How Your Gut Health Affects Your Whole Body
The human body is composed of over 37.2 trillion cells, all of which need a special recipe of nutrients to stay healthy and energized.
Meanwhile, the gut is home to a surprisingly similar number of microbial cells — an estimated 39 trillion to be exact.
The connection between gut health and brain health is well established, but what most people don’t realize is that the health of the gut biome and the body are one in the same.
Microbes and Their Role in Gut and Total Body Health
Microbes are one-celled organisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi that either promote your health or harm it. These microbes are acquired at birth through the mother's bacteria and represent 1,000 different species, living in different parts of the body.
Altogether, they are called the microbiome.
Some of the functions performed by a healthy microbiome include synthesizing vitamins, aiding digestion, and strengthening your immune system.
The “good” bacteria in your diet not only help these functions, but they also crowd out the bad bacteria that cause problems.
Healthy gut bacteria can also help repair the heart following heart attacks according to recent research.
Conversely, an unhealthy balance of bacteria may also lead to obesity and other health problems.
When the gut is out of balance, our entire health may suffer, but adding a diverse array of nutrients, fibers, and probiotics can help us achieve and maintain total body health.
To put it more simply, home is where the gut is, and where total body health begins.
Building a Foundation for Microbiome Health
The best way to support a healthy microbiome is to start by eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, complex carbohydrates, and high-fiber foods.
Probiotics found in fermented foods such as yogurt with live, active cultures, kombucha, miso, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut are vital, especially if you have taken antibiotics.
Unfortunately, most Americans are deficient in the gut health-boosting items listed above. Only about 5% of the U.S. population gets enough fiber, for example. Fiber is crucial for moving toxins from the gut and feeding good bacteria.
Gut Health Impacts Your Entire Body
Research continues to pile up on how gut health literally impacts everything in your body.
Nourishing your gut daily helps it to nourish everything else, including the brain, which is directly connected.
Your digestive system is complex, breaking down everything you consume into protein, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients needed for your body to function best.
From here, the health of your entire body emanates — think of your microbiome as a command center that must remain strong and alert to fend off attacks. Your gut microbiome is the driving force behind total body health. No wonder it's been a trending topic on TikTok lately.
Common Digestive Disorders and How to Avoid Them
During times of stress, malnutrition, and other factors, we may experience digestive problems including disorders typically identified by the following acronyms.
Digestive problems are responsible for over 22 million visits to the doctor's office annually.
Some of the common acronyms to know in regards to digestive health include:
SIBO- This acronym stands for intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It occurs when there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine and usually results from a lack of movement in this area and food sitting in the small intestine for too long.
FODMAPs- Most people know this term in relation to a 'FODMAPs diet,' which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. A FODMAPs elimination diet may help manage conditions like SIBO as well as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS).
IBS- This disease affects the large intestine and often results in frequent trips to the bathroom at unexpected times. The exact cause is not fully known, but it may be caused by muscle contractions in the intestine, inflammation, infection, and bacteria overgrowth in the intestines.
Food, stress and hormones are other possible triggers, and women are affected more often than men.
GERD- Also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, GERD occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. This causes irritation that may feel like heartburn or chest pains.
Thankfully, it is considered to be temporary, and can usually be managed with lifestyle, diet and nutrition changes. Many people receive prescriptions or seek surgery for it.
SCFA- This acronym stands for Short Chain Fatty Acids, which are vital for colon health. These acids are produced from fiber that has been fermented in the colon.
They are used as a source of energy and are typically created from fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
They have a protective effect against inflammatory digestive disease and even colon cancer. They also help regulate blood sugar levels and have a protective effect against Type II diabetes.
CFU- This term is used to describe Colony Forming Units. You will typically see it on probiotic-rich food and supplements packaging.
Colony Forming Units are live bacteria and yeast that reproduce to increase the amount of bacteria and yeast in the gut.
Additional Strategies to Improve Gut Health
Aside from adding probiotics and similar building blocks, there are several other things you can do to optimize gut health.
Staying hydrated is critical for overall health, as is changing your lifestyle to alleviate stress.
Avoid too much alcohol, as it may cause inflammation of the intestinal tract according to recent research.
Additionally, make sure to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
If you're looking to replenish your good bacteria fast, a probiotic supplement is also recommended.
The Best Foods for Top Shelf Gut Health
The gut biome is an ever-changing and morphing cloud of microbes, but it is adaptive and resilient when we give it the right tools to heal itself.
For example, the gut lining rebuilds itself every two to three weeks. The gut biome typically takes about four weeks to replenish itself after antibiotics are taken, but changes can occur even more rapidly on a day-to-day basis.
A study published in the journal Nature found that changing what you put into your body for as little as two to three days can shift the quantity and types of bacteria present in your microbiome while altering genetic expression, either for the positive or the negative.
“We found that the bacteria that live in peoples’ guts is surprisingly responsive to change in diet,” said study author Lawrence David, an assistant professor at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.
“Within days we saw not just a variation in the abundance of different kinds of bacteria, but in the kinds of genes they were expressing.”
Micronutrients are important for improving your gut health fast.
Begin by removing nutritionally stripped foods including too many processed foods, fast foods and junk foods. Processed meats, especially deli meat, bacon, and hot dogs are examples of foods you should avoid or dramatically cut down on.
Refined grains, such as processed white bread, often are missing key nutrients and co-factors that harm your digestion in both the long and short term.
Convenience meals such as conventional frozen foods and even organic frozen foods may be high in sodium and low in vegetables.
Without enough whole food vegetables and other fiber-rich foods, meat, cheese, and refined grains could become lodged in your digestive system, causing a world of hurt for your gut and total body health.
Other foods to cut out or cut back on or avoid include processed chicken nuggets, chicken sandwiches, fried chicken wings, french fries onion rings, hamburgers, tacos, burritos, nachos, and pizzas.
Salty, junk food snacks, especially those made from genetically modified, non-organic ingredients, such as potato chips and corn chips, should also be avoided.
Cookies, cakes, and pies should be saved for special occasions at most, and ideally made from whole foods. Consider making them with honey instead of sugar.
Sugary drinks and sodas can also sabotage your gut health, including artificial sweeteners that may act similar to antibiotics such as Sucralose.
When choosing the right foods for gut health, be sure to add the aforementioned probiotic-rich foods listed earlier in this article.
Eat more lean and plant-based proteins while limiting red meat, and include foods with good fats such as olive oil, salmon, walnuts and avocados in your diet.
Diversify your diet whenever possible, and be sure to eat a rainbow of colors.
Healright s a pioneer in the Food As Medicine movement using evidence-based nutrition to support gut health and overall wellness. Their Micronutrient Bars are an excellent way to replenish the micronutrients that support total body health. Healright Micronutrient Bars are clinically proven to support gut health, healthy cholesterol levels, weight management goals, improved blood sugar balance, and much more with a bar created over 15 years of research.
Always consult your doctor or dietitian if you have persistent gastrointestinal problems, and never lose hope — your gut health can rebound in a hurry, as long as you are consistent and intentional with the changes you decide to implement.