The human body is made of interconnected systems that rely on one another to provide overall health. The gut may seem like it’s a system used for digestion, but it’s essential to the entire body’s functionality. Read on to learn how your gut health affects your overall health and how properly working digestion can improve your quality of life.
Defining the Gut
For years, the gut was considered one of the body’s simpler systems. However, various studies performed throughout the last 20 years have shown that gut health significantly affects other bodily systems and conditions.
It has been proven that the gut, or digestive system, is not just a tube through which food passes. The entire gut microbiome is made of roughly 300 to 500 species of bacteria. These micro-organisms live in the digestive tract. Some are beneficial to the health of the body, while others can be detrimental.
According to a published study, having various good bacteria in the gut microbiome can improve several aspects of overall health. It’s believed that the bacteria and other micro-organisms in the gut communicate with the immune system and other metabolic processes to benefit or harm the host’s overall health.
Read: Symptoms for IBS
Signs of Poor Gut Health
The symptoms of poor gut health can be similar to the symptoms of other illnesses. This can cause poor gut health to be misdiagnosed. The following are several of the most common signs of an unhealthy gut microbiome:
- Constant fatigue: Poor sleeping habits and insomnia can lead to fatigue feelings throughout the day, no matter how many cups of coffee you drink. The gut produces the majority of serotonin in the body, and serotonin affects the way you sleep. An unhealthy gut can cause sleep disturbances and an inability to fall asleep.
- Upset stomach: An upset stomach can manifest itself in numerous forms, sign your gut is not processing foods or eliminating waste virtually. An upset stomach may be experienced in the forms of constipation, bloating, gas, diarrhea, or heartburn.
- Skin conditions: Eczema and other skin conditions can be linked to an unbalanced gut microbiome. Due to food allergies or an unhealthy diet, inflammation in the digestive system can cause some proteins to leak into the body. These proteins can lead to skin irritation in various forms.
- Food intolerances: You may have noticed that certain foods upset your stomach, causing bloating, diarrhea, or other symptoms. This is because your body has difficulty digesting those foods due to the low quality of your gut bacteria.
This infographic was created by Factor, a paleo meal delivery service
Causes of an Unhealthy Gut
An unhealthy gut can be linked to numerous factors. Many of these factors are associated with a person’s lifestyle. However, some gut problems are related to genetics or the medications a person is required to take. Here, you’ll find several of the major causes of poor gut health:
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a microbial imbalance known as dysbiosis. This imbalance can lead to symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, and more.
- Low diet: A poor diet is the most common cause of poor gut health. This is because chemical additives, refined sugar, hydrogenated fats, starch, and unnatural flavor enhancers negatively affect the gut microbiome. Foods, including these ingredients, cause inflammation and limit the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
- Autoimmune conditions: Not all gut health issues are associated with a person’s lifestyle. People with autoimmune conditions may have more difficulty achieving superior gut health. This is because autoimmune conditions cause the immune system to attack itself, harming beneficial bacteria’s growth in the gut.
Improving Gut Health
Improving the health and functionality of your digestive system doesn’t typically require medical assistance or procedures. Superior gut health can often be achieved through a few small changes that make a big difference in the way your gut functions:
- Exercise often: Regular exercise is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle, so it probably comes as no surprise that exercise is right for your gut. Exercise helps the gut produce more short-chain fatty acids, which aid the immune system and your overall health.
- Drink more water: Ample water consumption helps increase the variety of good bacteria in the gut microbiome. It also improves the mucosal lining in the intestinal tract. Staying hydrated throughout the day is an easy way to boost digestive health.
- Adjust your diet: You probably don’t have to entirely transform the way you eat to enjoy superior gut health. Foods rich in fiber have been proven to promote excellent gut health. Additionally, fermented foods (rich in probiotics) and polyphenols help reduce inflammation and boost beneficial gut bacteria. Polyphenols are foods loaded with antioxidants, such as green tea, dark leafy greens, blueberries, and more. Avoid foods that are processed, high in fat, or high in sugar.
You’re now aware that your gut is one of the most complex systems in your body. A diet rich in whole foods paired with regular exercise, proper hydration, and a good night’s sleep can be the key to a healthier gut microbiome. Promoting superior gut health means making a few simple lifestyle changes that can significantly affect your overall quality of life.
Author bio: Kara Kash, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Factor — a premium weekly meal delivery service that fuses world-class culinary dishes with the latest nutrition science to produce fully prepared meals that are as delicious as they are nutritious.