Gut Health and its Effect on Our Wellbeing
The gut breaks down the food you eat, helps the body absorb nutrients from the food, and supports other bodily functions. Having good gut health means having a healthy and balanced gut microbiome and reduced digestive symptoms, such as constipation, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and more. The gut microbiome is formed by around 200 different species of bacteria, viruses and fungi living in the large intestine, and this consists of good bacteria, which aids digestion and healthy gut activity, and bad bacteria, which contribute to some diseases and cause harm to the body. Different gut microbiome compositions and its health effects are still under research, but studies have shown that having a healthy gut can bring many benefits.
Having good gut health is important as gut bacteria lines the intestines and come into close contact with the food one consumes. The microbiome plays a crucial role in how and which nutrients are effectively absorbed into the body. A healthy gut promotes the normal production of hunger hormones such as ghrelin, which control hunger signals to avoid instances of overeating. An unhealthy gut, on the other hand, increases inflammatory markers, which then cause weight gain and metabolic diseases.
Gut health can help strengthen the immune system, as some studies conclude that a healthy digestive system plays a positive role in Covid-19 recovery; this means that autoimmune diseases, such as asthma and allergies, may have connections to an unbalanced gut environment. Having a healthy gut can also contribute to better sleep and digestion. Research has also shown linkage between having an unhealthy gut and diseases such as cancer (breast, colon, etc.), cardiovascular diseases, and endocrine disorders, such as type 2 diabetes.
While there is no single measure for gut health, there are signs that doctors and scientists look out for when assessing an unhealthy gut; digestive symptoms, low quality of sleep, negative emotional states and frequent contraction of infectious diseases are some common conditions associated to an unhealthy gut. While there are certain factors and lifestyle choices, such as stress, lack of sleep and physical activity, unhealthy diet, smoking, alcohol and taking antibiotics, that affect the gut microbiome, other factors such as the environment, age, birth mode (natural labor vs. C-section) and feeding mode (breast-fed vs. bottle-fed) will also play a role in changing the composition of the microbiome.
An unbalanced diet will directly harm the gut bacteria colony. Sugary foods, artificial sweeteners, and foods containing unhealthy fats, when consumed in excess, will have a negative effect on the gut. Therefore, it is important to incorporate a diet that can help balance and improve gut health, with foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, polyphenols, fermented foods and probiotics. Taking probiotics is an easy way to recharge the gut with good bacteria. These live micro-organisms, such as lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are easily found in different foods, drinks and supplements, and can help fight off bad bacteria and maintain a healthy environment within the gut.
However, there are many different types of probiotic supplements, and choosing the right one for each body is essential. Finding out what the body needs is the first step, as one’s nutritional requirement changes over time based on lifestyle, exercise level, environment, and age. Differences in diet and health goals can help determine the right kind of supplements one may need, and it is important to explore the options, not only by brand, but by ingredients as stated in nutrition labels, by whether it has been approved by trusted agencies, and by eliminating options with more inactive ingredients and additives to ensure a higher purity.
Watching out for bioavailability and dosage is also key. Higher doses do not necessarily mean the better. For example, a calcium intake that is too high may cause negative health effects as the excess calcium consumed through supplements is stored in the body over time. Bioavailability refers to how easy the nutrient is for the body to absorb. In this instance, calcium citrate is easier to absorb than calcium carbonate.
Lastly, supplements that are evidence-based are the ideal choices for safe, effective nutrient intake. Supplements such as omega-3 and pre-/probiotics have been researched and tested for decades, and are proven to have a positive effect on the body. Choosing the right supplements that fit one’s health goals and needs will greatly aid in filling nutrient gaps in the body, as well as support gut health and in turn, improving overall wellbeing.