Gut health is a popular topic in the nutrition scene. But what is gut health exactly, and why is it important? Explore this guide for information on gut health, including how to improve it.
How to Improve Gut Health
Living a healthy lifestyle is important. Whether you’re adding nutritious recipes to the dinner menu to support your immune health, or going on morning walks for heart health, many of us take actions each day to help our bodies perform their best. Believe it or not, making an effort to take care of your gut health is important too! Research on the topic of gut health continues to grow and evolve, and experts believe there is a connection between gut health and overall health.
If you have questions or concerns about your gut health, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your doctor.
What Is Gut Health?
Many of us are familiar with the term “gut health” but may not be clear on what it actually means. Gut health describes the function and balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.1 The gastrointestinal tract includes different organs, including the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, as well as healthy bacteria and immune cells, to help our bodies process food.1 When the different parts of the gastrointestinal tract work together as they should, digesting food is easy. On the other hand, if you experience issues such as pain, bloating, irregular bowel movements, or other symptoms when you eat food, it might be a sign you have an issue with your gut health.1
Why Does Gut Health Matter?
When we talk about gut health, we’re referring to the balance of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Gut bacteria plays an essential role in your health; healthy gut bacteria supply essential nutrients, synthesize vitamin K, aid in the digestion of cellulose, promote angiogenesis, and support nerve function.2 Gut bacteria play a role in immune function, and help support metabolism and digestion.3 Good gut health and the right balance of healthy gut bacteria help ensure your body reaps all the benefits from the food you eat, supporting your digestive health as well as your overall health.
What Factors Impact Gut Health?
The human gut is undoubtedly a complex system. Gut bacteria in particular can be influenced by a number of factors. These factors include genetics, diet, age, illness, and antibiotics.3 Obviously, some of those factors—such as genetics and aging—are not under your control. However, other factors such as diet are. Aim to eat a nutritious, well-rounded diet and foster other healthy lifestyle habits—like keeping your stress levels low and getting regular exercise—as a way to benefit your gut health and overall health.
What Are the Signs of an Unhealthy Gut?
A variety of symptoms may indicate poor gut health. Common symptoms of an unhealthy gut include bloating, pain, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.4 If you experience discomfort or pain in your stomach after eating, you might be noticing symptoms of an unhealthy gut. However, don’t try to self-diagnose. Simply make an appointment with your doctor to see if they determine poor gut health is the cause of the problem.
Keep in mind that a healthy balance of diverse gut bacteria is important for your health. There are links between lack of diversity in gut bacteria5 with IBS, Crohn’s disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.6 It’s not exactly clear how gut bacteria affect or play a role in any of the diseases, so more studies need to be completed.
How Can I Improve My Gut Health?
While more research still needs to be done on this topic, gut health plays a role in overall health. That’s why taking steps to support your gut health is important. To help promote healthy gut bacteria and digestion, start by eating a healthy diet. A well-rounded, nutritious diet, rich in fruits and veggies as well as dietary fiber can help support your gut health.7 Eat food with probiotics as well. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir can provide probiotics that may benefit your digestive health.7
If you don’t think you’re getting some of the essential nutrients you need through your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement. Supplementing with probiotics, fiber, or other important nutrients may be a good option for you if you’re experiencing gut health issues.
- What is ‘gut health’ and why is it important? UC Davis Health. https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/what-is-gut-health-and-why-is-it-important/2019/07. Accessed 11/05/2020.
- Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Disease. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425030/. Accessed 11/05/2020.
- Factors affecting the composition of the gut microbiota, and its modulation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6699480/. Accessed 11/05/2020.
- Ghoshal, Uday and Ujjala Ghoshal. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and Other Intestinal Disorders Gastroenterology Clinics of North America March 2017; 46 (1): 103-120 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889855316300838#bbib4 . Accessed 17 Feb 2020
- Hansen, Richard, Richard K. Russell , Caroline Reiff , et al. Microbiota of De-Novo Pediatric IBD: Increased Faecalibacterium Prausnitzii and Reduced Bacterial Diversity in Crohn’s But Not in Ulcerative Colitis https://journals.lww.com/ajg/Fulltext/2012/12000/Microbiota_ofDe_NovoPediatric_IBD_.26.aspx . Accessed 17 Feb 21
- Massachusetts General Hospital. IDENTIFYING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MICROBIOME DIVERSITY https://advances.massgeneral.org/digestive-health/article.aspx?id=1090. Accessed 17 Feb 21
- Your Digestive System: 5 Ways to Support Gut Health. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/your-digestive-system-5-ways-to-support-gut-health. Accessed 11/05/2020.