A healthy gut is essential to a long and happy life. It not only helps with digestion but also impacts other vital body functions like hormone regulation and immune system health.
The gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria that help to digest food and absorb nutrients. Researchers are finding that a diverse microbiome can improve your overall health.
1. Improved Digestion
You’ve likely heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” That’s because your gut health can affect everything from how your skin looks and your mood to how well you sleep and your immune system.
Eating the right foods can boost the trillions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract. You’ll want to choose whole foods that are minimally processed and high in fiber. Some great choices include vegetables, fruits, whole grains and unprocessed dairy.
You’ll also want to avoid food that irritates your gut, like gluten, dairy and nuts. If you notice a certain food triggers your digestion issues, try to remove it for a week and see how you feel.
2. Stronger Immune System
Your gut microbes act as a defense system for your body. They keep bad germs from entering your bloodstream, preventing inflammation and activating immune responses when needed.
Research has shown that diet plays a major role in changing gut bacteria and your overall health. A healthy gut consists of both prebiotics (plant fibers that feed the bacteria in your digestive tract) and probiotics (beneficial bacteria). Eating unprocessed foods, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean proteins and low-fat dairy helps promote a balanced gut.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, cottage cheese and yogurt with live cultures are rich in probiotics. Make sure these foods are refrigerated to maintain their effectiveness. Also, avoid foods containing sugar, salt and artificial sweeteners that can impact gut bacteria negatively.
3. More Energy
Your gut does more than just digest food and absorb nutrients; it also provides the energy your body needs to function properly. It produces serotonin, hormones and helps get rid of metabolic waste and toxins.
If you’ve ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” when making a big decision or have experienced digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain, these could be signs of an imbalanced gut microbiome. Fortunately, it’s possible to improve your gut health and boost overall wellness with diet and lifestyle changes.
Eat plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods, such as oats, bananas, berries, garlic, asparagus and avocados. You can also add yogurt with live active cultures and fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir and pickles to your diet to fuel good bacteria in the gut.
4. Better Sleep
Many people experience digestive discomfort or other symptoms that indicate their gut microbiome isn’t as healthy as it could be. Fortunately, you can help your gut by making better lifestyle choices and seeking out the right health care provider.
When you feel “butterflies in your stomach” before giving a presentation or have digestive issues during times of stress, it’s because your body is receiving signals from the brain within your digestive tract. This little brain is called the enteric nervous system (ENS) and it’s a complex network of nerve cells that line your digestive tract from esophagus to rectum.
Certain gut bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, can seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent the condition known as leaky gut syndrome. Additionally, some gut microbes can produce a metabolite known as trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, that helps block arteries.
5. Better Mental Health
The gut and the brain are inextricably linked. When you are feeling anxious or depressed, your gastrointestinal tract may become more sensitive, leading to digestive problems like gas, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal pain. The reverse is also true; your mood and stress levels can impact your GI tract and gut bacteria.
Your gut’s “second brain” communicates with your nervous system via the vagus nerve, releasing neurotransmitters that affect your mental state. That’s why you might feel butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous or a little sick to your stomach after you eat something spicy.
A healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, prebiotics and probiotics can help improve your gut microbes. Talk to your primary care physician for dietary recommendations and a referral to a gastroenterologist.