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We all know that the gastrointestinal tract is essential to maintaining good health. It serves as a passageway, transporting food going to the stomach. Its job is to digest the food and convert them into nutrients to be absorbed by the body. Whatever remains is considered waste and is excreted via the anus.
It’s a simple process. If we fail to get the proper nutrients, we get sick.
However, in recent years, research studies have shown that the GI tract’s role is more significant and much more complex than that.
Gut health has been linked to several health aspects that have almost nothing to do with digestion. Scientists have discovered that it is linked to the immune system and mental health. It can also lead to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
It has been established that the connection between excellent overall health and healthy gut flora is real. There are lots of information available on how to keep the gut microbiome in top shape. But are you doing enough?
What affects gut health?
The food that you eat plays an important role in determining the general makeup of your gut bacteria. While this is true, other factors do, too.
Nature of your birth
Research studies show that the nature of your birth is one factor that influences your gut flora. Babies delivered via vaginal birth possess a more diverse microbiome. This is as compared to those delivered via C-section.
This is because of their exposure to different types of bacteria as they pass through their mother’s birth canal. Additionally, people who were breastfed as babies have more beneficial bacteria in their guts compared to bottle-fed ones.
The environment you grew up in
Growing up in a very clean environment has its downsides. Studies show that being exposed to reasonable amounts of germs and bacteria is actually good. It can help strengthen the overall health and wellness of the microbiome.
More and more child experts are encouraging parents to expose their kids to the outdoors. This includes digging dirt with their hands, playing with animals, and stomping on puddles of water. Allowing kids to be kids exposes them to fun experiences while helping establish a healthy gut.
Mental, social, and emotional stress affects the balance of bacteria in the gut. This is due to the connection between the gut and the brain, which scientists refer to as the gut-brain axis.
With this connection in place, improper management of high-stress levels in the brain will trigger signs and symptoms in the gut. In the same way that problems in the gut will trigger symptoms of anxiety in the brain.
Additionally, unhealthy gut bacteria have been linked to depression, weight gain, and obesity.
Certain medications have been linked to causing changes in the normal flora of the gut microbiome. These include:
- Painkillers bought over-the-counter
- anti-acid reflux drugs
- psychiatric drugs for mood disorders
- anti-diabetic drugs
One of the most common types of gut-altering medications is antibiotics. These drugs are given to people with bacterial conditions, and they are known to kill bad bacteria. However, in doing so, they also kill the good bacteria causing an unhealthy gut, as studies show.
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What are the signs of healthy gut?
A healthy gut is one that is functioning properly. It has an excellent balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria in the microbiome.
There are many signs of a healthy gut, and most of them are digestive in nature.
This means that you are able to move your bowels regularly, with stools that are easy to pass and well-formed. Your daily bowel movements should be symptom-free. There should be no loose stools, no constipation, and no diarrhea. Additionally, you won’t be easily reactive to food and external stressors.
Other signs of a healthy gut include the absence of abdominal pain, bloating, reflux, gas, and skin issues.
Taking a gut health test can tell you if your gut is healthy or not. Verisana’s Leaky Gut Complete test kit is specially made for people with leaky gut symptoms. The test analyzes gut flora and checks for the presence of IgA, zonulin, and Candida albicans. The best thing about this is that you can take the test at home.
What causes poor gut health?
An important thing to remember about the gut is that balance is key. A healthy balance should be maintained in the microbiome to prevent dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis happens when too many harmful bacteria invade the gut flora, and there are not enough beneficial bacteria to balance it out. Simply put, dysbiosis is an imbalance. When this happens, an unhealthy gut occurs.
Some health experts revealed that dysbiosis could cause leaky gut syndrome and many other medical conditions. Several factors may cause this.
Lack of Diversity in the Diet
Having a diverse diet means eating a wide variety of nutritious foods. This includes a good balance of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. This will result in a more diverse microbiome.
The food that you eat provides the bacteria in your gut with sufficient nutrients for them to grow. Having a diverse range of foods in your diet will offer a diverse range of nutrients. This results in a healthier, more diverse gut flora.
A well-balanced diet is a healthy diet. If you’re having difficulty putting up a meal plan in place, talk to a qualified nutritionist for dietary support.
Too Much Alcohol Consumption
When taken in consistently large amounts, alcohol becomes highly toxic. It can also be addictive, and may have detrimental physical and mental health effects.
It can cause serious problems in gut health, too, causing dysbiosis, an imbalance of gut bacteria. The results of a research study revealed that alcoholics have an altered microbiome compared to non-alcoholic individuals.
Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and have saved millions of lives. They work by killing harmful bacteria or preventing them from multiplying.
However, antibiotics affect both good and bad bacteria. Antibiotic treatment has been shown to cause harmful changes in the gut flora. This alters the microbiome’s diversity and causes a disruption in the normal balance of bacteria.
A sedentary lifestyle, or an inactive lifestyle, is defined as a lifestyle that involves a lot of sitting, lying down, and with very little activity.
A research study has shown that physical activity has a positive impact on gut bacteria. It improves gut health by increasing butyrate-producing bacteria. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that promotes good overall health and wellness.
Smoking may stimulate inflammation in the digestive tract. This leads to the development of serious health issues such as inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s Disease.
There are more than 70 chemicals in tobacco smoke that could cause cancer. Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.
Another research study showed that quitting smoking can increase the diversity of the bacteria in your gut microbiome, promoting good gut health.
Lack of Sleep
Just like your body’s sleep-wake cycle, your gut has its rhythm, too. Disrupting this rhythm through shift work, lack of sleep, or eating late into the night may have damaging effects on the bacteria in your gut.
A study conducted in 2016 revealed that sleep deprivation causes changes in the gut microbiome. There was an increase in the number of bacteria linked with:
- fat metabolism
- type 2 diabetes
- weight gain
Poor Stress Management
Overall health isn’t just about having the proper diet, consistent physical activity, and sufficient sleep. Being unable to manage your stress level properly can have detrimental effects on the body.
In the gut microbiome, stress alters the normal balance of good and bad bacteria. It also reduces blood flow, and increases sensitivity to the gut.
How do I know my gut health?
There are two ways for you to know about the status of your gut.
First, listen to what your body is telling you. Take note of unusual signs and symptoms. An unhealthy gut will almost always manifest with digestive symptoms. If you think something is wrong, talk to your doctor about it.
Second, there are microbiome kits available which you can use to test your gut health from the comforts of home. It can tell you about the state of the bacteria present in your gut microbiome. It can also reveal where your symptoms are coming from.
Depending on the brand of the test kit that you choose, you can get customized dietary and probiotic recommendations for your gut needs.
How can I improve my gut health?
You can improve your gut health by following these helpful tips:
- Include prebiotic foods in your diet. These are foods like asparagus, bananas, oats, onions, legumes, and many more.
- Eat more probiotics because these increase the number of good bacteria in your gut. Recommended foods include tempeh, kefir, kimchi, and yogurt. These are fermented foods that will get your gut healthy.
- Get enough sleep. The length and quality of your sleep are important to keep your gut bacteria healthy and happy.
- Eat polyphenol-rich foods. Excellent sources are green tea, dark chocolate, red wine, and blueberries.
- Reduce stress through deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and constant physical activity.
- Avoid unhealthy food such as fried foods, artificial sugar, too much fiber, beans, fructose-rich foods, and spicy foods.
The Ultimate Guide for a Healthy Gut. Read our 2021 Guide.