What does gut health even mean?
Your digestive system is a vast, interconnected microbiome populated by billions of bacteria, yeasts, and viruses, and it’s more than just your stomach.
Many bacteria are healthy and manage cravings. Some are necessary for a robust immune system. Others can be destructive, especially when they multiply.
Balancing those microorganisms in the gastrointestinal system is gut health. Together, we’ll work to harmonize your gut microbiome between organs like the esophagus, stomach, and intestines.
Why does gut health matter?
When your gut is in good shape, it brings the rest of your body up with it because your digestive system affects everything from digestion to brain health. The gut breaks all food down to a basic form so the bloodstream can absorb the nutrients and ship them to different body areas. But this only happens effectively when your digestive system is in good shape. Since the gut also houses roughly 70% of the immune system, keeping our digestive systems in good working order helps us fend off infectious agents and treat many illnesses.
Abdominal discomfort (gas and bloating)
The stomach naturally creates gas during digestion and fermentation, although certain gut bacteria strains produce more gas than others. A surplus of these super-gas-producing strains might lead to more fermentation, trapping gas in the stomach, leading to bloating.
Your gut microbiome has a significant impact on your mental health and stress response. Encumbered digestion means fewer neurotransmitters (like serotonin, 95% of which the small intestine produces). Low serotonin is associated with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Researchers found that patients suffering from depression were twice as likely to see improvements from probiotic use than a control group.
People with chronic fatigue may have imbalances in the gut. One study found that almost half of people with fatigue also had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). An unhealthy gut can also alter your normal circadian cycle, making it difficult to sleep and leaving you fatigued during the day
The microorganisms in your gut are very good at persuading you to eat foods that help them flourish. However, different bacteria prefer different meals. Yeast, for example, thrives on sugar, whereas Bifidobacteria need fibre, and Bacteroidetes prefer fats. If you have too much yeast in your stomach, it might cause extreme sugar cravings, which will continue the poor gut cycle.
Skin health issues (such as acne, inflammation, eczema, and rosacea) might be a sign of underlying gut issues because your stomach communicates directly with your skin through the gut-skin axis. Your gut keeps your skin clean and healthy by contributing to skin homeostasis and physiologic pathways.
Your skin is its own microbiome, and the bacteria in your gut impact the microbial balance on your skin. An imbalance in your gut can lead to an imbalance in your skin and, depending on the individual, a range of skin health needs.
Unintentional weight change
Several factors can contribute to changes in weight, but the bacteria in your gut is one that’s often overlooked. When your gut microbiome is imbalanced, your body may have trouble absorbing nutrients, storing fat, and controlling blood sugar. Bacterial overgrowth or a shortage of nutrients can induce weight loss or gain.
Often referred to as the enteric nervous system, our “second brains” are comprised of neurons embedded in our gut. Neurotransmitters produced in the gut support our mood, thoughts, and other cognitive functions such as attention and focus. Suboptimal gut balance has been shown to affect learning and memory negatively.
How to improve gut health
When it comes to my patients’ gut concerns, I adopt a holistic and personalized approach that relies on their history and lifestyle and test results when needed. With that said, there are general suggestions to help protect and improve gut health.
Take probiotics and eat fermented foods
Probiotics encourage the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestine. These can be taken in the form of vitamins or, better yet, from natural sources such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi.
Reduce refined sugars
A high-sugar diet can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut, causing the ‘good’ bacteria to die and the ‘bad’ bacteria to thrive. This can put you at risk for digestive problems like SIBO, Candida overgrowth, IBS, and other digestive issues.
Avoid excessive antibiotic use
Although antibiotics are frequently required to treat bacterial illnesses, their abuse is a severe public health risk that can lead to antibiotic resistance in an entire population. According to studies, antibiotics also harm the gut microbiome and natural immunity, showing that even six months after treatment, the gut still lacks numerous helpful bacteria.
Stress is inevitable, but too much of it may affect your entire body, especially your gut. Excessive stress can trigger immunological responses, which can further imbalance the digestive system. This is visible in any sort of stress, including physical, emotional, and environmental stress. While it is hard (if not impossible) to eliminate ALL stress, being aware of how to handle stressful situations while remaining cool, calm, and collected will do enough.
Our menus need to include accessible recipes as much as they include delicious ones, otherwise it’s too easy to get takeout, prepackaged, or anything other than fresh and intentionally chosen.
The satisfyingly easy one-cup breakfast that, made into chia pudding, keeps me full all day!
Sichuan Chicken & Baby Bok Choy
If you already know your digestive system needs improvement, or this page got you thinking it might, I offer free, 15-minute introductory consults to help you make the decision best for your life.