Importance of a Healthy Gut
Certain activity within the walls of our digestive system is transforming the way scientists are looking at our gut.
They are taking a closer look at how the trillions of bacteria within it are influencing several organs and health conditions.
For instance, research shows that gut health can predict rheumatoid arthritis and some specific strains of the bacterium within the gut may:
- Protect against certain cancers
- Stave off inflammation that contributes to fatty plaque buildup in arteries
- Help the immune system attack tumor cells.
Scientists are also understanding how the brain communicates with the microbes that line our gut to determine how they affect our mood and emotions.
Some medical experts have found the communication so significant that they have begun viewing the gut as its own organ.
They refer to the system of nerves lining the gut as a second brain.
How The Gut Works
Our gut is our digestive system, which consists of a group of organs such as the stomach, intestines, and liver.
Most often the gut is associated with the gastrointestinal tract, a tube that extends from our mouth to our anus.
Our digestive system moves liquid and foods through a process where they are broken down so nutrients can be absorbed in our body.
A complex ecosystem of bacteria makes it possible for this activity to function properly.
The gut microbiota form a mucosal layer that strengthens the gut’s walls, which help protect the body from pathogens.
It also helps regulate the immune system, activates certain immune functions, and regulates the gut’s pH levels.
This gut microbiota consists of a diverse mix of bacteria of various species.
The bacteria can have several functions that help with different activities, such as the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
The microbiota mixture is unique for each individual. Age, diet, environment, genes, and medications influence its makeup.
When the gut microbiome shifts, it can result in heartburn, gas, bloating, and constipation.
However, when these disturbances become more frequent, they can signal that the environment in the gut is unhealthy.
This change can lead to more severe problems, such as pathogens entering the bloodstream as a result of porous walls within the gut.
When the gut is unhealthy, this can result in inflammation, which can result in several diseases and disorders.
The conditions that are most associated with poor gut health include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer.
Gut Health Can Affect Your Overall Mood
The nerve cells that line the gastrointestinal tract not only control digestion but also communicate with the brain.
They inform the brain when and what to eat, and whether or not we’ve consumed too much.
The system of nerves that “talk” to the brain is called the enteric nervous system, or ENS. It produces at least 90 percent of serotonin.
Serotonin acts as both a neurotransmitter and hormone and influences our mood and mental health.
Therefore, when people with bowel disorders experience problems like constipation, the condition may trigger an emotional shift that affects their mental health leading to depression and anxiety.
Researchers are also noticing that the gut can affect thinking and memory.
Some of them believe that people who adhere to specific diets and eating habits not only balance their microbiota flora but also enhance their cognitive functions.
As a result, they are conducting more studies to see how this may affect cognition disorders and people with learning difficulties.
The pathway of communication signals between the gut and the brain is called the gut-brain axis.
It enables both the gut microbiota and a person’s mental state to influence each other.
It’s developed early in life, but diet, medications and lifestyle ultimately shape it.
Ways To Improve Your Gut Health
Optimal gut health requires a diversity of bacteria and food can play an important role.
A balanced diet rich in fiber is key to maintaining a healthy gut.
Eating more fruits and leafy, green vegetables and less red meats, foods high and fat and simple carbohydrates can build up good bacteria.
Consuming fermented foods are helpful as well since they contain probiotics.
These foods include:
- Yogurts with live cultures
- Kefir (yogurt-based drinks)
Scientists have found that omega-3 fatty acids can modify the composition of the gut microbiota and help maintain the gut’s microbial diversity.
The fatty acids can also affect mood and cognitive functions. Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include mackerel, salmon, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
Many nuts and seeds are also full of fiber and contain a healthy combination of unsaturated fats, proteins, and vitamins.
They can be sprinkled into salads and added to stir-fry dishes and baking recipes.
Research shows that walnuts, for example, not only improve heart health, but they also increase certain microbes in the gut, which may help reduce colorectal cancer.
Medical experts warn against the overuse of some medications which can result in poor gut health, such as antibiotics, acid-blocking agents, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Scientists also encourage adopting more healthy behaviors that can promote healthy gut flora, such as adopting better sleep habits, exercising often, and improving stress management.