How helping your guts can help you.
Five reasons gut health is important and five things you can do to help
What do we mean by gut health?
The gut refers to the gastrointestinal tract which extends all the way from the mouth to the back passage. The gut is a vastly complex system housing millions of cells and a diverse microbiota (bacterial community) which work symbiotically to breakdown food, absorb nutrients, fight pathogens and excrete waste. We want all the cells, the gut lining and microbiota healthy so that the digestive system can work effectively.
Five reasons gut health is important
The gut is the body’s exposure to the outside world forming the barrier between our bloodstream and our environment. This is one of the reasons the gut houses so many important cells connected to the different organ systems, so it can quickly communicate any issues.
The gut is where we break down the food that we eat so that we can extract and absorb all the necessary sugars, fats, proteins and micronutrients (e.g. vitamins and minerals) from our meals to survive.
The gut plays a crucial role in immune function. As the gateway into our bloodstream, the gut is our first line of defence and the intestinal immune system is constantly dealing with pathogens and toxic substances coming into the body. Approximately 70% of the cells that make up the immune system reside in the gut. Also supporting the immune system are particular strains of gut bacteria (known as ‘good bacteria’) producing short chain fatty acids which have an anti-inflammatory effect.
The gut and the brain are in constant communication; the gut needs to effectively communicate to the brain if there are problematic foreign bodies entering the system, and the brain needs to quickly tell the gut how to react. A good example of how closely they communicate is the instant feeling of butterflies as a sign of nervousness.
Gut bacteria also produce neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) which facilitate communication between the cells of our nervous system. One of these neurotransmitters is serotonin which plays a particularly important role in mood regulation.
Excretion – effective excretion is crucial to remove waste products from the body such as foods, hormones and dead cells. If this is compromised it can lead to a toxic build up in the body.
5 things you can do to help improve gut function
Ensure a varied vegetable intake of 5-7 portions per day. Vegetables not only provide micronutrients needed to support our health, the fibre content will aid the digestion process and certain fibres are prebiotic which feed your gut bacteria encouraging the good bacteria to flourish. One portion of green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, greens, swiss chard) per day can help to increase your intake of magnesium, a vital mineral for muscle function which assists the movement of the digestive tract.
Cut down on processed and sugary foods – these can negatively impact the balance of gut flora encouraging bad bacteria to grow. Additives in foods may also irritate the gut which can lead to inflammation.
Stay hydrated! Like all other systems, the digestive system relies on adequate hydration and requires water to aid the movement of food and waste substance through the digestive tract.
Try to reduce stress and relax before you eat a meal. When stressed, the body pumps out cortisol which prepares the body for an acute stressful event. This indicates to the digestive system that it needs to reduce activity so energy can be used elsewhere. Eating while the digestive system is operating less efficiently can negatively impact how food is broken down and absorbed. Slowing down and relaxing before a meal and even smelling your food to salivate will kick start your digestive system and prepare it for food.
Listen to your gut. If you have a feeling something doesn’t agree with you, try removing it from you diet; it may be irritating your gut which can lead to inflammation.