Gut health has become one of the hottest health topics in recent years as we have started to learn about the complex connection between gut health and overall health. So why is gut health so important and how can we support and boost our own microbiomes?
Firstly, what exactly is a microbiome? The human microbiome consists of the trillions of fungi, bacteria, viruses, and other organisms harboured by each person, primarily in the gut. So prevalent are these critters, we are more microbiome than human. The approximately 30 trillion cells in an adult body are a little outnumbered by the around 39 trillion cells in the tiny organisms that comprise your microbiome.i
Not only are we outnumbered, we are also only just learning about the importance of our microbiome and how these trillions of bacteria and other microbes work together to affect functions as diverse as digestion, immunity, heart function, and even mental health.
Our guts do so much more than digest our food
For years, experts have suspected a connection between gut health and heart health. Recent research has found that changes in certain types of gut bacteria are associated with high blood pressure, lower levels of “good” cholesterol, heart disease and even events like heart attacks and strokes. Scientists currently think this has to do with the compounds gut bacteria produce when they break down certain foods. Having the wrong balance of bugs may mean more by-products which can raise cholesterol and injure blood vessels.
There is also a strong association between our immune system and gut health. It is estimated that 70-80% of the body’s immune system is in the gut, working to ensure that the body is eliminating any harmful pathogens that it encounters.ii
While we have long known that how we feel can affect our guts – think of ‘butterflies in our stomach’ when we are nervous or ‘gut wrenching’ when we hear bad news – but scientists are learning more about the complex connection between our gut biome and our mental health. For a long time, researchers thought anxiety and depression contributed to digestive issues, but studies are showing that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the brain to trigger mood changes.
While we still have much to learn about how the gut impacts other parts of the body, growing evidence is pointing to the importance of looking after your gut biome – so how do we do that?
What is good for the gut?
If you pop ‘gut health’ into a search engine, you’ll be bewildered by the amount of information (and some disinformation!) available online. Here are a few science-backed things that we know support good gut health.iii
Eating a plant-based diet including a range of wholefoods with lots of soluble fibre (oats, seeds and certain fruit and veggies)
Incorporating fermented foods into your diet – think kimchi, miso, kombucha
Vitamin D – we don’t need a lot of outside time to keep up our vitamin D levels (and it’s important to be sun safe) but vitamin D has been proven to be an important part of gut health.
Water (hydration helps keep the gut healthy!)
Moving your body – the recommendation is 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise at least three days a week.
What to avoid?
And of course, it’s not just what we can do to promote good gut health, but also what we can avoid to help support a positive gut biome.
On that note, stress has been found to have a very detrimental impact on gut health as does too much fatty and processed foods. Too much sugar in your diet can also be a contributor to poor gut health and alcohol has also been shown to be a culprit when it comes to your gut.
You don’t have to overhaul your diet and lifestyle though – even small tweaks will help you support a happy and health gut biome and reap the benefits to your physical, and even mental health.