It seems like gut health is one of the top health topics of today, but what makes the gut so special?
To put it simply, all disease begins in the gut. Hippocrates said it best.
Conventional medicine is trained to isolate organ systems. For instance, if you have acne the problem is said to lie in the skin. Depression? Problem in the brain. Arthritis? Problem of the joints.
Yet we have to understand that we are holistic beings and that imbalances in one part of the body may stem from and affect another. Our body operates as a whole integrated system that is interconnected. This means what is happening in one location isn't necessarily confined to that one location.
And it usually all starts with the gut.
Chronic disease and imbalances may be traced back to the digestive system even if you do not present with any digestive complaints. Our gut is fundamental to our health which is why we need a healthy functioning digestive system to be healthy.
How does the gut impact our health?
Our gut is home to the majority of our immune system. In fact, 70% of our immune system lies within the gut. This immune system is called the GALT or gut-associated lymphoid tissue.
Our gut is also home to the human gut microbiota. The microbiome refers to the bacterial population that lives within us. A healthy human body carries over 100 trillion microorganisms in the intestines, which is said to be ten times greater than the total number of human cells in the body!
These beneficial microbes, also known as probiotics, regulate digestion, hormones, metabolism, inflammation, and even produce certain nutrients.
Our gut bacteria influence our genes and contain most of our DNA. They produce short-chain fatty acids that help digest our food and promote transit time through the colon, strengthen the gut barrier, improve blood sugar levels and weight balance, support the immune system, and fight off bad bacteria.
They also affect our mood and brain function. Our digestive system is called the “second brain” because of the vagus nerve which connects the brain to the gut. Our brain talks to our gut, and our gut talks to our brain via chemical messages. This is also referred to as the enteric nervous system.
If the gut is inflamed or infected this can lead to various health issues, behavioral changes, and mood disorders. Those with digestive dysfunction such as intestinal permeability, IBS, or SIBO are more likely to experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
When the ratio of good bacteria is optimal you are less likely to succumb to illness, whereas if you have suboptimal gut flora you are more likely to run into trouble.
What predominately determines the state of our gut? What we eat. Today we are giving you some of our favourite foods and dietary supplements to support your digestive health and favorable health outcomes.
Superfoods to boost your gut health
Bone broth is a traditional gut-healing remedy made by simmering the bones and connective tissue of animals such as chicken, beef, or fish.
Boiling the bones and tendons of animals releases various nutritious healing compounds such as gelatin, glutamine, and collagen and various vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed through the gut.
Bone broth can be an ideal therapeutic agent to restore gut integrity and improve digestive health by reducing inflammation and providing the building blocks needed to rebuild the lining of the digestive tract.
Aloe vera is a plant commonly used for topical skin use however it can also greatly benefit your gut! Aloe is a soothing herb that can help heal the gut from damage by lowering inflammation, killing pathogenic microbes, and increasing nutrient absorption.
It has been shown to reduce symptoms such as heartburn, constipation, and ulcers and may even benefit cases of IBS and colitis.
Kimchi, natto, miso, tempeh, kefir, sourdough, yogurt, aged cheese, pickles, and sauerkraut are all examples of fermented foods. These foods contain live microorganisms that provide various health benefits for our health such as preserving barrier integrity in the intestines, supporting beneficial microbes, improving digestive health, and reducing unwanted symptoms such as IBS (1). The gut microbiome also plays a significant role in immune function as up to 70% of our immune system resides in our gut. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for the maintenance of good health.
The role of bacteria are large and wide as an increasing body of evidence points to their favorable effects on health:
protect against pathogenic bacteria
support immune health
protect the mucosal lining and gut integrity
support the digestion of food
improve digestive disorders such as IBS, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease
increase absorption of nutrients
The fermentation process enhances the preservation of foods but also provides digestive enzymes to help our digestive system break down the food allowing it to be more easily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract.
If you are wanting to receive the benefits of probiotics you can find fermented foods in the refrigerated section of most health food stores or make them yourself at home. Therapeutic doses of probiotics can be obtained from a probiotic supplement in order to treat digestive issues.
PrebioticsPrebiotics are a type of fiber that are indigestible to humans but instead serve as a food source for our friendly bacteria. Including regular intake of prebiotic foods will help support the survival of live microorganisms in the gut. Our beneficial intestinal bacteria rely on prebiotics as their fuel source, this is why regular consumption of prebiotic-rich foods is a good idea to promote microbiome diversity in the gut. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for the maintenance of good health.
- protect against pathogenic bacteria
- support immune health
- protect the mucosal lining and gut integrity
- improve digestive disorders
- increase absorption of nutrients
TurmericTurmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herb. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as a therapeutic tool for inflammatory and digestive conditions. Turmeric can be consumed fresh in cooking, juices, hot drinks, smoothies, soups, and more. Curcumin is the active compound found in the herb turmeric which may be more effective in treating health conditions as it is highly concentrated in its therapeutic compounds.
Fats are not created equal! The type of fat you consume makes a big difference in your digestive health. Omega 3 fats are found in fatty fish but also algae, flax, walnuts, and chia seeds. These exert anti-inflammatory effects which can calm inflammation in the digestive tract but also support the microbiome. Studies found omega 3 to provide prebiotic effects in the gut by encouraging the production of short-chain fatty acids made by our microbes (2). These compounds help to support intestinal barrier function and provide fuel for our intestinal cells.
About the Author
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.