An Introduction to Gut Health
Bacteria are a natural part of the body’s beautifully designed ecosystem. When the subject of “gut health” comes up, it generally refers to the health of the community of bacteria that populate our large intestine. This is where 70% of the bacteria in and on our body exist in numbers upwards of hundreds of trillions. With these bacteria outnumbering our human cells 10 to 1, it’s no surprise that they have a profound influence on our health.
Digestion & More
A healthy gut is important for proper digestion but its influence is far-reaching. In digestion, the primary role of gut bacteria is to break down the fiber in food and other indigestible particles that have passed through the small intestine. However, the byproducts and activity of the microbes are connected to many more aspects of health, including:
- Mental and neurological health
- Weight and metabolism
- Heart health
- Skin health
- Immune function
The Gut-Skin Connection
The health of the gut is reflected in the skin and connected to conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema. We have both “good” and “bad” bacteria in our guts. The “bad” bacteria in our gut release toxins and compounds that are damaging and inflammatory. The idea isn’t necessarily to get rid of the bad, but rather to foster an environment that favors and supports the beneficial bugs. When we have a balanced gut environment, our beneficial bacteria are able to synthesize essential nutrients and vitamins from our food (Vitamin K and B Vitamins, for example), produce hormones and neurotransmitters (90% of serotonin is produced in the gut), modulate immunity, and keep inflammation at bay.
Gut health is influenced by a variety of environmental, lifestyle, and dietary factors. With so many influencing factors, there are a lot of opportunities to improve and support gut health!
3 Things You Can Do Today to Support Your Gut
1. Limit harmful foods and ingredients.
Any time you want to improve an area of health, a good place to start is to remove what’s causing harm. Some of the biggest gut and skin offenders include gluten, dairy, and sugar. Other problematic foods included alcohol, soy, and corn. Much of this is related to the sourcing and processing of these ingredients.
- Processed foods: Many processed foods are highly inflammatory and contain ingredients that disrupt the balance of the microbiome. Specifically, processed foods often contain preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, chemical herbicides and pesticide residues, emulsifiers, refined sugars, and highly processed vegetable oils that are damaging to the gut.
- Allergens and Food Sensitivities: Identifying food sensitivities is an important part of improving gut health. There’s a bidirectional relationship between gut health and food sensitivities. When our gut’s integrity is compromised, we are more susceptible to react to foods. When we eat foods we’re sensitive to, we increase harmful inflammation in the gut and it can’t function properly. It’s important to note that food sensitivities often don’t cause digestive symptoms!
2. Incorporate gut-friendly foods.
- Fermented, probiotic foods: The process of fermentation creates beneficial bacteria as a byproduct. Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kombucha are examples of foods that naturally contain beneficial probiotics. Keep in mind that any shelf-stable versions of these products have been treated in a way that kills the beneficial bacteria.
- Prebiotic foods: Perhaps even more importantly than eating probiotic-rich foods is eating ones that are prebiotic, or essentially those that “feed” the gut bacteria. These include fiber-rich foods like apples, leafy greens, avocados, legumes, onions, garlic and other alliums.
3. Utilize lifestyle approaches.
There are many lifestyle factors that impact the gut. Reducing stress, improving sleep, and physical activity are all ways to support gut health. Sound familiar? In the human body everything is connected and no system exists in isolation. These approaches to improve the gut will benefit other areas of your health, too.
Our gut contains trillions of bacteria that influence our health through complex mechanisms. Our health and functioning is dependent on the diversity, abundance, and balance of beneficial bacteria. A healthy gut is a key component of healthy skin.
- Identify food sensitivities and limit those foods
- Limit highly processed foods that contain gut-damaging ingredients and additives
- Eat a variety of whole, fiber-rich foods that feed our good bacteria as well as probiotic foods
- Limit stress
- Get enough sleep
- Enjoy regular physical activity, preferably in nature
There is so much more to share on the topic of gut health! There are many personal factors and influences to consider when it comes to addressing your unique health. Hopefully this has given you some insight into the importance of the gut and some tools that can help you live a healthier, happier, more beautiful life.