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Your Gut Health Is More Important Than You Think: Here's Why

It’s obvious that the health of your gut affects your digestion, but did you know that a poorly functioning gut is also capable of impacting your mood and worsening anxiety, decreasing immune function, and even contributing to weight gain?

 

Over the past several decades, researchers have uncovered tons of information about how the intricate human microbiome works, which has led to gut health taking center stage in the wellness industry.

 

Below we’ll discuss why a healthy gut microbiome is critical for overall health, how different diet and lifestyle choices can impact gut function, plus the best and worst foods for gut health.

 

Why Is Gut Health So Important?

First and foremost, let’s define the gut microbiome and get clear on how it contributes to overall healthy gut function.

 

The human microbiome is defined as a “community of microbes,” which include organisms such as various strains of bacteria, yeast, fungi and pathogens that live in the gut (mostly the intestines and stomach).

 

Each and every human has trillions of microbes living within their bodies, mostly inside of their guts/gastrointestinal tract where hundreds of different bacterial strains are found; in fact, it’s estimated that there are about 10X as many foreign microbes in the body as there are human cells.

 

When we talk about “gut health,” we are describing how well your gastrointestinal tract and digestive systems are functioning. In large part, this is determined by the ratio (or balance) of “good” to “bad” bacteria living inside of your gut.

 

Good bacteria are also referred to as “probiotics,” and they are the types of microbes that we aim to help thrive in our bodies since they offer us many benefits. In a healthy gut, good bacteria keep harmful bacteria in check, preventing inflammation and other issues.

 

The Many Roles of Gut Bacteria

Bacteria living within the gut microbiome help our bodies to maintain homeostasis, or overall balance.

 

There are dozens of different bacterial strains found within the average human gut. These strains have some of the following roles and benefits that contribute to overall physical and mental wellbeing:

 

1. Supporting your immune system — A healthy gut microbiome is one of the best defenses against pathogens that can make you sick, including common colds, viruses etc.

 

2. Maintaining normal digestion — Beneficial microbes keep your digestive systems running normally by supporting healthy elimination/bowel movements and decreasing constipation and diarrhea.

 

3. Facilitating nutrient absorption —  Probiotics play a role in absorption of essential nutrients, including vitamin K and B vitamins, plus they impact energy and fat storage.

 

4. Regulating your appetite — Certain bacterial strains affect how your body produces hormones that affect hunger and fullness, which means they can manage cravings and help you stick to a healthy caloric intake.


5. Supporting cognitive health — The gastrointestinal system (another name for the gut) is now commonly referred to as “second brain.” For example, our gut “bugs” help us synthesize neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which affect our moods, and they manage inflammation which has a direct affect on how well our brain works.

 

How do you know if your gut health may be suffering? Signs and symptoms that can indicate a poorly functioning gut microbiome can include:

  • Frequent digestive issues like bloating gas, constipation and diarrhea

  • Fatigue and low energy levels

  • Food intolerances, sensitivities or certain allergies

  • Mood-related issues such as anxiety and depression

  • Weight changes

  • Cravings and fluctuations in appetite

  • Increased aches and pains

  • Headaches

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Higher risk for asthma and allergies

  • Skin issues like rosacea and acne

 

How To Boost “Friendly” Gut Bacteria and Improve Overall Gut Health

In today’s fast-paced society — in which many people don’t eat the most nutrient-dense diets, get enough sleep, or prioritize managing stress — it’s very common for gut health to suffer in one or more ways.

 

For example, occasional digestive issues like bloating, constipation and diarrhea affect most adults at one point or another, while others may be impacted more seriously by experiencing autoimmune reactions, allergies or nutrient malabsorption.

 

For better or worse, someone’s diet and environment greatly impacts the types of microbes found in their gut. What types of dietary choices and lifestyle habits are capable of destroying the delicate balance of gut bacteria within the microbiome? Factors that can potentially contribute to gut dysfunction include:

  • Eating a poor diet, such as one that includes lots of added sugar, refined vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates and processed grain products, processed meats, packaged snacks, and trans fats/hydrogenated fats (used in packaged products and often to fry foods).

  • Low nutrient, fiber and antioxidant intake

  • High amounts of stress

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Smoking, drug use and high consumption of alcohol

  • Frequently taking antibiotics and certain other medications including acid reflux meds

  • Environmental toxin exposure

  • Certain genetic factors which can impact nutrient absorption

  • Being overly-hygienic and not being exposed to enough microbes outdoors/from your diet

  • To some extent, older age

Now that you know which foods and habits to avoid in order to support your gut, let’s take a look at the best foods to emphasize in your diet, as well as other tips for boosting gut health:

 

1. Eat Gut-Friendly Foods

The goal of a gut-supporting diet should be to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, while discouraging the growth of harmful bacteria and pathogens.

 

The foods in your diet directly impact the balance of bacteria in your microbiome; for example foods high in fiber help “feed” beneficial bacteria, while sugar often feeds harmful microbes.

Foods that encourage good gut bacteria growth include:

  • Fresh vegetables (all kinds). Some of the best include beets; carrots; cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale); dark, leafy greens (collard greens, kale, spinach); onions; peas; salad greens; sea vegetables; and squashes.

  • Fruit: go for options like apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, pomegranates, red grapefruit or strawberries.

  • Herbs, spices and teas: turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, etc., plus green tea and organic coffee in moderation.

  • Fermented foods: Try to include probiotic foods like yogurt, kombucha, kefir or cultured veggies in your diet daily.

  • High-quality protein foods: Wild-caught fish, cage-free eggs and grass-fed/pasture-raised meat

  • Healthy fats: grass-fed butter, coconut oil, ghee, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts/seeds.

  • Whole grains and legumes/beans: best when sprouted and 100 percent unrefined/whole. Try adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, black rice, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa.

  • Raw cultured dairy: contains both probiotics and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that can help heal the gut.

  • Coconut products: Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut thought to be easy to digest.

  • Nuts and seeds: Good options include chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds, etc.

  • Green tea, black or white tea, and organic coffee

  • Red wine and dark chocolate/cocoa in moderation.

 

2. Manage Stress

Stress not only interferes with digestion, but it can also cause damage to the gut lining by increasing release of immune compounds known as cytokines which cause an inflammatory response. 

 

Sleep deprivation can have similar effects over time and is known to lower immune defenses and mess with the gut’s ability to produce hormones normally.

 

Prioritize getting enough rest each night (aim for 7 to 9 hours per night) and cut out time to do activities that help you cope with stress, such as meditation, time spent in nature, reading and other calming and hobbies.

 

Exercise is another great stress reliever that also helps boost circulation to the digestive system and strengthens the immune system by controlling inflammation.

 

3. Consider Supplementing

While improving your diet should be your first priority when it comes to establishing a healthy gut, certain supplements can also help ensure things are running smoothly.

  • A probiotic supplement supplies you with beneficial bacterial strains that have been shown to promote healthy digestion and immune system function.

  • Digestive enzymes work to ensure that the nutrients you’re consuming from your diet are fully metabolized and absorbed.

  • Collagen protein can help to repair connective tissues that form the gut lining, potentially helping to prevent permeability.

 

We hope these tips and resources are helpful for you and guide you on your journey towards wellness. If you have any thoughts, questions, or anything you’d like to share about gut health— feel free to leave a comment below.

 

As always, peace and love.

Xoxo,

Vibrant Honey

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