It seems like gut health has become one of the most talked about terms in recent years, and although that’s a great thing, it’s also a topic many people still know little about. Even if they’re buying gut-healing superfoods.
Our gut is not a novelty, it’s a normal part of our bodies, but the growing body of research has come up with some revolutionary data in the last decade, showcasing its importance, the major roles it plays in our body, and how the state of our gut health can significantly influence our overall health and longevity.
What is Gut Health?
Gut health refers to a healthy gut microbiome, or a healthy balance of microbes living in your gut. Your gut microbiome is comprised of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses which all play a role in the functioning of your body. Some of them are considered harmful while others are shown to be beneficial. Still, it’s about their balance as that’s how they perform the best.
Maintaining and regulating this balance is what defines gut health and as much as it’s important to prevent harmful microbes from wreaking havoc in your body, it’s important to feed your gut with the beneficial types.
The gut microbiome exists in your gut (mostly in your large intestine) and on your skin and it starts developing on the day of your birth. Whether you were born vaginally and collected the microbiome from your mom on your way out or through first contact with the world and the person touching your skin, you’ve been exposed to microbes on day one, and they’ve happily inhabited your gut.
As you grow, your gut microbiome changes and diversifies with your food choices, lifestyle habits, as well as your environment. Those who travel often and eat a variety of different foods are known to have a more diverse gut microbiome as they’re exposed to different bacteria, viruses, and fungi. And the more diverse, the better!
Why Gut Health Matters?
The gut has a plethora of important roles in your body, from digesting food and absorbing nutrients to supporting your immune system and promoting brain health. Over 70% of immune cells reside in the gut and with it being our first line of defense protecting us from disease and pathogens, it’s critical to do all we can to improve our gut health.
The gut-to-brain connection is pretty strong, with experts often calling the gut a “second brain.” Their communication and the way they influence each other is what drove the obsession over gut health through the roof. Knowing how gut health directly affects depression and anxiety shone a whole new light on mental health and finding new ways to deal with these overwhelming and usually treatment-resistant illnesses.
How to Improve Your Gut Health
There are luckily myriad ways of improving your gut health and helping you strengthen your immune system and overall health in the process. Here are some of the most common tips to start with:
Start Taking Probiotics
Probiotics are supplements that are made from live bacteria and yeast that naturally inhabit your gut microbiome. They help you maintain a good level of good bacteria in your gut so that you can easily fight off the overgrowth of the bad bacteria. Some probiotics have only one strain while others have more, and it depends on your own gut flora which ones will thrive better in your environment.
Start Taking Prebiotics
Prebiotics are the food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. You can obtain them from vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, and beans that are high in dietary fiber or through prebiotic supplements. Most people do best at around 25-30 grams of fiber per day, but the optimal amount can differ from person to person.
Eat Fermented Foods
Another great way of adding beneficial bacteria to your diet is through fermented foods. Research shows its incredible positive effect on the diversification of your gut microbiome and lowering your inflammation levels, supporting your immune system, and helping you fight disease.
Some of the best fermented foods include kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, natto, yogurt, kimchi, miso, and sourdough.
Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods and Limit Alcohol Intake
It goes without saying that ultra-processed and sugar-filled foods are not contributing to gut health, but by making an effort to truly minimize your consumption, you will be lowering your inflammation, protecting yourself against free radicals, and allowing your gut microbiome to perform its role in the optimal way.
The same goes for alcohol. Research shows how alcohol makes it easier for bad bacteria to enter your bloodstream and increase overall inflammation in your body. This can potentially cause plenty of damage in your cells and organs, so it’s best to limit your intake as much as possible.
Even though you might wonder what exercise has to do with gut health, studies show its powerful effects on your gut independently of diet. They found how high-intensity interval training as well as longer endurance-based workouts greatly contributed to a more diverse microbiome.
Improve Your Sleep
Sleep deprivation is linked to an unhealthy gut and vice versa, having an imbalance in your gut microbiome can often lead to insomnia and sleep issues. That’s why it’s crucial to implement good sleeping habits and let your body do its important rest, repair, recover, and relaxing functions during the night.
Lower Your Stress Levels
Easier said than done, but higher stress levels equal an unhealthy gut. Stress usually shows up in your gut symptoms such as gastritis, anxiety, and even butterflies in your stomach. The connection between your gut and your brain is strong and therefore finding ways to manage your stress can help lower the intensity of your uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms and get your body back in balance
Gut health is crucial for our overall health and wellbeing so focus on implementing lifestyle changes to improve gut health and lower your inflammation. If you don’t know where to start, these micronutrient-rich superfood powders are a great way to go.