Between 60 and 70 million people are affected by some kind of digestive disease. The gut is an incredibly complex area of the body and continuing research has shown links between Gut Health and a variety of health issues. These include the function of the immune system, skin conditions, autoimmune diseases, mental health and more.
A system that was once considered simple is far from it. Better understanding the relationship between gut health and overall health can help you identify issues and ways to solve them.
The Complexity of the Gut Health
The term “gut” typically refers to the digestive system as a whole. The “gut microbiome” refers to the 300 to 500 microorganisms that live inside the intestines. Some of these microorganisms are necessary for maintaining overall health while others are more harmful. Dr. E. M. Quigley stated — in his study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology — that maintaining a variety of good bacteria in the gut can improve overall health.
Studies have shown that the good bacteria in the gut help protect the immune system and communicate with the central nervous system. Good bacteria also digest fiber, which help prevent weight gain and the health problems associated with being overweight, such as diabetes and heart disease. The bacteria in the gut do far more than aid in the digestion of foods. They work throughout the body to promote superior physical and mental health.
Identifying Gut Health Problems
Modern life has taken a toll on the gut microbiome. That’s because things we do every day, such as consume processed foods or experience high levels of stress, can cause major issues with the digestive system. In many cases, problems with gut health are disguised as other health issues. The following are several common signs that you may have a problem with your gut.
- Poor sleep: Feelings of constant fatigue or poor sleeping patterns can be signs of poor gut health. Most of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, and a lack of this hormone may decrease sleep and overall mood.
- Food intolerances: A food intolerance takes place when your body finds certain foods difficult to digest. These intolerances could be caused by a shortage of good bacteria in the gut. Food intolerances can be seen through nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, gas or diarrhea after eating certain foods.
- Skin issues: Eczema and other skin conditions are often related to poor Gut health. Inflammation in the gut causes proteins to leak out of the body, which could be seen in the form of irritated skin and other skin conditions.
- Upset stomach: An upset stomach is one of the first and most obvious signs of an imbalanced gut. This may be experienced through diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating or heartburn.
- Weight changes: Unintentional changes in weight can be linked to an unhealthy gut. Imbalanced gut bacteria could make it more difficult for your body to regulate blood sugar and absorb nutrients.
- Autoimmune conditions: Recent medical research has tied poor gut health to a malfunctioning immune system and increased inflammation. These problems can lead to life-altering autoimmune diseases.
The signs of an unhealthy gut can range from mild discomfort to serious diseases. However, you don’t have to continue living with poor gut health. Digestive health could often be improved by making a few slight lifestyle changes.
Exercising regularly may help relieve much of the stress that leads to gut issues. Similarly, consuming a balanced diet rich in whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and legumes can improve gut function. It may also help eliminate the uncomfortable symptoms associated with poor gut health.
Experts suggest consuming probiotic foods, such as kombucha and sauerkraut, or taking a probiotic supplement to increase the good bacteria in the gut. Polyphenols, or foods packed with antioxidants, can also promote superior gut health.
Persistent gut issues may require an elimination diet. An elimination diet could help identify food intolerances. Removing certain foods from your diet may improve your gut health. Avoiding the consumption of sugar, processed foods, gluten and trans fats is essential to creating a healthy gut microbiome.
It is evident that gut health has a major impact on overall health. A healthy gut means superior digestion, a stronger immune system, improved sleep and an ability to combat certain autoimmune diseases and cancers. The human gut is an incredibly intricate system, but problems associated with it can often be solved with simple lifestyle changes. To learn more about the gut, see the accompanying resource.
Author: Kara Kash, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Factor — a premium weekly meal delivery service that fuses world-class culinary dishes with the latest in nutrition science to produce fully prepared meals that are as delicious as they are nutritious.