Your gut health is crucial to your overall health and wellbeing. It also has more far-reaching implications than people often think.
Healthy Directions is here to discuss all things gut health, including ways that you can work to optimize your own. You may be surprised to find out just how much poor gut health can impact you.
What Is Gut Health?
The first thing it’s essential to understand is what gut health is. The term “gut health” refers specifically to the balance and function of the bacteria throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines.
When the GI tract is working together optimally, we can eat and consequently digest food without discomfort. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many people.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that around 70 million people in the United States are dealing with some form of digestive disease.
The main factors that influence our gut health are stomach acid, gastrointestinal flora, and gut immunity. These three components work together to form the complex ecosystem inside the digestive system, known as the gut microbiome. It is estimated that we have between 300 and 500 unique species of gut bacteria in the GI tract at any given time.
While many people think that bacteria are harmful, many species are not only good for us but necessary for maintaining a healthy body and immune system.
Factors That Can Decrease Your Gut Health
Although the body tries its best to stay balanced and healthy, there are ways that its delicate balance can be thrown off. Many of those factors involve things we often consider just part of our everyday lifestyle — sleep, diet, and medications like antibiotics.
Specifically, higher stress levels (especially stress that lasts for an extended period), getting too little or poor sleep, and a diet full of processed or high-sugar foods can impact the balance of the gut microbes and lead to poor gut health.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Suboptimal Gut Health?
When it comes to recognizing the signs and symptoms of suboptimal gut health, the key is looking for chronic or frequently recurring issues. Everyone has experienced some signs of GI tract issues at one point in their life, but when those symptoms persist, it is a good indication that further exploration may be needed.
Mild symptoms and signs of an unhealthy gut include:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loose stools
More severe signs and symptoms that need immediate attention include:
- Black, tarry stools
- Blood in the stool
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Trouble swallowing
- Severe abdominal discomfort
- Severe vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
The Gut-Skin Axis
The entire body is connected, and one of the more interesting ways that present itself is with the gut-skin axis. This relationship between gut health and skin health comes down to the delicate but crucial balance of the body’s microbiome.
When the microbiome present in the gut is disturbed or out of balance, it can create a stress-based response on the skin. That can mean triggering pre-existing skin issues or overall irritation or breakouts.
How You Can Help Manage Your Gut Health at Home
Improving and supporting gut health comes down to focusing on a few different, equally important factors.
While not all of these factors seem related directly to the gut, remember that the body is all interconnected. What happens to one system often directly affects another, so it’s vital to take a whole-body approach to manage your gut health.
Choose the Right Foods
Specifically, focus on eating foods that are full of fiber. Unfortunately, the American diet often doesn’t even come close to including the recommended amount of fiber needed to keep the body healthy.
However, fiber is necessary for helping to rid the body of debris and toxins and gives the gut what it needs to build up the good bacteria that maintain quality gut health.
Fiber-rich foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lentils. Great examples of gut-supporting foods include:
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, kefir, miso, and kombucha
- Whole grains and legumes, which can provide prebiotics for your gut microbiota
- Asparagus and leeks
- Garlic and onions
When you eat, try to be more conscious of how quickly you chew as well. Chewing more slowly can help you more easily digest your food and absorb nutrients.
In addition, make sure that you are drinking plenty of water. Hydration is good for your body, in general, and it can help promote healthier, more easy digestion as well.
Get Better Sleep
Sleep is often last on the list of priorities, but chronic sleep-related issues can also trigger or compound problems with gut health. Try to address your sleep hygiene to help you get better sleep — develop a bedtime routine, keep your phone in another room, and minimize noises and distractions.
Manage Your Stress Level
Physical and psychological stress can impact every facet of our lives, from the physical to the mental. Regarding gut health, stress, depression, and anxiety can trigger multiple digestive issues like heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.
While there is no easy fix for stress, meditation and counseling can be effective at calming your gastrointestinal tract.
Exercise is another way to help manage your gut health. Activity helps increase and maintain peristalsis, the intestinal muscle contractions that help us digest and pass food. It can also help us maintain a healthy weight, decreasing the risk of developing certain obesity-related digestive issues.
Gut health involves so much more than what you put in your body. Focusing on your gut health can help you decrease your GI symptoms while also optimizing your overall health and wellbeing. Remember, the entire body is connected. You can’t treat one body system in isolation; it requires the whole body to improve your health.
For all of your questions about health and wellness, trust the experts at Healthy Directions. We’d be honored to help you find your best path to better health and walk with you every step of the way.