As I met with a client recently and and we discussed the benefits of moving toward a whole food, plant-based diet including the weight loss he desired, reduced cholesterol, decreased blood pressure, and optimal gut health, he asked,
“Does gut health affect anything other than your stomach not feeling bad?”
What a great question! It’s easy for me to excitedly ramble on about gut health without really laying the foundation for what occurs in our gut and how it affects nearly every other aspect of our health.
As Hippocrates said “All disease begins in the gut.” But what did he mean by that? Let’s break it down to find out!
What is gut health?
Simply stated, the health of your gastrointestinal (GI) system is determined by the levels and types of bacteria in your digestive tract. Ideally there is a balance of bacteria, however, an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria results in gut dysbiosis (a medical term for an imbalance in the microbes living there).
Most often, dysbiosis is the result of too many bad “bugs,” including bacteria, yeast, and sometimes parasites, and not enough good ones. This imbalance causes damage to the mucosal layer of your digestive tract. The normally smooth intact mucosal layer becomes permeable, which allows food proteins to enter into the bloods stream (think of your intestines changing from a water hose to a strainer). The food proteins entering your blood stream initiates your immune system to attack since the food particles are seen as foreign invaders. This results in inflammation, food sensitivities, and a variety of symptoms both in the digestive system and throughout the entire body.
Why is it important?
The health of your gastrointestinal system is extremely important to your overall well-being. You may not even experience GI discomfort and it will still have an impact on your overall health. I’ve heard people proudly proclaim they have a “gut of steel” and that nothing they eat bothers them. It can be a blessing to not be negatively affected by various foods, but it can also be a curse by allowing you to eat whatever you want without experiencing the negative health implications until they have made quite an impact on various other systems in your body without your realizing it is starting in your gut.
What areas of health are impacted by your gut?
- Digestion – Including gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux. An obvious area to note first, but your digestion is more than whether you get abdominal cramping after meals. Digestive health impacts our overall health since this is where nutrient absorption takes place. If our bacterial balance is off, then our GI system is not able to absorb nutrients from our food properly in order to nourish the rest of our organs.
- Immune strength
- Skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and rosacea. Scientific studies show that more than half of all acne sufferers have significant alterations in the microorganisms living in the their gut.
- Mental health – This includes depression, anxiety, and various other mood disorders. The gut is also known as your “second brain”. Our Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is what scientists call the 100 million or so nerve cells that line our digestive tracts. The main role of our ENS is to allow digestion to function properly but it is also responsible in communicating back and forth with the brain in regards to our overall health.
These are only a few key areas of health impacted by gut health, however research continues in various areas.
What should I do now?
- Avoid & Embrace – Avoid that which leads to an imbalance of healthy gut bacteria and embrace that which will allow your gut to flourish. I share details on how to do that in this blog post.
- Consider a high quality probiotic. – I have taken Dr. Chutkan’s probiotic for over a year and have seen wonderful improvements in my own gut health.
- Educate Yourself – I believe its best to learn and read quality material to fully educate yourself and lay a good foundation for making lasting changes. Gutbliss and The Microbiome Solution are two of the best resources for you to get started on your journey toward better gut health!
**As always, the recommendations made in this post, whether dietary or regarding supplements are provided for informational purposes only. They should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your professional healthcare providers before beginning any new treatment.