Why good gut health impacts overall health

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Why good gut health impacts overall health

The saying, “It’s all in your head,” appears to be a misnomer – more and more research is showing that many physical and mental ailments may actually be originating in your gut.

Take a look at yourself in the mirror.  Do you look healthy? Does your skin look vibrant and free of blemishes or skin disorders? Do you feel healthy, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then likely you also have good gut health.  But, if your answers are “no,” then maybe it’s time to consider that what’s troubling you may originate in how healthy your gut is.

Our gastrointestinal tract, aka our “gut,” is a about a 25-30 foot long tubular canal that runs the length beginning in your mouth, down the esophagus, includes the stomach, small and large intestine, and exits out the anus.  The primary job of your gut is to digest and absorb the contents of food and beverages you consume. Your gut is a very busy body system and to help and enhance its work, all of us have trillions of bacteria occupying our guts, known as your gut microbiome. Bacteria found in your gut have a purpose – they not only help you digest foods, they also work all over the body and have been found to be beneficial for your physical and mental health.

The amazing thing about your gut microbiome is how vast and diversified it is. Your body’s microbiome is made up of 100 trillion microorganisms, or microbes, that live in and on your body. These include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other type of tiny organisms. It’s so large that the genes of microbes outnumber your body’s genes by 100 to 1. The large intestine (aka colon) contains the highest concentration and greatest diversity of microbes in the entire body. This organ is lined with a layer of mucus and the microbes that live there form a gut biofilm. The biofilm contains an array of different microbes that carry out different tasks in your body and also work together to keep you healthy.

Making it even more fascinating is that each and every person on earth has their own unique make-up of microbes.

Determining factors of the different types of microbes in a person is a result of each individual’s genetic make-up, gender, diet, hygiene, and even the climate they live in and your occupation. Studies have shown that the gut microbiome affects everything from pain, mood, sleep and stress, to how your body uses food you eat and how you fight off infection.

Here are five remarkable ways in which your gut bacteria or microbiome and gut health have an impressive role in impacting your overall health:

·      Your food choices

When it comes to what foods you choose from day-to-day, your gut health affects those choices and vice versa – what you eat affects your gut health. Microbes within your gut make small molecules that travel throughout the blood stream. These microbes influence how your body stores nutrients, uses sugar, regulates your appetite, and controls your weight. The foods you eat also play a significant role when it comes to keeping your gut health in check.

The “Western” diet or a diet high in fat and highly-refined carbohydrates (sweets, pastries, cookies, cake, pie, etc.) can cause the good and bad bacteria in the gut to become unbalanced. For some people who regularly follow a more Western dietary pattern eating large quantities of these highly-processed foods, can develop a condition called “leaky gut syndrome” in which the tight junctions in the large intestine open up and allow bacteria and their toxins to get through. This, in turn, can result in an inflammatory response.

This same dietary pattern can also begin to erode the mucus layer that protects the intestinal cells from coming in direct contact with the gut microbes contributing to inflammation.

The best way to combat this is to choose more fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains as well as those that have prebiotics and probiotics like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, or miso soup for good gut health.

·      Your sleep habits and mood

Our gut is often dubbed the second brain.  This is because within the gut it contains 30 types of neurotransmitters and 100 million neurons. Ninety percent of serotonin, which helps to produce melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” is located in the gut. There is also 400 times more melatonin in the gut than there is in the brain.

Recent studies have looked at the “gut-brain axis” and how gut health can affect pain, sleep, depression and anxiety. In fact, a recent pre-clinical study suggested that eating probiotic-rich yogurt may be able to reverse depression.

·      Inflammation and infection

The microbes in your gut also work hard to keep your body healthy.  The good microbes help to crowd out harmful bacteria such as those that cause infections. Your gut also contains bacteria that release compounds which can lower inflammation throughout the body and prevent an attack on the immune system.

·      Your skin health

Besides keeping your mind and body healthy, research has shown the microbiome also works to keep your skin healthy. Oily parts of the body – like the back or face – tend to have fewer types of microbes because oil is anti-microbial which keeps bacteria out.

These microbes also transform oils in the skin into natural moisturizers to keep the skin soft and supple. When skin is moisturized, it also prevents bacteria from invading in your body.

·      Your weight

This is a more recent discovery that is still being explored but gut health may also affect how much you weigh.  The reason believed is that if a person has an unhealthy balance in their gut microbiome, it may cause crossed signals from their brain when it comes to feeling hungry or full.  Researchers think there may be a link to the pituitary gland, which makes hormones that help set your appetite.  That gland can affect the balance of bacteria in your gut too.