Your gut health can influence many different aspects of your health & wellbeing.
Gut health has become one of the most popular topics in the health & nutrition scene – but it can be a confusing topic to navigate. The term ‘gut health’ can refer to many different aspects of health, and can be influenced by almost every aspect of our lifestyle! As studies continue to show more and more evidence of the impact that our gut health (or lack thereof) can have on our entire body, it becomes increasingly important that we can all understand how and why we should take care of it.
What Does ‘Gut Health’ Mean?
When we talk about gut health – we are usually referring to the population of bacteria that lives inside your digestive tract. These bacteria are collectively known and referred to as our gut microbiota. These billions of bacteria (both good and bad) can have significant effects on the health of our entire body. The balance of good vs bad bacteria, along with the diversity within the different strains of bacteria present, are the variables that distinguish a ‘healthy’ gut environment from an unhealthy one. Having too many bad bacteria and too few good bacteria can cause many health issues, including poor digestion, low immunity, low energy levels, lower moods, and has even been linked to weight management issues. A lack of diversity (i.e not having many different varieties) in the strains of bacteria present has also been associated with these negative health outcomes. In an ideal gut microbiota, there is a large number of good/beneficial bacteria, and a low number of bad/harmful bacteria. There should ideally also be a wide variety within the strains of the good bacteria, since different strains have been associated with different health benefits.
Why Are These Bacteria So Important?
These billions of bacteria, although tiny, have major effects on our whole body. Good bacteria produce important compounds inside the gut, such as B and K vitamins, and short chain fatty acids. The bacteria can also breakdown dietary fibre, and fight off harmful bacteria and pathogens that could cause illness and disease. It is now known that the majority of our body’s serotonin (a neurotransmitter associated with happiness and mood management) is produced in the gut, and an unbalanced gut microbiota can negatively effect serotonin production. New research has even shown the gut microbiome can be linked to weight management. So the bacteria living inside your gut can have major effects on your entire body, from head to toe.
What Affects Our Gut Health & Microbiome
Our diet and lifestyle can significantly influence the health of our gut environment. Some foods contain good bacteria (known as probiotics) or compounds that feed the good bacteria (known as prebiotics). These pre and probiotics are hugely beneficial for gut health, as they help to increase the numbers of good bacteria inside the gut. Some foods can he harmful to our gut microbiome, these tend to be highly processed unhealthy foods containing artificial flavours, sweeteners, sugars and preservatives. Other lifestyle factors can also have either beneficial or detrimental effects on gut health. Stress, exercise, antibiotics and other medicines can also have positive or negative effects on the microbiome. Probiotic (good bacteria) supplements are a highly effective way to improve gut health.
How Can You Improve Your Gut Health?
Improving your gut health ultimately comes down to increasing the number and variety of good bacteria inside your gut microbiome. This most simple way to do that is to consume either probiotic supplements or probiotic containing foods. These probiotics can populate inside your gut to increase the numbers of good bacteria present. Getting good quality probiotics is important, many varieties are highly sensitive to heat and acid, meaning they can easily be destroyed during the digestion process in the stomach. If the bacteria are destroyed before they reach your lower digestive tract, they won’t have any beneficial effects. Alongside the probiotics, PREbiotics are a great way to feed the good bacteria inside your gut and also help to increase the number of beneficial bacteria.