The Link Between Gut Health and Overall Wellbeing

Your gut health has an impact on your entire body. The gastrointestinal tract is more than just a portal for nutrient intake; it also houses nerves that communicate bidirectionally with the central nervous system.

You can maintain a healthy gut microbiome through a fiber-rich diet, including whole foods and fermented products like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. It is also important to avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, processed meats, and alcohol.

1. Inflammation

The same physiological process that reddens the skin around an insect bite or causes a bum knee to swell is also the root of many serious illnesses. Whether it’s the COVID-19 pandemic or chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, inflammation plays a key role in their development.

The body’s natural defense system, inflammation is a response to a threat such as a sprained ankle or harmful bacteria. It involves increasing blood flow to the affected area, sending in immune cells and gobbling up unwanted bacteria, viruses, dead cells and debris.

Acute inflammation happens quickly and is typically followed by the healing process. On the other hand, chronic inflammation is more subtle and can last for months or even years. This low-level, long-term inflammation is a major culprit of most chronic diseases. Eliminating inflammatory foods like cured meats (including hot dogs and bacon), sugar, processed white bread, refined flour and high-glycemic fruits and eating plenty of leafy greens, fatty fish and fresh fruit can help to reduce inflammation.

2. Weight Gain

The gut is home to more than 100 trillion microorganisms that break down food, digest nutrients and metabolize vitamins and minerals. When your gut bacteria are healthy, you eat well and have a lower risk for chronic digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, weight gain, skin irritation or bloating.

Optimal gut health is characterized by the diversity and abundance of gut microbiota and a balance in favor of beneficial strains. You get your gut microbiome at birth and it’s influenced by everything you experience throughout life, including the foods you eat.

Eating a plant-based diet, eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso, and getting enough sleep can improve your gut health. Also, avoiding processed and added sugars can help. A healthy gut can help you manage your weight and reduce inflammation, which can lead to a host of conditions including diabetes and heart disease. Talk to your doctor about adding probiotics or other supplements to your daily routine.

3. Decreased Immune Function

The gut is a complex network that has a profound impact on our health. Not only does it aid in digestion, but also regulates immunity and provides a crucial communication link between the gut and brain known as the gastrointestinal nervous system (ENS).

It’s important to understand that the ENS is an independent neuronal network with its own sensors, which monitor luminal conditions of the intestines, send signals to the central nervous system via the vagus nerve, and produce neurochemicals like serotonin that impact mood.

When your gut is in poor health, it can have a number of unpleasant side effects including bloating, stomach pain, acid reflux and fatigue. A healthy diet that includes a variety of different foods is key to keeping your gut in good shape. Probiotic supplements can also help, but it is best to get your nutrients from wholefoods as they interact with each other in ways that cannot be replicated by a supplement alone.

4. Depression

The gut microbiota produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which influences mood and emotions. Having an imbalanced gut microbiome can disrupt these neurotransmitters and lead to a variety of mental health conditions.

Research has shown that your diet plays a role in gut health and mood. Having a balanced diet that includes prebiotics (fibers that nourish the good bacteria in your digestive tract) and probiotics (the good bacteria found in fermented foods) can help to keep your body happy.

Having regular cardiovascular exercise, getting enough sleep and practicing relaxation techniques are also important factors for maintaining gut health and mental wellbeing. Lastly, eliminating stressors and reducing chronic inflammation can also promote gut health. If you’re suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloating, gas, heartburn or diarrhea, talk to your healthcare professional. They can help you determine what’s causing your discomfort and offer recommendations for how to manage it.

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