“Gut health” refers to the function and balance of bacteria in the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Our organs such as the oesophagus, stomach and intestines should all work together so that we can eat and digest food without discomfort. When our gut health is out of balance, it can have devastating effects on our entire body, including physical and mental health.

Gut health

All food is ultimately broken down in the intestines into a simple form that can enter the bloodstream and be distributed throughout the body as nutrients. This is only possible with a healthy digestive system. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that fight off infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain overall health and well-being.

 

How do you know if you have gut health problems? 

Everyone has digestive problems at some time or another, such as abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, constipation, heartburn, nausea or vomiting. If symptoms persist, it may be a sign of an underlying problem that needs medical attention. Symptoms include: 

  • Weight loss for no good reason
  • Unusual stool – blood in the stool, or black stool (a sign of bleeding in the gut)
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Difficulty swallowing food
  • Pain in the throat or chest when swallowing food
  • Jaundice – a yellowing of the skin or eyes 

See your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms.

 

Gut health effects your whole body 

Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Looking after the health of the gut and maintaining the right balance of these microorganisms is vital for physical and mental health, immunity, and more. 2 aspects of your health that are affected include: 

  1. Physical health 
  • Upset stomach -frequent discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn could be signs that your gut is having a hard time processing food and eliminating waste. 
  • Tiredness – chronic fatigue because your body is unable to absorb the necessary nutrients to function optimally. 
  • Sleeping problems -majority of your body’s serotonin, which affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut.  
  • Food intolerances – poor quality of bacteria in the gut means your body may struggle to digest certain foods. A large percentage of people with poor gut health also suffer from IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome). 
  • Extreme food cravings, especially sugar – eating too much sugar can cause too much “bad” bacteria in the gut. High amounts of sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, are linked to inflammation in the body and puts you at risk for other diseases.
  • Unintentional weight gain or loss When your gut is imbalanced, your body may struggle to absorb nutrients, store fat, and regulate blood sugar. Weight loss or gain may be caused by bacteria overgrowth or lack of nutrients. 
  • Skin irritations – skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis may be related to gut issues. 
  • Migraines – there may be a link between headaches and gut health, especially if you experience nausea or vomiting with migraines. Studies suggest that people with frequent headaches are more likely to have gastrointestinal disorders too. 
  • Autoimmune problems – some “bad” gut bacteria may trigger autoimmune conditions like thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.  

 

  1. Mental health 
  • The Vagus nerve connects your gut and your brain – your gut and brain are connected by the Vagus nerve, a major component of the autonomic nervous system which enables you to breathe, digest food, and swallow automatically. This nerve is able to send messages to your brain for your colon, and vice versa. The gut-brain connection is becoming a vital player in mental health and illnesses that affect the brain.
  • The Butyrate effect – Butyrate is an essential short-chain fatty acid produced by good gut bacteria when you eat plants (fruit, veg, seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes). It’s the main source of fuel for the cells of your gut lining, so it helps keep this barrier strong and intact. It also helps prevent inflammation, which can be bad for your mood, even causing or worsening depression. A new study even shows that butyrate might help you grow new brain cells.
  • Probiotics – probiotic bacteria provide many health benefits, including for the brain. They naturally reside in the gut but are also found in supplements and fermented foods, like yoghurt. Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Lactococcus species are all examples of probiotics because they support your whole-body and improve mental health too. certain Lactobacillus species improve stress resilience and anxiety. Some studies even show that taking probiotics can help alleviate symptoms of depression.

  

Improve your gut health 

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to improve the health of your gut. Here are 10 tips: 

  1. Take probiotics and eat fermented foods – taking probiotics can support a healthy gut microbiome, and it may prevent gut inflammation and other intestinal problems. Fermented foods are a natural source of probiotics, such as fermented vegetables, miso, sauerkraut.
  2. Eat prebiotic fiber – probiotics feed on non-digestible carbohydrates called prebiotics. This process encourages beneficial bacteria to multiply in the gut. These include asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions and whole grains.
  3. Eat less sugars and sweeteners – eating a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners may cause gut dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of gut microbes. Artificial sweeteners can also negatively impact blood glucose levels due to their effects on gut flora. This means that artificial sweeteners may increase blood sugar despite not actually being a sugar. Which leads to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  4. Reduce stress – psychological stressors can disrupt the microorganisms in the intestines, even if the stress is only short-lived. These include psychological stress, environmental stress (such as extreme heat, cold, or noise), sleep deprivation and disruption of the circadian rhythm. Some stress management techniques include meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  5. Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily – although it is often necessary to take antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, overuse can be damaging to the gut microbiota and immunity.
  6. Exercise regularly – exercising contributes to good heart health and weight loss or weight maintenance. Research has also suggested that it may improve gut health, which may, in turn, help control obesity. The recommended amount of exercise for adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, along with muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days each week.
  7. Get enough sleep – enough good-quality sleep can improve mood, cognition, and gut health. Irregular sleep habits and disturbed sleep can have negative outcomes for the gut flora, which may increase the risk of inflammatory conditions. The minimum amount recommended for adults is 7 hours per night.
  8. Use different cleaning products – just as antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiota, so too can disinfectant cleaning products. Researchers have found that those who lived in homes where people used disinfectant cleaning products at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of Lachnospiraceaegut microbes, a type associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
  9. Avoid smoking – smoking affects gut health as well as the health of the heart and lungs. Smoking alters the intestinal flora by increasing potentially harmful microorganisms and decreasing the levels of beneficial ones.
  10. Eat more vegetables and less animal products – a vegetarian diet may improve gut health due to the high levels of prebiotic fiber it contains. Limiting or eliminating animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs, could lower levels of gut inflammation due to the altered types of gut microbes.

 

Maintaining a healthy gut contributes to better overall health and immune function. Making a few lifestyle changes could dramatically improve your quality of life. We recommend that you consult with your doctor before implementing any drastic changes.

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