which allows yeast and fermentation to activate pathogens, resulting in that nasty term we just discussed, inflammation.
5. Maybe your digestive issues go beyond discomfort. Inflammatory bowel diseases are serious. If you suffer from Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or colorectal cancer, these are the result of intestinal inflammation. Your risk for these conditions is affected by genetics, however, they are a result of how your gut health impacts your immune system.
6. How are mood and mental health-related to your gut? A staggering 100 million nerve cells line your gastrointestinal tract, the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), which governs digestion. These nerves communicate directly with your brain and relay the status of your gut health and immune system.
NS is also responsible for producing the neurochemicals dopamine and serotonin. These are key chemicals for regulating mood and mental health. New research is suggesting there might be a link to gut health in thinking and memory. Some researchers have gone so far as to call the gut a second brain.
7. “I have a feeling in my gut”, is not just a phrase. In fact, your gut does have feelings. Besides dopamine and serotonin, other neurotransmitters associated with the brain are produced in the gut. Norepinephrine, glutamate, nitric oxide and enkephalins are natural opiates and are negatively impacted by an unhealthy gut.
A simple matter of gut irritation can trigger mood changes. People who suffer from bowel disorders, that ugly inflammation, are more likely to be prone to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
How Gut Health Relates to Weight
Science Daily reported on gut health and how it relates to weight gain. Their conclusion is that the human gut microbiota has been clearly linked to obesity.
A study from The National Food Institute transferred gut bacteria from 32 children to mice. It was interesting that the mice colonized with the gut bacteria from the overweight children gained more weight than those colonized with the children in the normal weight range, even though they were fed the same diet.
Healthline weighs in on the gut health and weight gain correlation. Their article also outlines the importance gut bacteria play with your immune system and in producing certain vitamins.
They reported that gut bacteria affect how foods are digested as well as the chemicals that are produced that make you feel full. This impacts your weight. In a study examining the gut bacteria in 77 pairs of twins, where one was obese and was in the normal weight range, the twins who were obese had fewer good gut bacteria and fewer types of bacteria in the gut.
There are a number of studies that show the correlation between high fiber diets and weight gain. Those people who have high fiber diets have a healthier weight. This may be attributed to the role that gut bacteria play in the fiber digestion process.
Two important bacteria, Prevotella and Bacteroidetes, may determine how much weight you lose when eating a particular diet. They help with the digestion of fiber and carbohydrates. A study conducted using 62 people on a high-fiber diet for 26 weeks, revealed those with Prevotella in their intestines lost 5.1 more pounds of body fat than those without them in their gut.
Another important role gut bacteria play in the digestion process is that they can digest antioxidants called flavonoids, known to prevent weight gain. These bacteria can influence the absorption of dietary fats and affect how fat is stored.
Do I Have a Gut Imbalance?
At this point, you may be wondering about your own gut health. If you have an imbalance of bacteria or an overgrowth of fungi, your gut health may be affected. This is usually related to diet. Let’s look at some of the dietary factors that Health Beat contribute to poor gut health.
• Diets that consist of high-sugar
• Low fiber diets that consist of processed foods, fast food, and food that is high in calories but poor in nutrients
• The overuse of medications that block healthy gut function
• Consistent use of antibiotics, acid blockers, anti-inflammatory medications
Gastroenterologist Alexander Hewlett, DO, published a study in February of 2019. He recommends that the next time you’re not feeling well and you blame it on the weather or stress at work, perhaps you should take a look at your diet.
Hewlett confirms that the brain communicates with the microbes in the gut. Since those microbes are in constant communication with your brain, your entire body is affected by your gut including your emotions, mood, sleep, metabolism, and general health.
When your diet suffers, so do the microbes that make vitamins and send signals to the immune system as well as the molecules that affect brain functions. When the gut microbes are out of balance and the walls become more porous, there appears to be an association with diseases such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic fatigue.
Inflammation is a defense mechanism by the body against injury or bad bacteria. It can be a healthy response. However, if you are suffering from chronic inflammation this may also be a sign for you to look at your gut health. If your inflammation has lasted for months or years, this can cause permanent damage. Inflammation has been linked to numerous chronic diseases as well as mental illness, anxiety, and depression.
In addition, chronic inflammation takes its toll on the central nervous system. This can lead to symptoms that resemble depression such as lethargy, sleep disorders, and changes in appetite. Reducing inflammation by eating a healthy and balanced diet can also help regulate stress and benefit whole-body health.
Cultivate a Healthy Gut
ABC News reported there are many ways to reverse the inflammation caused by an unhealthy gut. The gut microbiota is very sensitive to external factors including diet, drugs, antibiotics, smoking, infections, and stress.
Basic steps to improve gut health and reduce inflammation:
• Avoid foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat
• Figure out ways to reduce stress
• Take time to practice well-being
• Stay physically active
• Eat a diet rich in prebiotics, probiotics, and healthy fats
Good Gut Health for a Better Whole Body
Research suggests that a lack of good bacteria and an abundance of bad bacteria in your digestive system has an impact on your whole-body health. A large part of the body’s immune system is located in the gut. Gut health is constantly being transmitted to the brain by transporting inflammatory markers back and forth.
When gut health is compromised, this places gut microbes out of balance. The result is that the gut walls are compromised and become more porous. This allows toxins to enter the bloodstream and may make the body more susceptible to diseases, mental issues, weight gain, chronic fatigue, and systemic inflammation.
It’s never too late to improve your gut health. In order to have diverse and healthy gut bacteria, consider making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Reduce sugar, saturated fats, and foods with empty calories and little nutritional value. Eat a well-balanced diet rich in fiber, leafy greens, and foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics. Exercise, be mindful of your body and find ways to reduce stress.
While there is still a lot to learn about gut health, improving yours can make you feel better mentally, reduce pain and inflammation, improve digestion, help you sleep better, maintain a healthy weight, and increase your chances of fighting off disease.
As more research is conducted on the importance of good gut health, the greater our motivation will become to improve our health through diet and exercise, rather than relying on prescription drugs, medications, and methods that treat the symptoms rather than the cause.