Gut health, microbiome, gut bacteria, microbes. You have probably heard these terms popping up everywhere. Gut health is continuing to emerge as a leading marker in our health; and it’s not just a fad. With continued science-based research, doctors and scientists are discovering WHY and HOW gut health is linked to our overall wellness.
What does gut health even mean?
Gut, is short for gastrointestinal tract, which is where your food is processed and digested. Digestion begins in your mouth before continuing in your esophagus, stomach, and finally your small and large intestine. 200 trillion tiny bacteria and microbes live along our digestive tract! These 200 trillion bacterial microbes are considered the core-disease fighting systems of the human body.
Research has shown that 70% of our immune system lives in our gut.
We all know those people who seem to be sick, or under the weather every time we see them. A contributing factor may be sub-optimal gut function. Your gut not only helps boost your immune system but also helps properly digest foods, produce essential vitamins, combats harmful organisms, and reduces inflammation in the body.
The good and the bad
There are good gut bacteria, and then there are bad gut bacteria. What we don’t want is an overgrowth of the bad bacteria. An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Have you ever struggled with constipation, heartburn, acid reflux, or bloating? According to The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 61% of Americans are struggling with one or more of these symptoms. These are all potential signs of an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria.
A bad gut microbiome may not only lead to gut diseases, but research is finding correlations or contributions to these diseases as well:
● High Cholesterol
● High Blood Pressure
● Heart Disease
Basically, we don’t want the bad guys to win! We need to start eliminating the overgrowth of bad gut bacteria and start building up good bacteria.
How do we get more good bacteria?
1. Eat Probiotics & Prebiotics
Probiotics provide good, live bacteria and yeasts for your gut. Probiotics can be very effortless to fit into your routine as they are found in food. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and yogurt (with no added sugar) are the optimal sources of probiotics.
* Aim for 1 billion to 10 billion live bacteria cultures, or roughly 5 servings of probiotic rich foods a week.
Prebiotics are food for probiotics and good bacteria. Eating foods high in prebiotics allow the good gut bacteria to flourish and grow. Asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, bananas, sweet potatoes, and berries are all great sources of prebiotics.
* Aim for 5-20 grams of prebiotics a day.
2. Eat More Fiber
Females should be obtaining roughly 25 grams of fiber a day and males should be getting approximately 38 grams of fiber a day. The average American does not even come close to the recommendations and consumes just 15 grams/day. Studies have shown that the more fiber individuals consume directly correlates with an increase in anti-inflammatory acids in the gut. Fiber also allows the good gut bacteria to flourish and multiply. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, oatmeal, brown rice, peas, lentils, broccoli, & potatoes.
* Aim to include a good source of fiber at each meal.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep distributions and poor quality of sleep has been shown to negatively impact your gut microbiome. Up to 90% of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for sleep, happiness, mood regulation, and memory is stored in the gut. This link could be a possible explanation for the connection but more scientific research is currently needed to further understand this link.
* Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep
4. Limit Artificial Sugars
In the same way good gut bacteria feeds off of prebiotics, bad gut bacteria feeds off of foods containing artificial sweeteners. Think of it like this: Every time you consume an Oreo, a bad bacterium is growing strong and rejoicing! Limiting processed foods with artificial sugar such as baked goods, candy, cookies, and sweetened beverages is a great start towards reducing bad gut bacteria. Foods such as BBQ sauce, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, yogurt, granola, chocolate milk all seem “healthy” yet may be loaded with added sugars depending on the variety you choose. Check how many grams of sugar (especially added sugar) are in each serving.
* Aim for consuming less than 25 grams of added sugar a day for women and less than 37 grams for men
5. Manage Stress
Poor coping mechanisms to stress can negatively impact your gut health as well. If you struggle with anxiety or high stress in your life, talk with a psychologist to find ways to help you cope with certain stressors in your life. The International Journal of Preventive Medicine has shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy, exercise, yoga, and meditation are positive ways to reduce stress (and improve sleep quality), thereby improving gut health.
* Aim to include at least one stress reduction activity each day (even if it’s only 2-3 minutes of quiet deep breathing!)
As you can see, gut health has many benefits, but it’s also very multi-faceted. Improving gut health can help individuals, but also significantly help reduce health burdens across a population. Like many elements of health (physical, mental, and emotional) it is not optimally improved by a single health behavior or health program. It is optimally improved through an understanding of how many health and lifestyle behaviors interact and build on each other. Health programs that can concurrently help individuals improve across multiple areas of their health and lifestyle (like those provided by HBD) can provide significantly better value than singular focus disease management programs.
For the gut: Nutrition, sleep, and stress management all play a significant role in positive, or negative health outcomes. Let us lean toward the positive side by taking small steps to implement the 5 tips above. An understanding of each of these elements, coupled with action, could not only prevent gut disease, but could elevate and enhance your overall health if you choose.
Post contributed by Coach Meredith.
Check this out if you want more information or to do some additional research:
Article Information Sources:
Am. J. Gastroenterol 2018 Oct 15;[EPub Ahead of Print], CV Almario, ML Ballal, WD Chey, C Nordstrom, D Khanna, BMR Spiegel
Yano, Jessica M. and Yu, Kristie and Donaldson, Gregory P. and Shastri, Gauri G. and Ann, Phoebe and Ma, Liang and Nagler, Cathryn R. and Ismagilov, Rustem F. and Mazmanian, Sarkis K. and Hsiao, Elaine Y. (2015) Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, 161 (2). pp. 264-276. ISSN 0092-8674. PMCID PMC4393509.
Anderson J, Carroll I, Azcarate-Peril M, et al. A preliminary examination of gut microbiota, sleep, and cognitive flexibility in healthy older adults. Sleep Med 2017;38:104-107.