Gut Health 101

gut brain 101

Gut health is a hot topic lately. It seems that more and more connections are made each day between the health of your gut and the rest of your body. Here is some gut health 101 that explains how gut health relates to other systems in the body and what you can do to support the bacteria in your gut.

Gut Health 101 The Gut is the Trailhead to Wellness

To begin, gut health plays a crucial role in influencing various systems throughout the body, and emerging research continues to uncover the intricate connections between the gut and overall well-being. 

Immune System

The majority of the immune system resides in the gut. A balanced and diverse microbiome in the GI tract helps regulate immune responses. A healthy gut contributes to a more robust immune system, aiding in the defense against infections and getting sick.

Digestive System

Naturally, the most direct connection is with the digestive system itself. A healthy gut ensures efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients. It also helps prevent digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, and diarrhea. 

When something is “off”, the most common way your gut alerts you is through signals like gas, bloating, stomach pain, and irregular bowel movement. 

Brain and Nervous System

Next, the gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication system between your gut and your central nervous system. The gut microbiome can influence brain function, mood, and even behavior. 

Emerging research suggests a link between the gut microbiome and conditions like anxiety, depression, and neurodegenerative diseases. Have you ever felt butterflies before a big presentation at work or right before a first date? That’s an example of how your gut and brain are in constant communication. 

This means that what you’re thinking can increase your digestive symptoms. It also means the health of your gut can impact your mental health. 

Metabolism and Weight Regulation

Evidently, the gut microbiota can impact metabolism and influence weight regulation. Certain bacteria in the gut are associated with the breakdown of dietary fibers and the production of short-chain fatty acids, which can influence appetite regulation and metabolism.

Hormone Balance

Many hormones are produced in the gut. The gut is also responsible for the elimination of excess hormones in circulation through detoxification. This interaction is crucial for maintaining hormonal balance and can impact various physiological processes, including appetite control and stress response.

Cardiovascular System

There’s also evidence to suggest that the composition of the gut microbiome may influence cardiovascular health. Some studies have linked certain gut bacteria to factors like blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Excess cholesterol can be removed from the body through the GI tract, supporting heart health.

Skin Health

The gut skin axis highlights the connection between gut health and skin conditions. Imbalances in the gut microbiota have been linked to skin issues such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.

Joint Health

Finally, some research suggests a link between gut health and joint conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. The gut microbiota may play a role in modulating inflammation throughout the body.

Understanding these connections emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome through a balanced diet, probiotic-rich foods, and lifestyle choices. A well-functioning gut contributes to overall health and can potentially prevent or alleviate various systemic conditions.

Gut Health 101 Gut Friendly Foods

Now that you’re aware of the importance of gut health, here are some ways you can support your gut through your daily habits. 

Probiotic Foods

probiotic foods, kimchi, pickled onions, kefir

Probiotic foods contain living microorganisms that can benefit your health. Probiotic foods are fermented, but not all fermented foods are probiotic. For a food to be called a “probiotic,” it has to benefit your health.

Also, probiotic foods populate your microbiome with the protective bacteria they contain. Eating these foods creates and maintains an environment in the gut that supports the good, rather than the inflammatory bacteria. 

Probiotic Food List:

  • Kimchi
  • Sourkraut
  • Miso
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Raw, Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Kombucha

Lastly, if you’re curious about how to incorporate these foods into your diet more regularly, check out this article for help getting started: https://digestedwellness.com/non-dairy-probiotic-foods/

Prebiotic Foods

The key to gut health starts with a high-fiber diet. Fiber-containing foods, known as prebiotics, benefit the body in many ways. 

Additionally, fiber feeds the protective bacteria in the gut. Fiber also provides energy to these protective bacteria to do all the jobs we rely on them to do: make vitamins, fight off pathogens, and help digest and absorb food and nutrients. 

Women need at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Men need at least 40 grams per day. To learn more about the different types of fiber and the best food sources for gut health, read this article: https://digestedwellness.com/high-fiber-foods-for-constipation/ 

Gut Health 101 Mindfulness

Remember earlier when I mentioned the link between gut health and brain health? One of the best ways to support gut health is by practicing activities that calm your mind. Chronic stress negatively impacts the vagus nerve responsible for the gut-brain connection. 

Tips to Strengthen the Gut-Brain Connection

Try these 5 tools to strengthen the gut-brain connection.

Breathing exercises

Breathing is one of the most effective ways to slow down your stress response and promote relaxation. It’s a tool that doesn’t take much time and can be done from anywhere. 

Yoga

Yoga not only supports your mental well-being but it can also reduce digestive symptoms of gas, constipation, and bloating. 

Gratitude

Equally important is focusing on things that you’re grateful for as an effective tool for relieving stress. You can journal, write a letter, or simply acknowledge a short list of things you’re grateful for each day to support your well-being. 

5-4-3-2-1

If you’re feeling restless or scattered, focus on:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you appreciate about yourself

Make time for fun

Consistently participate in activities or hobbies that bring you joy can improve your well-being and quality of life. 

Gut Health 101 Movement

Movement and physical activity have a positive impact on gut health. Here are several ways in which movement influences gut health:

Promotion of Gut Motility

Physical activity, especially aerobic exercises like running or brisk walking, promotes gut motility. The muscles in the digestive tract work more efficiently, aiding in the movement of food through the GI system and preventing constipation. 

Diversity of Gut Microbiota

Regular exercise is associated with a more diverse and balanced gut microbiome. A diverse microbiome is beneficial for overall health, as different bacterial species contribute to various aspects of gut function and metabolism.

Regulation of Stress Levels

Exercise is known to help regulate stress levels and reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol. Chronic stress can negatively impact gut health, contributing to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

Improved Blood Flow

Exercise enhances blood circulation throughout the body, including the digestive organs. Improved blood flow can contribute to better nutrient absorption and overall gut function.

It is important to note that excessive or intense exercise may have the opposite effect and potentially disrupt gut health. Strike a balance and adopt a moderate and sustainable exercise routine for you.

In summary, incorporating regular physical activity into your lifestyle can contribute to a healthier gut by promoting gut motility, supporting a diverse microbiome, managing stress, and enhancing overall digestive function. 

Gut Health 101 Summary

In conclusion, many diet and lifestyle factors contribute to the overall health of your gut. From a diet perspective, including a variety of plant foods and probiotic foods can help populate your gut with beneficial bacteria. 

When it comes to your lifestyle, incorporating regular stress management practices and physical activity that you enjoy will also support a healthy gut. 

No matter where you are on your gut health journey, if you need 1:1 support from a Registered Dietitian specializing in gut health, click here to book a free call. We can chat more about a personalized approach with simple steps to help you achieve relief from your symptoms and your best gut health yet.  

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