It feels like the health and fitness news of the day regularly features an update, reference, or link to a recent study on our gut health, specifically how our gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in our overall health, how we feel, and function.
What is Your Microbiome?
Our gut microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, fungi, yeast, and viruses, also called microbiota or microbes. This incredible ecosystem is housed in our gastrointestinal tract, mainly within our small and large intestines. Even though our internal microbiome is formed in infancy, it can change over time due to diet, medications, stress levels, sleep, and environmental exposures.
How Does Your Microbiome Affect Your Health?
Although the microbes in our gut are microscopic, they significantly impact our everyday health and wellness. Research shows that about 70% of our immune system lies adjacent to our gut and intricately functions with our gut microbiome. Achieving balance and diversity within our microbiome is essential for physical and mental health. Our microbiome is very complex, but studies show a clear link between gut health and:
· Gastrointestinal Disorders
· Our Immune System
· Endocrine Disorders
· Cardiovascular Disease
· Autoimmune Disease
· Mental Health
7 Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Gut.
The old adage, “Listen to Your Gut,” rings true. People often dismiss signs and symptoms that their gut is not functioning well. Listen to your body. Gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and reflux reveal an unhealthy gut. Here are some physical signs that could signal it may be time for a closer evaluation of your gut health:
1. You often have an upset stomach.
2. You have intense food cravings, especially for sugar.
3. You frequently feel tired.
4. You have skin irritations or rashes.
5. You have unexplained weight gain or loss.
6. You have food intolerances.
7. You get frequent headaches.
7 Good Habits for A Healthy Gut.
Put gut health at the top of your wellness list. These habits can help you achieve that goal:
1. Diversity is key. Eat a varied whole-food diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Filling your plate with colorful plant-based foods gives your gut the variety it needs.
2. Consume prebiotics. Foods high in fiber help feed the beneficial bacteria and strengthen the gut. Add foods such as asparagus, onions, bananas, garlic, whole grains, and artichokes to your diet.
3. Eat fermented foods. These probiotic-rich foods have long been considered beneficial for gut health. These live microorganisms in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and miso help boost and support the healthy bacteria in your microbiome.
4. Manage stress. Stress is inevitable, but learning how to manage it is critical. Why does stress impact the gut so profoundly? Because the gut-brain axis is a bi-directional communication between the brain’s cognitive and emotional activity and the microbiome (via the vagus nerve).
5. Get your sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation changes the microbiome and causes tissue inflammation and insulin resistance, which can be a precursor for metabolic health issues. Aim to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. You will thank me!
6. Move your body. Regular exercise benefits many areas of our body, including our microbiome. Studies show that regular exercise positively impacts our gut health.
7. Avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners. Research shows artificial sweeteners cause dysbiosis - an imbalance in our gut bacteria. They have also been found to cause increased gas, bloating, inflammation, and problems with glucose intolerance. For better gut health, avoid them altogether.
The microbiome is complex. While research is ongoing, it is clear that nutrition and lifestyle factors significantly impact the health of your gut and overall well-being. What we do
know: it’s never too late to start listening to your gut.
Meghan Punda, NP, is a nurse practitioner and functional nutritionist focusing on women’s health. With a passion for identifying and treating the root cause of health issues, Meghan works one-on-one with her clients to develop personalized dietary and wellness plans to fit each person’s lifestyle so they can lead a healthier, happier, more balanced life.
· How to Improve Your Gut Health, Forbes.com, by Kate Bratskeir, Contributor; Medically Reviewed by Janese Laster, M.D. Gastroenterology/Nutrition/Obesity Medicine/Bariatric Endoscopist. June 13, 2023.
· What is the Gut-Brain Axis? PsychologyToday.com.