What is gut health?
The gut refers to the 9m long passage from your mouth to your rectum. We explore why it's health is so important for your overall wellbeing.
The gut is essential for human health. No doubt about it.
It transports, digests and absorbs nutrients from our food, which provides us with energy and other vital substances, before excreting waste matter and microbes that have come to the natural end of their life.
In fact, your poo contains more microorganisms than stars in the sky. Magical isn't it?
Beyond digestion and removing waste, the gut microbiota has an incredibly important and intrinsic role in processes and systems far beyond digestion alone.
The health of the gut is linked to:
the production of neurotransmitters that influence mood
The regulation of hormones such as oestrogen
And that's just a few of its functions.
The trillions of bacteria that reside within our gut compose our gut microbiota. And they have an essential role in our overall health and wellbeing.
WHAT IS A HEALTHY GUT?
In very simple terms, a healthy gut has:
A diverse and plentiful array of bacteria and other microorganisms.
Note: When the gut microbiota ecosystem is out of balance, it is referred to as ‘dysbiosis’. Dysbiosis has been associated with certain chronic conditions.
A well-functioning gut epithelium.
Note: The epithelium is a single layer of cells that lines the gut.
It acts as a protective barrier to regulate substances that should be moving in and out of the gut.
This is where most of the immune system is located that helps to fight off infections and viruses.
SUPPORT YOUR MICROBIOME WITH THESE TIPS
When it comes to supporting our gut microbiome the key word is diversity. This is because a diverse microbiome appears to be most beneficial to health. The easiest way to help microbiome diversity is to embrace a diet rich in lots of different foods.
The most helpful foods to focus on are those containing plant fibres. So, eating as may foods from the plant kingdom as you can is a great strategy. Vegetables, salad items, nuts, seeds, pulses, legumes and whole grains such as oats and brown rice are great.
Another good rule of thumb is to think about the range of colours from these plant foods too. Think of the term ‘eat a rainbow’ when planning your food shopping.
When it comes to supporting a healthy and diverse microbiome, our lifestyle - or the way we live our lives - plays a really important role. Probably two of the biggest lifestyle influencers here are sleep and stress.
Scientists have made correlations between both lack of sleep and high stress with a reduction in the all-important diversity needed for a healthy gut microbiome.
Finding ways to improve our resilience to stress and encourage good quality sleep should ultimately be supportive. And meditation, yoga, breathwork and simply being in nature have all been shown to be helpful here.