The low-down on gut health and why it’s so important

Listen to your gut – it’s probably trying to tell you something. 

Right now there are millions and trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses living inside your intestines. Sounds gross, but these little guys are pretty important and they have powerful benefits for almost every aspect of your health. Your gut can effectively change your life.

There’s no denying that gut health is one of the hottest topics in health and wellbeing today. And for good reason. While it may be one of most unglamorous organs, the gut can have a profound effect on your overall physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Attention has recently been turned to the links between the microbes that live in your gut and your health – including their influence on our weight and our immune system and how what we eat can encourage a healthy diverse population in our guts.

Gut health is important for many reasons, but one of the primary factors that make it so important is that without good gut health, you’re unlikely to be efficiently absorbing the nutrients you ingest. Your gut bacteria are important in helping to produce micronutrients (like vitamins and antioxidants) from the food you eat, as well as breaking down macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) to ease digestion and keep your colon healthy.

It seems like every symptom of poor health can be traced back to the gut. A whopping 60-80% of your immune system is located in your gut and imbalances have been linked to hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, rosacea and other chronic health problems.

According to the Gut Foundation, in the past 12 months around half the Australian population will have complained about some kind of digestive problem.

Simply changing the way you eat and fixing the underlying imbalances in your gut can sometimes treat these conditions faster and more effectively than medications, which are often used as a first resort rather than a last one. So, how do you keep your gut happy?

What’s really going on inside your stomach?

Increasing research has revealed the previously mysterious world of the gut and the 1-2 kilograms of microbes that live in there, which form each person’s unique microbiome.

A microbiome is the genetic ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other organisms
that lives inside and on our bodies from birth. Our gut (and microbiome) is connected to the brain, via over 100 million neurons spread all the way from our throat to our rectum.

Interestingly, our brain isn’t the only organ in control of emotions – 95 percent of serotonin, the body’s happy hormone – is created in the gut. This has led researchers to increasingly find links between our gut microbiome and things like our mood and food cravings, potentially revealing massive changes to how we approach treatment for depression
and anxiety.

“60-80% of your immune system is located in your gut”

Gut healing

Anyone can benefit from improving their gut health, because a well-balanced gut makes it easier to lose and manage your weight. So, before you sit down for your next meal, you may want to put your tastebuds on the backburner and focus on feeding your gut bacteria!

A good rule of thumb to keep your gut healthy is to eat a wide variety of nutritious wholefoods from all food groups, which would naturally contain a lot of plant foods that are beneficial for your gut bacteria.

One of the best kinds of food for good gut health is fermented foods (kimchi, red beets, apple cider vinegar, yoghurt), which are overflowing with good bacteria (probiotics) that support our immune defences. They also help to break down foods we might otherwise find difficult to digest.

The second way you can improve your microbiome is through prebiotics: non-living organisms found in food that reach the large intestine unaffected by digestion. Prebiotics are types of dietary fibres and found in foods like legumes, onions, cabbage, garlic, asparagus, oats, barley and beans.

The signs of poor gut health

• Food allergies

• Anxiety

• Depression

• Mood swings, irritability

• Low energy

• Dark circles under the eyes

• Interrupted or restless sleep

• Skin problems such as eczema and rosacea

• Diabetes

• Autoimmune diseases

• Frequent infections

• Poor memory and concentration, ADD or ADHD

However, be warned: upping your probiotic intake by taking supplements without fuelling your body with nutritious food (full of prebiotics) is essentially useless. You can nab as many live bacteria as you want, but if you’re eating bad things that are going to damage the environment that those probiotics live in, they’re not going to survive.

So, with a high-fibre diet and fermented foods in, what’s out? For starters, you need to put a stop to junk food. Too much fat and sugar is a big no-no. This is because high fat changes the balance of the carbohydrate-digesting bacteria, so you become less good at digesting carbohydrates and breaking down energy with your bacteria. Put simply, eat bad foods and you will support bad communities of bacteria.

Diets containing too much meat are also a potential issue because they’re likely to be high in fat and can often mean the displacement of fruit and vegetables.

While small amounts of alcohol can have its benefits (depending which study you read), overconsumption is definitely bad for your gut and too much of it can induce dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance).

The key to preventing and even reversing these problems is to change our views on healthy eating and lifestyle. This does not mean crash diets, but rather just eating healthy food and watching your intake of sugars and fats. The reward is good health and energy, and you do feel better! What’s there to lose?