People are becoming more and more aware of the importance of gut health and the benefits it can have on your overall health. The overall health of your gut can impact your brain, metabolism, immunity and more. I, as a dietitian who cares a lot about how food impacts our health, am fascinated by the role food has on our gut, which directly impacts so much about our physical and emotional health. Let’s first go over what the microbiome and microbiota are.
What are the Microbiota and microbiome?
While the terms “microbiome” and “microbiota” are often used interchangeably, the microbiota refers to the trillions of good and bad microorganisms that make up the microbiome. The human microbiome consists of 10 times more cells than the rest of your body combined. These microorganisms include over 1000 species such as bacteria, viruses, fungi. What each individuals gut is made up of varies between each person and depends on different factors such as diet and lifestyle. It used to be said that gut health was largely based on DNA and what you inherited from your family. However, researchers have found significantly less of a connection in gut health between relatives versus those not related but living in the same household. This suggests the important role overall lifestyle may have on the microbiome.
Benefits of a Healthy Gut
Now that we have some background knowledge regarding the microbiome, let’s discuss some of the many benefits that maintaining a healthy gut can have on an individual.
- Mood and Mind: Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that is said regulate mood, appetite, memory, and sleep. Ninety percent of serotonin is located in the gut, meaning poor gut health can influence all of these different factors. The gut and brain also happen to be linked by the vagus nerve. What happens in your gut, could be influencing how your mind is functioning.
- Manages Weight: Studies are showing that gut health may influence obesity and gut flora. Researchers found that children who were obese, had less Bifidobacteria in their gut flora and more FIrmicutes, being opposite for those who were considered a healthy weight.
- Reduced Inflammation: Inflammation can be the beginning of many diseases including heart disease. New evidence is finding that gut bacteria can actually trigger this inflammation.
- Improved Digestion: Good gut health is crucial in maintaining proper digestive health and can even help the body digest foods that the stomach and intestine would not have been able to otherwise.
What Causes an Unhealthy Gut?
- Lack of exercise and chronic stress: This causes an imbalance in the gut which can hurt the gut barrier and increase the risk of developing diseases.
- Poor diet: A poor diet that consists of high amounts of sugar, starch, and hydrogenated fats, can increase risk of disease, negatively affect a person’s mood, and promote the bad bacteria.
Ways to Alter Microbiome and Maintain a Healthy Gut
Eat whole foods, mostly plant-based, and avoid packaged and processed foods.
Eat enough foods rich in fiber.
Reduce sugar intake.
Be sure to eat lots of “color” such as fruits and veggies.
Recent studies suggest that exercise can change the gut microbiome in just 6 weeks, without changing diet.
Get enough sleep:
Researchers have found that poor sleep habits can negatively change the gut microbiome. Those who had better sleep habits, had higher amounts of the good bacteria in their gut and better cognitive flexibility.
Prebiotics and Probiotics:
Probiotics: These are considered the good bacteria and the live microorganisms themselves. They can help balance the gut microbiota.
Examples: Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. Plantarum, L. Casei, B. Infantis, Bifidobacterium Bifidum
*These types of bacteria can be found in yogurt, miso, kimchee, and supplements.
A few supplements recommended by Todays Dietitian are:
- Helps reduce bloating, cramps, and IBS symptoms.
- Helps those with antibiotic associated diarrhea.
- One of the most popular brands and helps to treat and prevent diarrhea.
- Helps with antibiotic associated diarrhea, travelers’ diarrhea, and chronic diarrhea.
- Aids with inflammation.
- Helps with symptoms of IBS, ulcerative, colitis, and pouchitis.
Prebiotics: These are what promote the good bacteria and their growth.
Examples: Garlic, onions, lentils, chickpeas, bananas, grapefruit, oats, bran, almonds, flaxseeds, and leeks
Benefits: Prebiotics and probiotics work together. Prebiotics support the probiotics. Probiotics and prebiotics improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, and some types of diarrhea.
Hopefully you now feel more informed on gut health and the importance it has on your overall health. If you want to help tailoring your eating to improve gut health, contact our Kelowna-based dietitian and nutritionist.
This post was written by 3rd year dietetics student Cassidy Blackwin.