We’ve used the term “gut feeling” for many years and today, we know a lot more about gut health than we did a few decades ago. But as ‘gut health’ becomes more popular, we are bombarded with new products, each one promising to restore your gut bacteria and provide you with all kinds of different health benefits. But what are the facts about your gut?
Your gut is constantly at work. It’s busy breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste products. More than 2000 years ago, the famous Greek philosopher Hippocrates said that “All disease begins in the gut” and today we know that almost 70% of our immune system is in our gut! That means if your gut is not well, it’s likely to affect your whole body!
It might not be a significant task in your life, but you should pay a lot of attention to your toilet schedule. What’s normal for your might not be normal for the next person. It can be anything from 3 times a day to 3 times a week. What you should keep an eye on, is when YOUR normal changes. This means you could be experiencing constipation and you would need to drink more water and eat more fiber.
You have about 1014 (that is a “1” with 14 zeros behind it!) bacterial cells in your body – that’s ten times more than your own cells! Our microbiome (the bacterial community inside our bodies) starts developing at an early age. The type and quantity of bacteria are determined by several factors: how you were born (vaginal birth or C-section), type of feeding (breast-fed or formula), how you were introduced to foods, and the surrounding environment, to name a few.
If you feel worse after eating processed foods, there’s good reason for this and your gut is trying to tell you something. Processed foods, which often contain high amounts of salt, sugar, and fats that lead to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. This could lead to stomach ache.
Our gut contains both opportunistic and beneficial bacteria. Together they form a community that work together in ensuring efficient digestion, regulating of our hormones, and our immune system. Beneficial bacteria are good for us. But the opportunistic ones are not so great. Their byproducts (like methane and hydrogen sulfide) can build up in our bodies and cause bloating, inflammation, and flatulence.
We disrupt our gut bacteria in many ways –antibiotics, certain foods, toxins in the environments, and exposure to certain chemicals are all bad for us. This can lead to a decrease in beneficial bacteria, and a collective increase in the opportunistic bacteria, causing a variety of physical and psychiatric health conditions.
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten might still affect your gut. Some individuals experience leaky gut, which means that small parts of undigested food and even bacteria can pass through your intestines into your bloodstream. For some, gluten increases this intestinal permeability, and cause inflammation and illness.
Your gut needs prebiotics (nutrients for your beneficial bacteria). Foods such as onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, and legumes all contain prebiotics because of their fiber content. You should make sure to consume enough prebiotics, especially if you’ve taken antibiotics, as these eradicate all your good bacteria.
Our gut bacteria play a role in our central nervous system. Your brain and gut are in constant communication with each other – scientists call this the gut-brain axis. This is why you may often experience digestive issues when you’re stressed or anxious and vice versa. If you have unexplained anxiety, perhaps you should check up on your gut.
For your gut to be healthy, you actually need adequate sleep. Scientists are not exactly sure how it works, but they have discovered that there is indeed a connection between poor sleep and the amount of bad bacteria. Getting enough sleep helps to lower your stress hormone (cortisol) which allows your gut to heal.
There are many other “good things” you can do for your gut: Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, avoid unnecessary antibiotics, reduce your intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (they increase the inflammation-causing bacteria), eat more plants (fruits and vegetables) and less red meat, reduce your stress (read, meditate, or take up a new hobby), do at least 30 minutes of exercise or physical activity per day.