Takeaway: The gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms, but what matters most is whether or not they are good for the body. A healthy gut is key to optimal health, and without it, the body’s immune system becomes weak making the body more susceptible to disease. To achieve a healthy gut, it is crucial to nourish the body with food that promotes healthy bacteria.
Did you know that the human body is composed of only 43% human cells and 57% microbiome? That’s about 100 trillion microorganisms ranging from bacteria and fungi to protists and viruses. And to think, we as humans are so preoccupied with stripping ourselves free from bacteria when we are naturally made of them. So what does any of this have to do with gut health? Well, it has everything to do with it.
Bacteria have always had a bad reputation which explains why we love buying antibacterial soaps and cleansers. It is associated with illness, diseases, and unsanitary environments. However, not all types of bacteria are bad. In fact, science proves that these microbes live naturally in harmony within our bodies, and they contribute to various bodily functions essential for human survival.
Microbes occupy almost every part of the human body, especially in areas where hair grows, like the scalp and underarms. The moist areas of the body such as the insides of your mouth and tongue are also places where microbes are the densest. But, when it comes to microbiome diversity, the large intestine has the highest variety of microorganisms. This tells us that the gut may be the most influential microbiome ecosystem to our health.
Interestingly, topics related to gut health are currently in the limelight as new discoveries are made about its impact on the body. But, before we explore its contributions to our health, let’s first learn more about what gut health is and how it is linked to the functions of our body.
What Is Gut Health?
The gut consists of the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the GI tract. It is a series of organs that breaks down the food that we eat and absorbs nutrients for the body to perform its everyday tasks. It also helps the body in getting rid of its solid wastes after the whole process of digestion. The GI tract begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. It includes the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestine, and the rectum.
Our gut is also a part of the human microbiota; it’s an ecosystem that hosts billions of diverse microorganisms. Some studies report that our gut contains 1-2 pounds of bacteria at all times. But the question is, are they good or bad bacteria?
As we all know, our bodies have a smart and sophisticated system within them. Our gut, for example, is capable of protecting itself by keeping harmful substances out of its system while also producing healthy bacteria as reinforcement. This is why, despite having pathogens in the body that can cause diseases and illnesses, humans who live a healthy lifestyle are less likely to contract any form of sickness.
Having said that, it’s undeniable that the gut is linked to our overall health condition. It may be safe to assume that the cultivation of healthy bacteria can do wonders for the body in terms of health; but to understand the role of bacteria in our bodies even further, read on below.
Gut Health and Overall Health
The bacteria found in the gut can be either good or harmful to the body. They are categorized into four main groups: Bacteroids, Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, or Proteobacteria, and each category has a specific role in the body. The gut microbiome takes part in many different bodily functions. But, in a nutshell, your gut flora has three main goals:
- It is responsible for helping the body synthesize essential nutrients.
- It promotes good gastrointestinal health.
- It develops and strengthens your immune system.
It is also interesting to note that your gut flora is unique to you. It is a result of a combination of factors that are distinctive to your characteristics such as your gender, age, and genes. Your lifestyle and habits, like your hygiene and occupation, are also contributors that shape the makeup of your gut microbiome.
Your gut microbiome influences the way your body reacts to certain things such as pain, stress, your appetite, and even the way your body fights infection. Here’s how your gut health can also impact certain areas of your life:
We discussed earlier how the gastrointestinal tract is responsible for not only breaking down the food that we eat but also in the absorption of essential nutrients. The gut creates molecules that affect the way our bodies store nutrients and utilize sugar. They also manage our appetite and therefore have certain control over our weight.
Because nutrition is vital for the body to maintain its optimal health, it’s easy to conclude that our gut microbiome plays a significant role in our overall health. Moreover, our gut health affects what we eat and in turn, what we eat can also affect our gut. That being said, it is crucial that we take care of our diet to ensure our body’s condition.
Our relationship with food is not the only thing that the gut facilitates. As mentioned earlier, our microbiome affects the way we react to pain. But, did you know that it can also affect the way we manage stress?
When we are placed in a stressful situation, our brain goes into fight or flight mode, significantly impacting the way blood flows in the gut. This ultimately affects the health of your digestive system as well as your immune system.
However, the gut is also capable of sending messages to the brain for it to respond properly to its stressors. In this sense, the gut is protecting the rest of the body from the effects of stress. Having said all this, we will not be able to manage stress properly without the help of our gut microbiome.
The brain and the gut are continually communicating with each other via the Gut-Brain Axis. The gut stimulates the nervous system to function correctly, therefore, ensuring smooth communication between both organs. Relaying and receiving messages are essential as they contain important information in maintaining the health of the body.
Moreover, research performed by the NIH recently found that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease have a less diverse gut microbiota than normal. This discover have led scientists to believe that the microorganisms in the GI tract have a direct relationship to brain health.
