We’re often told that diet has the most important role in how well we feel and function day-to-day, but there’s only so much our food can do if our gut is out of whack. Read on to find out why improving our gut health is the ultimate health hack—for immunity, skin, energy, mental health and more.
What does our gut do?
The gut is another word for the gastrointestinal tract or digestive system, but our gut is responsible for so much more than processing food. Almost 70% of our immune system and 90% of serotonin receptors (which are vital to mood stability) are located in the gut—so it makes sense to look after it. Let’s take a look at some common health concerns and how our gut affects them.
How can I improve my digestion?
When our gut microbiota (the community of trillions of bacteria in our intestines) is imbalanced, we can experience symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, excessive gas, abdominal pain and even conditions like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Not all bacteria is bad—we need certain types of bacteria for digestion and defence against pathogens. Fermented foods such as yoghurt and sauerkraut can have a probiotic (stimulating ‘good’ bacteria) effect on the gut, but taking a good quality daily probiotic supplement is the easiest, most direct starting point when it comes to improving digestion.
Are probiotics good for immunity?
When probiotics are ingested, your gut is given a dose of good bacteria to fend off the bad pathogenic bacteria (that can cause illness and disease), reduce inflammation, and rebalance the microbiome so that the immune system can function better. Think about antibiotics—they’re used to treat some bacterial infections but can kill good bacteria too, which is why it’s common to have an upset tummy after taking them. Probiotics help to replenish the good bacteria in the gut so that they can fend off future attacks to our immune system.
Does gut health affect your sleep?
Your gut bacteria influences your circadian rhythms, which are the physical, mental and behavioural changes that respond to light and dark around a 24-hour cycle. At night, your cortisol levels should be at their lowest for good sleep. Inflammation in the gut leads to high levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, which impairs an area of your brain which releases hormones and regulates body temperature. Anything that raises your cortisol at night will stop you from feeling refreshed in the morning.
How does our gut affect our skin?
The connection between our gut and skin microbiomes (known as the gut-skin axis) is so intertwined that skin is often referred to as the ‘mirror to the gut’—a true reflection of how healthy we are on the inside. Studies have shown that dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria) can lead to inflammatory conditions including rosacea, dermatitis and acne, so it’s well worth addressing your gut health before splashing out on expensive serums and creams!
Can gut health affect mental health?
One of the most concrete areas of research in terms of gut health has been on the gut-brain axis. Changes in intestinal bacteria have a strong association to mental well-being, with inflammation in the gut being linked to anxiety and depression. This connection is a two-way street, with raised cortisol in turn causing inflammation. The most common analogy is the feeling of ‘butterflies in your stomach’—now you know that it’s not just in your head.
Author: Lara Spiller