Science is confirming what holistic practitioners have long proclaimed, gut health is the key to overall health.
Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract.
The digestive tract takes in food, digests it for energy, absorbs nutrients and expels the waste. The mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines are all part of that system.
The right balance of microorganisms is crucial for physical and mental health.
Think of this as the community of bacteria that live in your digestive tract. About 100 trillion bacteria, good and bad, live inside your digestive system. Of those trillion there are about 1,000 different species.
Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique. The main factors that influence your microbiome are age, diet, lifestyle, genes and medications (particularly antibiotics).
In the gut microbiome, the “good” bacteria do more than just help with digestion. They help keep your “bad” bacteria in check. They multiply so often that the unhealthy kind don’t have space to grow.
Out of Balance
Too much of anything can spell trouble. In your gut, too much of a certain kind of bad bacteria can cause you to develop:
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
These are all disease that are easily recognized as being directly related to the health of our digestive system. It makes sense that what we eat and how we digest it can lead to disorders of the digestive system. But what about the other systems?
In the past medical doctors have viewed the digestive tract as a “simple” system. Food comes in, feeds the body and the waste leaves. Simple system.
Other diseases and imbalances were relegated to their own system and the connection to the gut microbiome was largely unknown.
Today we recognize that having a gut full of good bacteria impacts all the body systems and is a necessary part of every healing plan.
Research has shown a connection between gut health and:
- Anxiety and Depression
- Heart Health
- Endocrine Disorders
- Skin Conditions
- Brain Health
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
The human body is by no means a simple system. Everything is connected. Working on any part of the body has an effect on the whole system.
Gut Health and Cancer
Cancer wreaks havoc on gut health. It puts a strain on the immune system, causing bad bacteria to go unchecked. Antibiotics used to fight infection kill good and bad bacteria wiping out the gut microbiome.
One of the side effects of chemotherapy can be diarrhea, a condition that causes the loss of good bacteria. But not all the news is bad. Scientists have found that having the right bacteria in our gut not only reduces side effects like diarrhea, but it also improves the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Nutrition studies have shown that our diet can increase the risk of cancer when it is poor and decrease the risk when our diet is properly maintained.
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to positively affect your gut health and your overall health as a result.
Ways to Better Gut Health
- Eat the Rainbow. You need a diverse collection of bacteria. Eating a variety of foods encourages the growth of different types of bacteria and a healthy microbiome.
- Try Fermented Foods. These foods contain and feed probiotics and help promote healthy bacteria. Fermented foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh.
- Eat More Plant Based. Limiting animal fats and eating more fruits, vegetable and beans will increase fiber and feed the good bacteria that improves immune function, reduces inflammation and regulates mood.
- Choose Whole Grains. Rich in fiber and good for the gut.
- Incorporate Prebiotic Foods. Include leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, spinach, bananas, oats and beans to improve gut health.
- Avoid Artificial Sweeteners. Research indicates that artificial sweeteners can negatively impact blood glucose levels by damaging gut microbiome.
- Clean Differently. A 2018 study showed that infants living in homes where people used disinfectant cleaning products as little as twice a week had higher levels of gut microbes associated with type 2 diabetes.
- Manage Your Stress. The gut is sensitive to emotion. An upset brain creates an upset gut. Reducing your stress and eating mindfully gives good bacteria a fighting chance.
- Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics kills off good bacteria. Ask your doctor if you really need the antibiotics or if there is a more natural way.
- Lifestyle Medicine. Make sure you get restful sleep, enough exercise and eat a balanced diet. A healthy life fuels a healthy gut.
Taking steps to improve your gut health can decrease your risk of disease, increase your health and in some cases, reverse the effects of past poor choices.