In the past decade, study after study has pointed to improving gut health as one of the best things you can do to achieve true wellness.
Considered the “second brain” of your biological makeup, your microbiome consists of trillions of good (and bad) bacteria that determine how your entire body functions.
At any given time, you serve as a “host” to as many as 1,000 unique species of bacteria living inside you and you need them. They’re an integral part of your entire immune system.
Caring for this delicate internal ecosystem is something most people don’t think about…but you should. The condition of your microbiome influences your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, auto-immune disease, and more.
Improve Gut Health for Better Memory and Mood
Inflammation is the greatest enemy of your brain. Balancing your microbiome could be the key to lowering inflammation, preserving brain health, and improving mood.
Antibiotics disrupt gut bacteria (both good and bad). Studies using mice found that higher levels of bad bacteria caused an increase in signs of anxiety and depression, which was measured by changes in brain chemistry. Antibiotics destroyed the imbalance and the signs of mood disorders lessened as good bacteria were reintroduced to the test subjects. This offers an interesting possibility for those who suffer from anxiety and depression.
You don’t want too many of the bad bacteria and you need enough of the good kind. Probiotics are an excellent way to promote beneficial bacteria and prebiotics provide a necessary food source for the good guys.
In the last decade, the gut-brain connection has become a powerful area of research. The link between poor gut health and disease is defined more clearly every year. Researchers are also studying the human microbiome’s influence over neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, with fascinating results.
Improve Gut Health – Increase Bone Density and Strength
Your gut helps you absorb necessary calcium, which plays a key role in bone density and strength. Antibiotic use and poor diet alter your microbiome in ways that could directly impact joint and bone health, substantially raising your risk of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
Focusing on the health of your gut flora may lower your overall risk and open new avenues of treatment for those suffering from the chronic pain and stiffness associated with decreased bone density and strength. Boosting beneficial bacteria through probiotics has already proven effective in several mice studies regarding bone health.
Improve Gut Health and Regulate Your Bowels
When your gut microbiome is out of sync, your body lets you know in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. Bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or feeling as if you never know how your “stomach” is going to react after meals, exercise, or a particularly stressful day.
This is especially true after a bout of antibiotics, which wipe out huge colonies of beneficial gut flora alongside bad bacteria. Rebalancing your microbiome after prescription treatment is urgent.
If you find yourself constantly at the mercy of your sick belly, the best and most effective treatment is changing your diet. Incorporate a range of colorful fruits and vegetables into your eating plan, limit starchy or high-sugar foods, and include prebiotics and probiotics. You can get these through fermented foods (pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, miso) but if you opt for a supplement, make sure you do your research!
Improve Gut Health and Maintain Healthy Body Weight
A gut out of balance is a gut unable to properly digest and metabolize necessary nutrients from the food you eat. More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Obesity considered an epidemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Scientists point to inadequate intestinal bacteria as a direct cause. Deficiency in overall gut flora or a lack of diversity in the beneficial bacteria your body needs, leaves it ill-equipped to break down what you eat and absorb it effectively.
Simply tracking calories isn’t working and 95% of diets fail to substantially keep weight off for five years. Most fail within the first year. “Burn more calories than you consume,” is the mantra used by fitness experts for decades.
However, microbe quantity and diversity is immerging as a stronger signifier of weight gain. Different species of gut flora have different functions in digestion and absorption. In one study, mice on high-fat diets were separated into two groups. The first had diverse gut bacteria, the second did not. The first group gained less fat and weight overall because their microbiome was running more efficiently.
Improve Gut Health to Get Better Sleep
There are fascinating parallels between sleep quality and gut stability. Your circadian rhythms, hormone balance, and the quality of your sleep when you get it are affected by the health of your belly and the reverse is also true. It’s something of a “chicken or egg” situation.
A deficient microbiome leads to poor sleep. Poor sleep leads to a deficient microbiome.
Sleep is when your body repairs damaged cells and tissue. One study on the relationship between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and gut health found that mice with interrupted sleep showed dramatic changes to microbiome stability and diversity.
The gut-brain axis – where your “two brains” talk to one another – is affected by sleep, diet, mood, stress, chronic pain, and hormone levels. The connection goes both ways. Problems in your gut lead to issues with brain function and vice versa.
The human need for sleep has never been more important yet our fast-moving world leaves a lot of people chronically sleep-deprived. While much more research is needed, scientists theorize that the gradually diminishing importance of getting quality sleep is keeping pace with our rising disease statistics.
To Feel Better, Focus on Improving Gut Health
To protect your body from disease, absorb the nutrients you consume effectively, and keep your entire body running smoothly – you have to give your gut the attention it deserves.
Baylor College professor of pathology, Dr. James Versalovic, explains, “The microbes that live within us effectively act as a dimmer switch for our immune systems. Some enhance our immune responses, and others dim it down, or suppress inflammation.”
Improving gut health lowers inflammation (an emerging root cause to all major disease).
To get the diversity you need in your microbiome, a variety of fermented foods and plant foods is best. If you’re not getting what you need through diet, consider supplementing with quality probiotics. Search for formulas that offer diverse bacteria in large quantities.
Love your belly and it will love you back.
Mind Body Green: 10 Signs Your Gut Needs A Makeover: A Nutritional Therapist Explains
U.S. News: All About Flora: How Important Gut Health Really Is
Hopkins Medicine: The Brain-Gut Connection
Live Science: 5 Ways Gut Bacteria Affect Your Health
Scientific American: How Your Gut Affects Your Bones
Huffington Post: Unlocking the Sleep-Gut Connection
McCabe, L., Britton, R.A. & Parameswaran, N. Curr Osteoporos Rep (2015) 13: 363. doi:10.1007/s11914-015-0292-x Prebiotic and Probiotic Regulation of Bone Health: Role of the Intestine and its Microbiome [PDF]