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Trust Your Gut: Why Gut Health Is Important to Our Whole Health

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True or false? Your gut health is considered the foundation for your overall health. Believe it or not, that is a true statement. A healthy gut is when you have a good balance between the helpful and potentially harmful bacteria and yeast in your digestive system.

With about 80% of your immune system and most of your body’s serotonin located in your gut, if your gut isn’t healthy, then your immune system, hormones and brain won’t function properly. That means you’re more likely to get sick and experience autoimmune dysfunction. 

Read on to learn more about what gut health is, how it affects your whole health and what you can do to keep your gut — and your body, mind and spirit — as healthy as possible.

What is Gut Health?

First, let’s start with a reminder of what makes up the gut:

  • Anal canal
  • Colon
  • Esophagus
  • Mouth
  • Rectum
  • Small intestine
  • Stomach

The gut is also home to a host of friendly bacteria, including Lactobacillus, Bacteroides and Bifidobacterium, all of which support your digestion. This “home” can also be referred to as your gut microbiome.

A healthy gut means that there are more helpful bacteria than harmful bacteria, and that the bad bacteria don’t overtake the good. The balance of bacteria in the gut flora can lead to many health benefits, including reducing inflammation that can lead to heart disease and lowering the chance of obesity.

In contrast to good gut health, poor gut health is usually caused by an excess of harmful bacteria that overtakes the helpful bacteria. Some of the ways this imbalance happens can be due to:

  • Antibiotics
  • Food poisoning
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stress
  • Traveling

How Does Your Gut Health Impact Your Overall Health?

The gut microbiome begins to affect your body the moment you are born.

You’re first exposed to microbes at birth. However, new evidence suggests that babies may encounter some microbes while inside the womb.

As you grow, your gut microbiome begins to diversify, meaning it starts to contain many different types of microbial species. Higher microbiome diversity is considered good for your overall health.

The very food you eat impacts the diversity of your gut bacteria.

As your microbiome grows, it affects your body in several ways, including: 

  • Digesting breast milk: Some of the bacteria that first begin to grow inside babies’ intestines are called Bifidobacteria. They digest the healthy sugars in breast milk that are important for growth and development
  • Digesting fiber: Certain bacteria digest fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids, which are important for gut health. Fiber may help prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and cancer risk
  • Helping control your immune system: The gut microbiome also controls how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiome can control how your body responds to infection
  • Helping control brain health: New research suggests that the gut microbiome may also affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function

How to Improve Your Gut Health

Many people find they can balance their gut microbiome and heal their gut by managing stress levels, practicing mindfulness techniques, eating healthy, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep and exercising.

However, some patients need more than lifestyle changes to balance their gut microbiome. Here are some ideas anyone can incorporate for a healthier gut and a healthier life:

  • Eat a wide range of foods: Eating many different foods can lead to a diverse microbiome, an indicator of good gut health. Legumes, beans and fruit contain lots of fiber and can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria
  • Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli. They can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut
  • Limit artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame might increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome
  • Eat prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are a type of fiber that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats and apples
  • Breastfeed for at least six months: Breast milk is best if and when it’s possible. Breastfeeding is very important for the development of the gut microbiome. Babies who are breastfed for at least six months have more beneficial Bifidobacteria than those who are bottle-fed, setting them up for a healthier future
  • Eat whole grains: Whole grains contain lots of fiber and beneficial carbs like beta-glucan, which are digested by gut bacteria to benefit weight, cancer risk, diabetes and other disorders
  • Try a plant-based diet: Vegetarian and vegan diets may help reduce levels of disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, as well as inflammation and cholesterol
  • Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil and whole grains. They are broken down by the microbiome to stimulate healthy bacterial growth
  • Take a probiotic supplement: Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state after dysbiosis. They do this by “reseeding” it with healthy microbes
  • Take antibiotics only when necessary: Antibiotics kill many bad and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, possibly contributing to weight gain and antibiotic resistance. Only take antibiotics when medically necessary

Follow Your Gut Instinct

Listen to your gut. You know when something’s off with your body, mind or spirit. And usually, when one is out of order, the others follow because every part of us is interconnected as one whole unit.

At AdventHealth, we specialize in helping patients learn to manage and overcome gastrointestinal disorders ranging from irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis to Crohn's disease and gastrointestinal cancers.

You already trust yourself enough to look for the answers about your symptoms. Now, take the next step and trust our experts to care for you with a whole-person approach to healing your digestive health with leading-edge technology and lifestyle changes.

To schedule an appointment with one of our GI experts, visit our site.

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