Why is your gut health important?

How good gut health improves both health and wellbeing

With 72% of the UK population having experienced a gut health issue, it is more likely than not that you may have experienced an issue in the past. But you may be left wondering where do these issues arises from, what exactly is meant by gut health, and why is it so important? We have explored the answers to these sought-after questions in this blog post.

What is gut health?

Firstly, let us answer the question of: what is the function of the gut? Well, the gut’s primary function is that of digestion, absorption of nutrients, and the excretion of waste.

Let’s look further at what a healthy gut looks like. Generally speaking, a higher variety of bacteria can be found in a healthy gut. Healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents like bacteria and viruses can also be found in a healthy gut. This helps with your immune system, your overall health, digestion, and even your mental health.

All aspects of our health our intrinsically linked to our gut health. As it may already be starting to sound, our gut is a very powerful organ and is in fact so important for our health it is often referred to as our ‘second brain’. This is something we will touch on later in this blog post.

Your gut communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones so in keeping our gut healthy we can keep our mental and overall health in check.

How can good gut health help?

Gut health can help with your digestion, immune system, and mental health in the following ways:

Digestion: a healthy digestion system is needed to break down food so it can enter your bloodstream and deliver nutrients to your body. This is where the gut microbiome comes in as it helps in the extremely important task of controlling your digestion. This is executed through digesting foods, communicating with your intestinal cells, and stopping those dreaded bacteria that could cause disease from attaching to your intestinal walls.

Immune system: a healthy gut is also strongly linked to having a healthy immune system. In the Gut health and immunity article written by experts on gut health it is noted that the gut and immune system has evolved to provide effective digestion and defence against toxins that we ingest and bad bacteria.

Essentially, you can’t have one without the other. Good protection against toxins and bad bacteria needs effective digestion and vice versa. This is a contributing factor in the development of chronic diseases that many people are suffering from such as asthma, auto-immune disorders, and food allergies.

Mental health: the health of our brain can be affected by the condition of our gut microbiota. That is where the microorganisms live which include bacteria and archaea. The bacteria that lives in your digestive system includes kinds that help your brain produce neurotransmitters including serotonin which is an antidepressant neurotransmitter. In other words, messages sent to your brain via your nerves are helped by your gut. Hence communication that is modified between your gut microbiota and your brain has been linked to contributing to disorders such as depression but also anxiety and autism.

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Maintaining a healthy gut

Maintaining a healthy gut comes down to a small number of key lifestyle choices which include good nutrition, plenty of exercise, and the right amount of sleep. We have explored below how nutrition, exercise, and sleep can help you to keep your gut healthy.

A healthy gut requires a wide range of microbes but ‘highly processed, lower quality foods’ are playing a big part in decreasing the diversity of our gut microbes as well as disrupting ‘pathogen balance’ which is linked to a higher risk of mental disorders.

What foods can help maintain a healthy gut?

The following foods can massively help to maintain a healthy gut:

Foods rich in fibre: men should be aiming for around 30-38 grams and women should be aiming for around 21-35 grams of fibre a day. Food that are rich in fibre help with your digestive health and regular bowel movements. Foods rich in fibre include wholegrains, nuts, lentils, fruits such as berries, vegetables such as broccoli and avocados.

Foods rich in polyphenols: these plant compounds help to reduce the risk of stress, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure to just name a few benefits. Black and white beans are extremely high in polyphenols and other foods include olives, flaxseeds, herbs and spices, and even tea and coffee.

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Foods that are plant based: extensive research has shown evidence that the Mediterranean diet which is largely focused around plant based foods to reduce risks of disorders, depression, heart diseases and cancers amongst many others. Plant based foods can help to boost your energy and go beyond vegetables and extend to whole grains, fruits, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.

Find out more about foods that contribute to good health in our blog post: Do we really need to take vitamins?  

How can sleep and exercise improve gut health?

Sleep and exercise can massively help to improve your gut health in the following ways: 

Sleep: gut health and sleep are strongly linked to one another as your gut produces the majority of your body’s serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that affects mood and quality of sleep. Research studies have shown that poor sleep has led to an aggravation of digestive symptoms. The ideal number of hours of sleep to aim for is seven to eight in order to power our mental and physical functions as well as develop immunity and a whole host of other health benefits.

To keep your serotonin levels up it is important to be feeding your body a wide range of nutrients, keeping your stress levels reduced, and keeping up regular exercise which we will explore in the section below.

Exercise: regular exercise can help with digestion, strengthen your stomach muscles, and also reduce stress levels. All of these contribute greatly to both our gut health in addition to our overall health and wellbeing. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week which includes strengthening activities that can help with gut health. Great places to start are yoga exercises and ab targeted exercises. Classes can be accessed for free online with YouTube providing video classes such as yoga for gut health. For more guidance and tips on strength exercises including yoga check out our blog: Growing stronger at any age.

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Take care of your gut health

It is important to give your gut the love and attention it truly deserves as it is such a vital organ; helping to sustain overall health and wellbeing. From the day that you are born your gut health is affected by your environment, nutrients your body receives, and your lifestyle. If you have concerns about your gut health, then it is best to seek medical advice from your GP.

If you are interested in learning more about gut health there are plenty of resources available such as health and lifestyle tips and advice on the guts charity website and the Holland and Barrett website has a Gut Health Wellness Hub with a wealth of tips and advice.

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