Why is a healthy gut important to our overall well being and our health in general? First off, what does it mean to have a healthy gut?
Nearly 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, famously quoted: “All Disease Begins in the Gut.”
At the time, the traditional medical system acknowledged the prelacy of the gut. However, as time went on and modern medicine was invented, the gut took a back seat. It isn’t until the 20th century that we are seeing more and more research that has been done on the GI tract and realizing the importance of this system to our body, for both our physical and mental health.
Medical News Today gives the following concise definition: “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.”
The human gut is more complex than previously thought. When you eat food, you first process it in your mouth and it then makes its way down to your small intestine. Your small intestine is made up of three parts: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. Shortly after,you process the food in your large intestine, which is the last part of the gastrointestinal tract. Water is absorbed here and the remaining waste material is stored as feces before being removed from the body.
The body must be able to go through this process smoothly and with little complications. Knowing the signs of those complications can help us better understand how to remedy them and achieve optimal health.
What does it mean to have an unhealthy gut?
An unhealthy gut can manifest itself in several ways. You can conclude that your gut is less than superior with some of these common symptoms:
Feeling tired most of the day for apparently no reason? Constant fatigue can be a symptom of an unhealthy gut. Your microbiome is the community of bacteria living in and on your body. Many of it is in your intestines. Dr. W Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, says that: “These bacteria influence how we feel, how our immune systems respond to our environment and our resistance to disease.” In a study, researchers recruited 50 patients with chronic fatigue and 50 healthy peers from four U.S. cities. Most were women, average age 51, as this seems to affect women more than men. Fecal samples from all participants were genetically broken down to identify the types and quantity of bacteria present. Blood samples were also analyzed. What the investigation found is that people with chronic fatigue syndrome “have different bacteria in their intestines than healthier people,” Lipkin said. [Source]
Irregular Sleep Cycles
If you have irregular or disturbed sleep, this is one of the tell-tale signs of an unhealthy gut. Your gastrointestinal tract is directly linked to your brain. How healthy it is can affect your sleep, emotions, behavior, and physical capabilities. Your sleep habits could have a direct effect on your gut health. [Source]
This is one of the more obvious signs. Having digestion issues such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and heartburn, all indicate that there is an issue with your gastrointestinal tract. While it’s normal to experience these disturbances from time to time, it’s not normal to experience them regularly. A balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste.
Increased Inflammation in the Body
The imbalance of good bacteria in your gut can cause increased sugar cravings. This can further damage the condition of your gut. A diet high in sugar, particularly high fructose corn syrup, has been directly linked with inflammation in the body. This inflammation leads to more serious diseases and even cancer. [Source]
Sounds weird, right? With an unhealthy gut, you may have an imbalance that’s allowed certain types of the H. pylori bacteria to take up residence in your GI tract. These bacteria are at the root of many stomach ulcers. Halitosis (i.e. bad breath) is a symptom often seen with H. pylori infections. [Source]
Leaky Gut Syndrome
“Leaky gut syndrome” is a term coined by medical professionals. It describes a condition with symptoms including bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, and aches or pain. It’s actually something of a mystery in the medical world. However, what we do know about leaky gut syndrome is that it’s a sign that there is something seriously wrong with your GI tract. A possible cause of this is increased intestinal permeability or intestinal hyperpermeability. This could happen when the junctions in the gut, which control what passes through the lining of the small intestine, don’t work properly. In turn, this causes substances to leak into your bloodstream. People with leaky gut could also develop Celiac disease. This is an allergy to gluten, and that comes with symptoms in and of itself. [Source]
If any of your symptoms are severe, you should consult with your medical professional to make sure there are no underlying conditions.
However, there are also some proven ways we can reduce the effects of these symptoms and strive for a better life-style with better gut health, more energy, and mental clarity. Improving your gut health means less upset stomachs, better skin, and overall well-being. Sounds amazing, right? Let’s get right into it!
Here are some sure-fire ways to improve your gut health
Eat More Fiber
Doctors and medical professionals have long known that a diet high in fiber contributes to overall well-being. But it can also help to repair an unhealthy gut. A 2017 study showed that more fiber in our diets leads to better gut biome. It drastically improves the good bacteria that we house and helps them to thrive. A higher fiber diet also reduces the risk of (and can even repair) leaky gut syndrome. The way this works is the more fiber we eat, the more microbiomes we have in our gut,. Therefore, the thicker the mucus membrane will be of our GI tract. This ensures that the toxins do not leak into our bloodstream. Some food items that are high in fiber include: barley, rye, whole grains, apples, onions, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, legumes, wheat, and fermented foods. Also, be sure to avoid processed foods of any kind, since the additives in these foods negatively affect our health in many ways.
If you haven’t heard about all the benefits of taking collagen peptides, then today is your day. The advantages are endless, and one of them is a healthy, thriving gut. Collagen peptides contain greater than 90% protein and are made from bovine, porcine, or marine sources. Collagen is found in all of our connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Its purpose being to provide these body parts with their strength, structure, and elasticity. As you get older, your body becomes less efficient at naturally producing collagen, which is why adding collagen to your diet is pretty much essential. Collagen is an essential component for healing and sealing the gut. Medical professionals now recognize collagen as one of the key supplements for gut health. Besides providing the building blocks for new collagen in the body, the amino acids delivered by hydrolyzed collagen support gut health.
In a study from the University of Illinois, researchers found that exercising for just six weeks could have an impact on the microbiome. “These are the first studies to show that exercise can affect your gut independent of diet or other factors,” said Jeffrey Woods, Ph.D., a University of Illinois professor of kinesiology and community health who led the research with former doctoral student Jacob Allen, now a postdoctoral researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. All you have to do is get moving! Even starting with just 15 minutes a day can help. Gradually increase as you can, but the most important thing is to stay consistent.
Sleep directly affects not just our gut, but our overall health, mental clarity, and focus. Unhealthy sleep cycles can cause sugar cravings as well, which leads to other health issues. Try regulating your sleep by getting at least 7-8 hours of healthy, uninterrupted sleep. If you have trouble waking up in the middle of the night, you can use all-natural supplements such as Melatonin to help you stay asleep. If you have further sleep issues, consult your doctor to find natural and healthy ways to get more rested sleep throughout the night.
Your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that consist of live cultures that help you digest food better. This results in overall better gut health for a better you. You can find probiotics in fermented foods such as yogurt and kombucha, and they are also available as supplements you can take daily. If you have taken anti-biotics anytime within the last 2 years, you should seriously consider taking or ingesting more pro-biotics to counter the effect that the antibiotics have had on your body. Your doctor will often give you antibiotics to help fight off infections, however, they also kill many of the good bacteria that live in your gut and protect you.
Eliminating or drastically reducing the consumption of processed foods here is key. One helpful tip I’ve learned is to avoid buying items with ingredients you can’t pronounce! Or any ingredients which sound chemically or genetically created, the biggest one being high fructose corn syrup. Switch to natural whole foods, whole wheat bread with just a few simple ingredients, a lot of fruits and vegetables, yogurt, raw unfiltered honey to replace sugar, and so on. Everyone is different, and not one diet is a “one-size-fits-all.” However, eating healthy and whole foods with basic ingredients is a recipe for success for your gut!
With the research shown, we can see that our gut is vital for our physical and mental health, as well as our overall well-being. Taking care of this vital organ will increase our energy, improve our skin complexion, and give us the mental clarity to focus on the things that matter throughout our day. Taking just a few simple steps to improve our gut health will be the key to living a rich and fulfilling life. So here’s to a healthy gut and a better, happier you!