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The Importance of Gut Health

Gut health plays an important role in the development of digestive diseases. A person has about 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract. Some of these species are beneficial while others are harmful: there’s ‘good bacteria’ and ‘bad bacteria’. Good bacteria is extremely important for your immune system, heart, weight and other aspects of health, while bad bacteria are associated with disease.

What are gut microbes?

Microbes is the collective term for viruses, fungi and bacteria. Trillions of these microbes reside inside your intestines and on your skin. The microbes that are present in the large intestine part called ‘cecum’ are referred to as ‘gut microbes’ and these play a crucial role in maintaining gut health.

In the past two decades, various studies have shown clear links between gut health and the immune system, mental health, mood, endocrine disorders, autoimmune diseases skin conditions, and cancer. Gut microbes affect your body the moment you are born, and it is very difficult to survive without them. Researches have suggested that babies are first exposed to microbes while passing through the mother’s birth canal. But new evidence has suggested that babies may encounter some microbes while inside the womb: as the baby grows, gut microbes start to spread.

How do gut microbes affect our body?

As the population of gut microbes continues to grow, it affects your body in a variety of ways including:

Weight

The imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria is called dysbiosis which is the main reason behind obesity. Luckily, prebiotics are good for a healthy microbe balance and can help with weight loss.

Overall Gut Health

Gut microbes can affect gut health by causing Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. People suffering from IBS experience bloating, cramps and abdominal pain due to gut dysbiosis. The intestinal distress is caused by the microbes creating a lot of gas and other chemicals. On the other hand, certain good bacteria can also improve gut health. For instance, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are present in probiotics and yogurt, help seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Heart Health

Some types of bad bacteria in the gut may also contribute to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical that blocks arteries and can eventually lead to a heart attack. Some bacteria in the gut are also known to convert nutrients (choline and L-carnitine) found in red meat into TMAO and cause heart attacks. However, bacteria like Lactobacilli reduce cholesterol and can make the heart healthier.

Mental Health

Healthy gut microbes produce chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Studies have suggested that serotonin, which is an antidepressant neurotransmitter, is mostly synthesized in the gut. As the gut is physically connected to the brain through a network of nerves, gut microbes also affect brain health by monitoring the messages that are sent to the brain through these nerves.

Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

Unhealthy habits and routines play a significant role in damaging our gut micro-diversity. Here are some signs that show you might have an unhealthy gut:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Mood Disorders
  • Poor concentration
  • Skin inflammation
  • Acne
  • Sugar cravings
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Fatigue
  • Obesity
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Food intolerance

Foods that Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria

It’s important to maintain a healthy gut for our overall health. Here are some foods that you should eat that help promote gut health:

Eat a variety of different foods.

Don’t stick to any one specific type of food. To keep your gut healthy you need a diverse range of microbes that can only be achieved by eating different types of food. Bifidobacteria is present in legumes, beans and fruits which promotes gut health and protects you from certain gut syndromes.

Add fermented food in your diet.

Fermented foods, like Yogurt, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kombucha and Tempeh, are rich in lactobacilli bacteria that can benefit your health. Studies have suggested that people who eat yogurt have more lactobacilli in their gut and less Enterobacteriaceae which cause many chronic diseases.

Avoid artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners may harmfully affect blood sugar levels due to their effects on the gut microbes.

Eat whole grains.

Whole grains have lots of fiber and non-digestible carbs, such as beta-glucan which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and bacteroidetes within the gut. These changes to the gut microbe diversity can improve some aspects of metabolic health.
Eat lots of vegetables. The high fiber content in vegetables will increase your overall gut health. Vegetables can eliminate disease-causing bacteria in obese people and also reduce cholesterol level, inflammation and weight.

Written by:  Aimen Arif.

I hold a degree in BS Biosciences. By profession, I am a Bioscientist and my passion is writing.

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