Gut Health Diet
Studies show that individuals with fewer gut bacteria are more vulnerable to diseases and serious infections. The bacteria in your gut have a protective shield that fights off other potentially harmful microorganisms that enter the body. Additionally, they also prevent harmful bacteria from growing in your gut.
To benefit from the contributions of healthy bacteria, you need to do your part in nourishing the body with the nutrients it needs. The rule is simple: healthy bacteria thrive in a healthy environment. While uncontrollable factors like aging and getting sick can affect the balance of good and healthy bacteria, plenty of other factors hugely affect the decrease in healthy gut bacteria. Stress, unhealthy diet, and antibiotics are more often than not the common culprits of the drop in healthy bacteria.
So, the question is, how can you further strengthen your gut health? The easiest way to promote healthy guts is through your diet. Plenty of healthy food options contain a variety of good bacteria strains that the body requires. Consequently, healthy eating habits are essential to healthy gut flora. Read on below to find out how to improve gut health through food.
How to Improve Gut Health
It is crucial to understand the concept of prebiotics and probiotics to achieve a healthy gut. Prebiotics is food that promotes bacterial growth, while probiotics are food that contains live bacteria. Both are required to ensure a healthy gut microbiome environment, and without one or the other, one’s attempts at using diet to improve gut health may lead to fruitless results. Here are a few additional tips on how to eat your way to a healthy gut.
The process of fermenting food has been around for many centuries, and yet, not a lot of people know how beneficial it is for the gut. Fermented foods provide the body with healthy microorganisms that fight off unhealthy bacteria in the gut microbiome. It also improves the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and nutrients giving it more support for overall health.
When bacteria or yeast is added, the microorganisms create lactic acid or alcohol to preserve the food. Probiotics are also produced in this process, and as we learned earlier, the cultivation of healthy bacteria is always beneficial for the gut flora. Additionally, fermentation adds nutrients to the food, making it a very healthy food option for the body.
Vegetables are the go-to solution of every healthy diet, and unsurprisingly, they are also beneficial for a healthy gut. Green vegetables are rich in minerals and inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that enhances the production of good bacteria in the gut like bifidobacteria.
Studies show that bifidobacteria reduces the number of harmful bacteria while also boosting the immune system. Those who have problems with their bowel movements are also recommended to consume foods with bifidobacteria.
Most people believe fiber is the solution to healthy digestion, but did you know that it is also an essential ingredient for overall gut health? Fiber supports good bacteria within the gut microbiome making it a vital food source for a healthy gut. Our gut bacteria requires the vitamins and nutrients found in fiber to improve the immune system, decrease inflammation, and to protect the body from a risk against obesity.
There are two types of fiber available in food: soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber assists the body in lowering blood glucose levels and bad LDL cholesterol. Some examples of soluble fiber-rich foods are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and oatmeal. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber helps in cleansing the digestive system. Foods like kidney beans, whole grains, as well as some fruits and veggie are rich in insoluble fiber.
Apples are one of the most common fruits available in the market today, but so many people take it for granted. They are a great source of fiber, and as mentioned earlier, fiber is beneficial for the overall health of the gut. According to studies, green apples help in boosting good bacteria in the gut. However, it is important to choose apples that are organic to receive its full effect on the body.
Probiotic supplements are very popular nowadays, but not everybody can take them. The good news is, foods like yogurt and kefir make excellent sources of probiotics. They contain live microorganisms that are healthy for the gut, and they are also easy to find in any grocery.
How Your Gut Affects Your Health
Gut Health and Anxiety
As mentioned earlier, the gut and the brain are continually interacting with one another. Their relationship has led medical experts to believe that the gut microbiome plays an integral role in maintaining healthy cognitive function. Research has also found that gut dysfunction may be a contributor to depression and many other related disorders such as anxiety, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ADHD, and even schizophrenia.
Gut Health and Weight Loss
We’ve learned earlier that the gut releases molecules that impact our appetite; and as a result, it also affects our eating habits. In addition to this, the bacteria in your gut also affects the way food is digested in the body. It produces chemicals that make you feel satisfied; and if not functioning properly, you will be inclined to eat more than what your body actually needs.
Gut Health and Acne
They say that beauty comes from the inside and perhaps science can prove this to be true. The gut microbiome doesn’t just work in maintaining the internal health of the body, but it can also keep the skin healthy and less prone to acne.
Studies show that the oilier parts of the body like the face or the back tend to have fewer variations of microbes. This is because oil is naturally anti-microbial, keeping bacteria out of these areas. Microbes help transform oils in the skin into moisturizers that help the skin become softer and less vulnerable to bacteria.
Gut Health and Allergies
Studies show that having fewer bacteria in the gut can disrupt the immune system. An imbalanced immune system can make the body vulnerable to allergies such as hay fever. Additionally, research conducted in Copenhagen involving 411 infants found that infants with a less diverse gut microbiome are more likely to develop allergies.