Importance of Gut HealthApr 17, 2023
The importance of gut health to our overall health has been known for quite some time.
The links between our brain health and inflammation and a healthy gut are two key areas that I come back to personally when things begin to feel off both mentally and physically in my own health journey. Let’s face it, we all go through seasons where we may not be as dialed in to a healthy diet or lifestyle as we know we should be. For me personally that tends to start with a little more leniency in my nutrition choices. It starts innocent enough. Having chips every now and then, choosing to eat a dinner roll when we are out for lunch or having dessert with dinner. Independently these choices are pretty benign and when taken in isolation don’t have much effect on my body.
However, sometimes it is a slippery slope. That one or two indiscretions begin to lead to having bread or a wrap with dinner every night, including more dairy daily when I know it won’t end well. And all of a sudden I recognize the signs that I have done myself a disservice. I struggle to wake up in the morning. I am not as clear mentally as I normally am and the struggle with depression comes on full-force. In addition, my joints are swollen and more painful than normal. It feels like my whole body is just out of sorts and not functioning as well as it normally does.
It can be hard when you know that your hormones are a little wacky due to perimenopause. It allows for the “excuse” that I am just getting older and it is part of the process. However, if I stop and really evaluate the choices I have been making I can make a clear relationship between my poor nutrition choices and how I am feeling, both mentally and physically.
There are clear connections, and thankfully science provides some insight to how this works.
The gut is an essential part of the body that not only helps in the digestion of food but also has a significant impact on overall health. In recent years, researchers have focused on the link between gut health and inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response of the body's immune system to fight off infections and other harmful stimuli, but chronic inflammation can have a detrimental effect on the body, leading to various health problems.
The gut is home to trillions of bacteria collectively known as the gut microbiome. These bacteria play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy gut, but they also have a far-reaching impact on our overall health. They help us digest our food, support our immune system, and even influence our mood and behavior. A healthy gut microbiome is necessary for the optimal functioning of the immune system, which helps fight off infections and other harmful stimuli.
However, when the gut microbiome is out of balance, it can lead to inflammation in the gut, which can have far-reaching effects on the body. For example, an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut can lead to inflammation, which can damage the gut lining and cause "leaky gut syndrome." In this condition, undigested food particles, toxins, and other harmful substances can leak into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response and causing inflammation throughout the body.
Chronic inflammation in the gut can lead to various health problems, including autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. Inflammation can also have an impact on mental health, leading to depression and anxiety.
There is also a direct connection between the gut and the brain. The gut, or the gastrointestinal tract, is often referred to as the "second brain" due to the large number of nerve cells it contains. The gut and the brain are connected through a bidirectional communication pathway known as the gut-brain axis. The gut communicates with the brain via the vagus nerve, a large nerve that runs from the brainstem to the abdomen. The brain also communicates with the gut through the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.
Studies have shown that changes in the gut microbiome can affect the functioning of the gut-brain axis. For example, certain gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters that can affect mood and behavior leading to depression and anxiety as well as memory, attention and decision making. Alterations in the gut microbiome have also been linked to various neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and autism spectrum disorder.
Given the importance of gut health for overall health and well-being, it is important to take steps to maintain a healthy gut. One of the most effective ways is through your diet. Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation in the gut. On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can lead to inflammation.
Probiotics and prebiotics can also play a role in supporting gut health and reducing inflammation. Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the balance of the gut microbiome, while prebiotics are fibers that feed the good bacteria in the gut. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi are rich in probiotics, while foods such as garlic, onions, and bananas are rich in prebiotics.
Other lifestyle factors can also play a role in supporting gut health and reducing inflammation, such as getting enough sleep, managing stress, and reducing exposure to toxins. Regular exercise can also help reduce inflammation in the body.
What if you have tried all of these efforts and still find that you haven’t restored your gut health? Sometimes there are other factors in our diet that may be causing altered gut health. Through years of exploration, research and elimination diets I have learned that I have issues with gluten and dairy. My gluten sensitivity is not as severe as someone with celiac disease, but prolonged, repeated consumption aggravates the sensitivity. In addition, consumption of dairy for me causes joint swelling, headaches and depression symptoms.
Some studies have suggested that a diet high in gluten and dairy can contribute to inflammation in the gut, which can damage the lining of the intestine and lead to conditions like leaky gut syndrome. This can allow harmful bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream and trigger an immune response, potentially leading to chronic inflammation throughout the body.
It's important to note that not everyone has a negative reaction to gluten or dairy, and both can be part of a healthy and balanced diet for many people. If you suspect that gluten or dairy may be contributing to digestive symptoms or other health issues, it's important to talk to a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action, including if an elimination diet is the right step for you.
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