Maybe you’ve heard digestive experts talk about the “gut-brain connection” or your “gut health” in recent years? But what is it? Emerging research is shedding light on the inner workings of the digestive tract, called the gut microbiome, and how it can affect your entire body in ways that may seem completely unrelated.
The gut microbiome includes the bacteria, microorganisms, fungi and viruses found in the digestive tract. It plays a role in the absorption of key nutrients and minerals. The gut microbiome also plays a key role in good health and disease progression.
How the gut microbiome affects the body
While it may seem like gut health primarily affects digestion, researchers are finding that the gut microbiome can actually affect your overall health. Your body needs a diversity of gut bacteria and that changes as you age. The more diversity there is in the gut microbiome, the better for your health.
When you have an imbalance of gut microbes, it can lead to what is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is linked to conditions such as obesity due to a lack of a healthy microbiome and poor gut health.
In addition, dysbiosis may contribute to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and colon cancer, according to a scientific review published in August 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
Changes in the gut microbiome have also been observed in diabetes, liver disease and even neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, according to a review published in June 2018 in the journal Gut.
Studies have also shown a link between heart and gut health. Some gut microbiomes produce a chemical called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) that blocks arteries. High levels of TMAO are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and premature death, according to a June 2018 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Some experts believe that problems with the intestinal barrier can also lead to so-called “leaky gut,” which increases the ability of unwanted microbes to enter the body. This can lead to inflammation throughout the body and cause an immune system response to be compromised accordingly.
The connection between the gut and the brain
Research has also revealed surprising potential links between gut microbiome imbalances and mental health issues. This is explained by the fact that the gut is connected to nerves and is involved in the transmission of messages to the brain. Many neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, are made in the gut. Serotonin produces feelings of happiness and well-being, and serotonin levels tend to be low in people who suffer from depression and anxiety.
Many psychological disorders have been linked to specific species in the gut. This shows that specific probiotics can help maintain this dysfunction. A review of studies published in May 2019 in the journal General Psychiatry suggests that people with anxiety who changed their diet to regulate the gut microbiome saw improvements in anxiety symptoms.
Tips for maintaining balance
Maintaining good bowel function is of course important. Good News ? There are many simple ways to do this:
– Eat foods and drink beverages that support your gut. Fermented foods help create a healthy microbiome. For example, yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir. Kombucha is another drink rich in gut bacteria. Additionally, teas like ginger, chamomile, and peppermint can also help the gastrointestinal system.
Minimize foods and drinks that can throw you off balance. Alcohol, caffeine, fried foods and carbonated drinks can harm your gut microbiome.
Consider a probiotic supplement. If you are looking to support a specific aspect of your health, probiotic supplements can be used to help rebalance the gastrointestinal system. The most common strains include lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and saccharomyces, which have been shown to help regulate the immune response. Other supplements known to support gut health include l-glutamine and zinc carnosine.
Eating plenty of fiber and drinking plenty of water each day can also help support your gastrointestinal system. Foods rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. To stay hydrated, aim to drink eight glasses of water a day.
It’s clear that a healthy gut microbiome can benefit not only digestion, but also overall physical and emotional health.
Do you like our content?
Get our latest publications free and delivered straight to your inbox every day