When we think of gut health, digestion will often come to mind. While the gut has a huge role to play here, the fact is the health of our gut can affect our total wellbeing - even more than you may think…
What is the ‘gut’ in your body?
Our gut is basically a long hollow tube that reaches from our mouth all the way down to our back passage. Home to around 100 trillion micro-organisms (mostly bacteria), our gut works to break down, digest and absorb the nutrients from our food, helps synthesise hormones and some nutrients, also helps us eliminate toxins and waste that our body doesn’t need.
It’s a delicate system.
The gut lining is made up of a number of cells all tightly packed together. Being only one cell thick it’s a unique, delicate yet deliberate design, making absorption of nutrients from our food easy. However, it also means that it can be easily disrupted. Things like stress, alcohol, a poor diet, antibiotics and other medications can all disturb this barrier, causing gaps to form between the cells and the gut to become “leaky”. This can allow undigested food particles and bacteria into our bloodstream which can trigger our immune system and cause issues such as inflammation, food sensitivities, problems with our skin and even issues with mood and sleep.
The gut affects our total health.
When the health of our gut takes a turn, it’s not just our digestion that can be affected. Known as the ‘second brain’, our gut houses around 100 million nerve cells – more than that of the brain and spinal cord put together. On top of this, over 90% of our body’s serotonin (our happy hormone) is produced within the gut, along with other hormones such as melatonin, which helps to regulate our mood, sleep and appetite. It’s no wonder then that an unhappy gut can also be linked to issues with a low or irritable mood. Along with this, a healthy gut is vital for our skin health, hormonal balance, a healthy heart and immune system, with over 70% of immune cells residing in the gut alone.
What are the signs of a healthy gut?
When the gut is happy, you will be too! Food is easily digested, you will have regular, daily, formed bowel motions, and there shouldn’t be any issues with feelings of bloating, excessive gassiness or reflux. When the gut is working well, you’re also better able to break down and absorb the nutrients needed from your food, which means you’re less at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Because the gut has such as strong connection to our immune health and mood, a healthy gut can also mean better immune function and a happier nervous system too.
How do I get rid of bad bacteria in my gut?
Our gut is home to trillions upon trillions of bacteria which makes up our “gut flora” or “gut microbiome”. While you may have heard of “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria”, it’s best to think of these many different types of tiny organisms rather as beneficial or opportunistic which need to be kept in balance not just for good digestion, but for overall health too. Beneficial gut bacteria play a role in helping us to digest and absorb food and generally speaking, maintain a healthy and happy gut. Opportunistic bacteria however, can become an issue when they multiply and overgrow in the body, which can lead to infections, digestive system upset, skin issues and more. Things like antibiotics, stress, alcohol, a poor diet (especially high sugar and low fibre), and lack of sleep can all upset this delicate balance of gut bacteria and cause opportunistic bacteria to overgrow. To keep your gut bacteria happy and healthy, focus on a diet rich in fibre from fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi, avoid high refined sugar and processed food, and only take antibiotics if needed and prescribed.
Signs of an unhappy gut
Things like bloating, bowel irregularities, fatigue, skin issues, mood swings, sleep problems and hormonal imbalances are all signs that the gut could do with a little TLC. Along with a healthy diet, supplementing with herbs and nutrients such as glutamine, slippery elm and marshmallow can help nourish the gut lining and support digestive function for a happier gut and a happier you.