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  • Rebecca Murray

How Important is Gut Health to Overall Health?

Our gut and the importance of our gut health is receiving increased attention. Research is showing us that our gut microbiome could affect every organ in our body.

The bacteria and other microbes in your gut help you digest food and may support immune, heart, and brain health, among other benefits.

Some studies are even looking at gut health as the new approach to preventative medicine. 


What is a Gut Microbiome?

Our gut health is underpinned by our gut microbiome - an eco-system of bacteria. Gut bacteria are microorganisms which live in our digestive system alongside other tiny organisms, such as fungi and viruses. Bacteria live throughout the body, by the 100 trillion that live within the digestive system are thought to have the most impact on our health. As well as playing a role in digestion and gastrointestinal health, the gut microbiome is linked to important areas of physical and mental wellbeing, such as immunity, mental health and brain health. There are 1000 types of bacteria in an average gut microbiome, some of these are ‘good’ bacteria and have benefits to our body and others are ‘bad’ bacteria. 

The gut microbiome can only hold a certain number of bacteria at any one time, so having more ‘good’ bacteria means less space for ‘bad’ bacterial; the aim is to have a favourable balance.

The gut microbiome is thought to develop inside of the womb and as you pass through out mothers birth canal. As you grow the gut microbiome diversifies - the higher diversification is considered good for your gut health.  

What does the gut Microbiome do?

Research is growing in how important our gut is to our overall health. The good bacteria within our gut gas been linked to several health benefits. Studies have shown that that people with conditions such as coeliac disease, diabetes, eczema, arthritis and obesity often have less diverse gut bacteria profiles.

  1. Aid digestion - bacteria digests and breaks down nutrients to aid absorption. Beneficial bacteria may also reduce gastrointestinal symptoms associated with intestinal diseases such as IBS and IBD that is caused by an imbalance in the gut biome. Certain bacteria, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, can help seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent leaky gut syndrome. 

  2. Immunity - There is a strong link between the gut and immune system as around 70% of the immune system actually resides in the gut!

  3. Toxin Removal - Your gut is also where your body gets rid of metabolic waste and toxins. However, if you have an unhealthy gut, your body will struggle to rid itself of those toxins. If this occurs, it can cause many issues, including chronic fatigue, chronic illnesses and inflammation throughout the body. That’s why people experience symptoms such as brain fog, diarrhoea, constipation, gas and fatigue.

  4. Short term fatty acids- Good bacteria can aid our immune system by creating short term fatty acids that help our bodies natural defences and strengthen the intestinal wall (a protective barrier against viruses). Short term fatty aides are the main source of nutrition for the cells in your colon and may also play an important role in health and disease. They may reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other conditions 

  5. Brain Health - Research is growing on brain-gut-axis communication. Research suggests that the gut microbiome may affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function. Secondly, the gut is physically connected to the brain through millions of nerves. Therefore, the gut microbiome may also affect brain health by helping control the messages that are sent to the brain through these nerves. Evidence is now emerging that, through the gut–brain axis, the gut microbiome can influence neural development, cognition and behaviour, 

  6. Mental health - Research has shown that the types of bacteria found in the microbiome may directly influence our mood and cognition. Serotonin, a chemical that controls key body functions such as mood and sleep, is made in the gut. 

  7. Skin Health- Certain bacteria in the gut may help to reduce appearance of redness, balance oils and may even reduce the visibility of wrinkles. 

  8. Heart Health - Certain bacteria within the gut can produce chemicals that may block arteries and lead to heart disease.


How do I know if I have an unhealthy gut?

An unhealthy gut may present gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation and loose bowel movements, but may also present as autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis whereby your immune system is attacking parts of the body. Other symptoms such as brain fog, poor concentration, fatigue, mood swings, trouble sleeping and food cravings can also be indicators. 

How can we build a healthy gut?

There are no definite instructions or timeframe on how to build a healthy gut and nor is it a one size fits all solution, but research is showing us that certain lifestyle factors can have an affect on our gut. 

  • Eat a Balanced Diet: A diverse range of foods can lead to a diverse microbiome (an indicator of good gut health). In particular, the below foods stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria;

  • Fiber found in legumes, beans, wholegrain and fruit

  • Fermented foods, such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and Kefir

  • Prebiotic foods such as artichokes, bananas, oats, asparagus and apples 

  • Polyphenols, found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil and whole grains

  • Avoid Excessive Stress: Stress can cause leaky gut (intestinal permeability), causing an imbalance bacteria in the gut.

  • Exercise: Exercise can increase diversity within the gut.  Therefore the exercise can be used as a treatment to improve or maintain a healthy balance in the gut.

  • Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners: Some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut.

  • Breastfeed for at least six months: breastfeeding is very beneficial for developing the gut microbiome.

  • Take a Probiotic Supplement: Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state.

  • Avoid/only take antibiotics when necessary: Antibiotics kill many bad and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, possibly leading to an unhealthy imbalance.

  • Healthy Liver: A well functioning liver produces healthy amount of bile acids. Bile acids (BAs) serve as physiological detergents that enable the intestinal absorption and transportation of nutrients, lipids and vitamins. BAs are primarily produced by humans to catabolize cholesterol and play crucial roles in gut metabolism, microbiota habitat regulation and cell signaling. Regularly flushing the liver can improve liver function. 

  • Get Adjusted: When your body is aligned, processes within the body including digestion, can run undisturbed. 


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