Many of us have heard about gut health and how important it is to have a healthy gut. However, we don’t question why it is so important until we start having digestive issues and realize they affect us not only physically but also mentally and life becomes a nightmare until we sort them out.
But what does it truly mean to have a healthy gut and good digestion and what do we need to do to avoid future problems?
A healthy gut is not only a gut with good digestion but also efficient absorption of nutrients, fueling and keeping your entire body functioning properly.
Gut health starts in the esophagus and ends in the bowel, with each part having a different job to do, thus covering the entire digestive system which is responsible for breaking down everything we eat.
What is good gut health?
Your gut is healthy when there is a balance between good and bad bacteria and yeast. Good bacteria help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients and produce several vitamins - these friendly bacteria are also called probiotics which can be taken as a supplement.
Even though some species of bad bacteria can cause serious diseases if they outnumber good bacteria, most of the time - if there is a balance between the good and bad - no diseases occur.
What do friendly bacteria do?
Friendly bacteria can impact more than your gut. It can potentially:
- Improve your sleep;
- Improve your mood;
- Support bone development;
- Produce vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients;
- Manufacture natural antibiotics;
- Make you less tired;
- Clear your skin;
- Improve digestion and speed up metabolism;
- Reduce pain in joints and muscles;
- Improve cognitive function.
Signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut
There is a reason why you may be hearing so much about gut health and digestion. Let’s break down what can happen when there is an imbalance of gut microbes. Have you ever experienced any of those symptoms?
- Abdominal pain and bloating;
- Acid reflux/ heartburn (stomach acids flow back up into the esophagus);
- Digestive issues such as gas, constipation, or diarrhea#
- Feeling tired and fatigued
- Trouble sleeping
- Food intolerances
- Unintentional weight loss or weight gain
- Skin problems
- Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
- Brain fog and headaches
- Food cravings
- And more.
What’s the cause?
Before looking into how you can improve your gut health, let’s try to understand what factors contribute or lead to the above-mentioned symptoms.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong, and most likely most of us have experienced a gut-related issue at some point in our lives. Sometimes, this is not entirely our fault but the good thing is that it’s all about how we respond to it.
So, here are some of the most common factors contributing to poor gut health:
- Use of antibiotics - antibiotics are powerful when it comes to protecting you from bacterial infections but in addition to killing the harmful bacteria, they will also kill the good bacteria because they can’t distinguish between the two. The changes in the gut microflora can cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting.
- Poor nutrition - the most common culprit that causes our gut and digestive issues are diet low on fiber, fruit, and vegetables. Poor gut health and bad bacteria can influence your sleep, weight, and mood, among other things.
- Stress and anxiety - events of stress or anxiety increase the stress hormone cortisol and activate the “fight-or-flight” response which puts your body on high alert causing physiological changes such as muscle tension, high heart rate, and elevated blood pressure. When it comes to the gut, this response can cause diarrhea or constipation, bloating, cramps, loss of appetite, and increased production of acid in your stomach which can lead to indigestion.
Many other factors can affect your gut health, for example, genetics. The good news is, more often than not, you are in charge of your health, especially since there are many ways to not only prevent gut issues but also improve the situation.
How to improve gut health and digestion?
Note: please consult a physician if you are concerned about your symptoms. The following list is composed for educational purposes only and we can’t promise that if you do everything on the list, your symptoms will go away. Thank you.
Check out the things that you can do to make your gut happier (in no specific order)!
- Prevent stressful situations such as arguments or being overwhelmed with work and life events as much as you can. Even though it’s not always possible to avoid stress, learn how to react and respond to it.
- Regular exercise stimulates the digestive system, increases metabolism, and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria.
- Sugars contribute to inflammation and feed bad bacteria in your gut, so try to limit simple sugars (junk food) and focus on consuming complex carbohydrates.
- Start eating more antioxidant-rich foods and foods that are high in fiber such as berries, green leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits, avocado, sweet potato, and more.
- Do not overeat - eat until you are 80% full and only when you feel hungry. Overeating can lead to indigestion and nausea and strain your digestive system.
- Drinking more water aids in digestion and helps prevent constipation;
- Try not to drink coffee on an empty stomach, especially in the morning, because it jumpstarts the production of stomach acid which can damage the lining of your stomach and cause heartburn.
- Keep a food diary and try to find what foods you are intolerant to - then eliminate them and see if your symptoms improve or go away.
- Eat food rich in prebiotics (foods that feed beneficial bacteria) and probiotics (foods that contain beneficial bacteria). You can also take supplements.
- Supplement your diet with digestive enzymes (they help digest food). Certain foods contain digestive enzymes, for example, avocados, bananas, honey, kefir, or mangos.
- Herbs and spices also help with digestive function - for instance, try ginger, turmeric, or oregano!