Your gut is the ‘forgotten organ’ no more, with an increasing amount of research uncovering exactly how your gut health impacts your overall health and wellbeing.
Every year, around half of us experience trouble or an issue to do with our gut health.
What is the gut?
Many of us use the word ‘gut’ to refer to our stomach and intestines, but the gut refers to your entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract is the tube that starts at your mouth and travels all the way down south to where waste products exit the body.
The gut’s role is to process and digest food. The food you eat is broken down with the help of trillions of bacteria, viruses and yeasts that – yes – actually live in your gut.
These microbial cells play an essential role in the digestive process. Your microbes also produce nutrients and help to keep your immune system healthy by fighting off ‘bad’ bacteria.
When these microbes become ‘imbalanced’ – meaning there are more bad ones than good – your health can suffer as a result.
Many diseases ‘start’ in the gut
More than two thousand years ago, Hippocrates – the father of medicine – told us that all diseases begin in the gut. Today, research supports this age-old view.
Poor gut health can contribute to ‘leaky gut’, a syndrome where small microbes and partially digested food actually ‘leak’ from the gut into the bloodstream.
Leaky gut has been linked to many autoimmune diseases as well as symptoms like skin issues, digestive health issues, mental health concerns, and hormonal imbalances.
How can I make sure my gut is healthy?
While scientists don’t yet know what a healthy gut looks like, they do agree that a healthy gut seems to be:
- Extremely diverse – meaning there are many, many different microbial species in the gut
- Free of ‘bad’ bacteria – the types of bacterial cells that are responsible for causing infections
- Resistant and resilient – this means that the gut can get healthy after an infection
Certain foods and actions can help to enhance overall gut health. Here are some simple tips to help keep your gut healthy and strong.
Eat lots of different foods
Variety is the spice of life when it comes to gut health – research indicates that diversity in your gut bacteria is a good thing.
Include lots of plant-based foods
Eat a diet high in vegetables, legumes, beans, and fruit – these may be able to stop ‘bad’ bacteria from growing.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut, are foods produced or preserved by the action of bacteria. Fermented foods are a great natural source of probiotics, and consuming them regularly may help to support a healthy gut.
Include whole grains in your diet
Consuming whole grains might be able to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, altering the bacterial balance in the gut.
Take a probiotic supplement
Boost your gut with a probiotic supplement. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help to change the composition of the microbes in your gut and help to maintain the balance of ‘good’ bacteria.
Lloyd-Price, J., et al. 2016. The healthy human microbiome. Genome Med, 8, 51.