Sure, you’ve probably trusted a gut feeling when deciding something. But do you listen to your gut when it comes to your health?
If you’ve ever wondered why we rely so heavily on our gut—it’s because much of our body’s health and well-being is centered here. This powerhouse serves as a significant link to boosting mental well-being, preventing disease and simply feeling better. So, if you want to improve your health, listen to your gut!
What comprises the gut?
Not simply another word for stomach, your gut houses your entire gastrointestinal system. It’s made up of all the organs in your digestive tract, including your mouth, throat, intestines, stomach and more. About 70 to 80 percent of your immune system also resides here.
Though the gut’s primary function is digestion, a healthy gut—one with the right balance of bacteria—can go a long way toward helping you prevent many diseases and digestive issues.
Benefits of a healthy gut
Living inside your gut is a community of bacteria called the microbiome. Having a well-balanced microbiome has all sorts of benefits. These range from keeping your brain and heart healthy to preventing irritability, mood swings, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, as well as neurological problems. In addition, your microbiome regulates your metabolism, immune function, energy levels and boosts cell repair.
A healthy, balanced gut may also help you with:
- High cholesterol. Bacteria in a healthy gut helps break down cholesterol, lowering your risk of developing heart disease.
- High blood pressure. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and other chemicals produced from a healthy gut may lower your blood pressure.
- Chronic inflammation. The right mix of bacteria in the gut prevents chronic inflammation, lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and more.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
Many factors can affect the balance of bacteria in your gut. A few of these include medications you take, your diet, stress levels and your sleeping patterns. You can often spot the signs of an unhealthy gut by just paying attention to how you feel.
Listen to your gut for clues something isn’t balanced, such as:
- Upset stomach.
- Constant fatigue or trouble sleeping.
- Food intolerances.
- Migraines or recurring headaches.
- Unintentional weight gain or loss.
- Frequent mood changes.
- Extreme sugar cravings.
- Skin irritations, like acne, eczema or psoriasis.
- Autoimmune problems, such as thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes or other conditions.
Adjusting your diet
Luckily, boosting your gut health can be as simple as changing what you eat—and don’t eat. A good place to start is to limit the amount of processed foods and sugar you’re eating. Eating too much of either tends to decrease levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut. A steady diet of unhealthy foods can also increase inflammation, putting you at risk for several diseases and chronic conditions.
You may also want to try adding prebiotics and probiotics to your diet. Getting enough prebiotics and probiotics, either with foods or supplements, can raise levels of good bacteria and help you restore your gut’s healthy balance.
Confused about the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? Prebiotics are carbohydrates or plant fibers healthy bacteria feed on to stay healthy. You’ll find these in fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich foods, such as almonds, apples, bananas, broccoli, oats, onions and chickpeas.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are live, good bacteria that add healthy microbes to your body. You can find these in foods containing live cultures. Some popular examples include yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, tofu, miso, or cheese.
What else can help?
Focusing on what you eat is very important. But it’s not the only way to improve your gut health. Modifying your behaviors can help, too. To make progress, challenge yourself to:
- Exercise regularly. Exercising gets your blood flowing, can speed up digestion and leads to positive changes in your gut’s composition.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water is good for the lining of your intestines and the balance of good bacteria in your gut. It also helps flush toxins from your system.
- Get enough sleep. Sleeping well can reduce stress, helping to keep your gut balanced. Just a few nights of poor sleep can have negative effects, so it’s important to get your nightly rest!
- Limit use of antibiotics. Antibiotics can rid your gut of the good bacteria it needs. It’s a good idea to use them only when necessary. Talk to your doctor about when you might need them.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is harmful to your gut microbiome, in addition to creating a higher risk of heart disease. If you currently smoke, taking steps to quit can greatly improve your gut and overall health.
Your gut health is such an essential part of maintaining your overall health. Learning to listen to your gut will help you improve your physical and mental well-being, protect you from disease and guide you to simply feeling better.
This newsletter is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice.