If you spend any time in natural health circles, you may have heard the term, ‘gut health’. It’s become somewhat of a buzzword, and for good reason. The state of your gut affects everything from your mental health to your weight to your risk for developing chronic diseases. It’s hard to imagine how what lies in your torso might be responsible for your recent crying jag, or how eating kimchi could help reduce that chronic pain in your fingers, so let’s explore. What is gut health and why is gut health important?
What is gut health?
Your gut is made up of trillions of organisms, which we collectively refer to as the microbiome. This includes bacteria, fungi, viruses and a myriad of other microscopic organisms. Each of these organisms has it’s role to play, including the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, and keeping each other in check. Diversity matters, and nowhere is that more important than in your microbiome. As long as these organisms exist in their natural state of balance, you have a healthy gut.
In our modern society that delicate balance is becoming increasingly rare. Many factors deregulate our microbiome, including the toxins we regularly put in and on our bodies, stress, our food choices, the hormones we expose ourselves to and the multiple courses of antibiotics that we consume over our lifetimes. One course of antibiotics destroys both the bad and the good bacteria housed in your gut. Those good bacteria will replenish themselves, but it could take weeks to months to reach pre-antibiotic levels. Without the good bacteria to keep the bad organisms at bay, the bad organisms grow rapidly. With each course of antibiotics you are left with a smaller diversity of organisms and your gut is slightly worse off.
Why is gut health important?
When your gut becomes overpopulated with unhelpful organisms, the entire eco-system of your body is shifted out of balance. Just like we humans eat and excrete, the organisms in your gut do the same. What’s excreted gets sent through the walls of your gut into your bloodstream where it circles through your body. If what’s excreted isn’t healthy for you, you’ll feel it.
Further, the different varieties of organisms in the gut really does matter. A study on twins where one was obese and one was lean found that the twins had different gut profiles. Specifically, the obese twins had a lower diversity of organisms in their microbiome.
So you spent the majority of your twenties on birth control pills and you never hold back from a plate of cookies. You’re struggling with weight and you have a variety of aches and pains that never seem to go away. You’re thinking that it may be a gut health issue and want to get started. But how?
How to fix your gut
Consuming probiotics is an easy and effective way to re-establish a colony of healthy bacteria in your gut. The best way to do this is by consuming fermented food. Foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and olives provide a great variety of healthy probiotic strains in the form that our ancestors would have consumed them. One cup of sauerkraut contains up to 28 different probiotic strains, more than most commercial probiotic supplements.
The state of your gut plays an important role in the health of your entire body. Though our good bacteria are often under assault by our lifestyle choices, consuming fermented foods with high levels and varieties of probiotic strains can help to re-establish the delicate balance that exists within.
To continue learning, read our article What Is My Microbiome?
Or return to the Gut Health Blog main page for more articles about gut health, probiotics and fermented foods.