The gut microbiome influences different systems throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system and immune system, and is immensely important for human health. Research has even unmasked a gut-brain connection, indicating that your gut health affects your mental health. Below, we've outlined a few ways to identify an unhealthy gut along with how to improve gut health.
The human gut hosts trillions of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiota. They inhabit the gastrointestinal (GI) tract as it provides a supportive low-oxygen and nutrient-rich environment. The gut bacteria actively participate in food metabolisms, such as the breakdown of carbohydrates and the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).
And that's not all. They are also involved in the maturation of immune cells and the maintenance of intestinal barriers. With that, it's safe to say that a healthy gut microbiome is essential for good immune function, effective digestion, a healthy brain and heart, and good overall health.
Certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and beans, encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. These foods have plenty of fiber that our body cannot digest and instead serve as a food source for gut microbes. High-fiber foods not only promote good bacteria but also hinder the growth of disease-causing bacteria in the gut.
The prebiotic fiber is broken down by gut bacteria into a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate, which stabilizes your intestinal barrier, thereby preventing a leaky gut. An impaired intestinal barrier causes chronic inflammation by allowing bacterial products such as lipopolysaccharide endotoxins into the bloodstream. A leaky gut is one of the risk factors for digestive problems like heartburn and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn's disease.
To improve your gut health, increase your intake of high-fiber foods, such as onions, bananas, berries, beans, peas, asparagus, spinach, artichokes, leek, whole grains, and broccoli. It has been shown that brassica-family veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage) support the growth of beneficial intestinal microbiota, which then suppress the microbes linked to health conditions like ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. It has also been shown that adopting a vegetarian diet lowers the risk of heart problems, weight gain, and metabolic diseases associated with intestinal inflammation.
Researchers involved in the American Gut Project found that people who consumed more than 30 kinds of produce during the week had a more diverse microbiome than those who ate less than ten types. A greater variety of produce provides a greater assortment of fibers, starch, and other nutrients, supporting the growth of a wider variety of beneficial bacteria. This is why it's so important to diversify your diet, ideally with prebiotic-rich foods.
Fermented foods (also known as probiotics) contain an abundance of good live bacteria, particularly lactobacilli bacteria. You probably already know about yogurt, but other prebiotic foods you should consume include sourdough bread, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. These foods can restore gut health by bringing the gut bacteria up to healthy levels.
A probiotic supplement can also be used to enhance gut health. However, more research is needed to confirm if probiotic supplements can help everyone's gut health. There is greater evidence to support the notion that these supplements are more beneficial in restoring a disturbed microbiome in individuals with specific health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and diarrhea associated with antibiotic use.
Moreover, due to poor regulation of the supplement industry, it has been seen that the label on the bottles does not match what is present in the probiotic supplement. Also, since most probiotic supplements do not contain strains that are abundantly present within the intestine, there is a high possibility that the probiotic bacteria from these sources will not stay and colonize the gut to impact your health positively. In healthy adults, these supplements don't cause any harmful effects; however, in the case of immunocompromised persons, more caution needs to be practiced, and medical advice should be sought.
In light of current research findings, it is believed that your gut health benefits more from increased consumption of fermented foods than taking supplementary pills.
Throw on those running shoes and go for a run! Exercise has been shown to boost gut microbiome diversity, raise beneficial bacteria, and stabilize intestinal barriers. Researchers found that high-intensity and longer workouts positively affected gut diversity the most.
It is becoming increasingly evident that exercise is one of the major modifiers of gut health, along with diet. Exercising brings about homeostatic and physiological changes in the body; some gut bacteria are sensitive and responsive to these changes.
Exercise can also amplify the number of beneficial microbial species and diversify your gut flora. For example, research suggests that exercise promotes the growth of a certain bacterial species that produce butyrate. Butyrate plays a crucial role in repairing gut lining and preventing intestinal inflammation, thereby protecting individuals from diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and insulin resistance. Exercise-stimulated changes in the gut microbiome can also help people lose weight and enhance metabolic functioning. As expected, a healthy body weight can reduce GI problems.
The negative consequences of habits like smoking and alcohol on the human body are well documented. Alcohol intake can adversely affect your gut health by impairing the intestinal barrier, affecting the movement of food through the digestive system, and encouraging the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. These alterations can give rise to GI problems, such as constipation, bloating, diarrhea, etc.
An occasional glass of red wine, however, is not too bad. It contains polyphenols, powerful antioxidants, which prevent inflammation. However, chronic and excessive intake can do the opposite and cause gastritis (inflammation of the gut), leading to heartburn, ulcers, GI cancers, chronic liver disease, and bacterial infections.
Because of the gut-brain axis, emotional stress can wreak havoc on your gut health. It can reduce the levels of an important beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus, and lead to a disrupted microbiome. Managing your stress levels is essential to improve gut health and minimize GI problems like heartburn.
Signals from the gut also travel to the brain and affect its production of neurotransmitters. Research shows that mood disorders (such as depression and anxiety) are intricately linked to poor gut health.
Try relaxation therapies like meditation to protect both your mental health and your gut.
Poor dental hygiene is not conducive to a healthy digestive tract. In fact, poor oral hygiene is often implicated in health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. It allows oral bacteria into the gut, alters the microbiota through a process known as ectopic colonization. This can hinder the gut's ability to ward off infections and may trigger an immune response that weakens the GI tract.
So brush and floss your teeth regularly, not just for a healthy smile but also for a healthy gut!
We already know that sweeteners can increase blood sugar and raise the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin and aspartame, have also been found to transform healthy bacteria (such as E. Coli) in the gut into disease-causing bacteria, which can then invade and destroy the intestinal wall. The harmful bacteria can enter the bloodstream, causing septicemia. Invasion of lymph nodes can result in other systemic infections.
Sweeteners also affect biofilm formation, making clusters of bacteria produce more toxic substances and develop lower sensitivity to antibiotic resistance treatment.
While non-sugar sweetener is a convenient everyday alternative, reconsider reaching out for it and instead pick that piece of fruit or honey.
The human body follows an internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which dictates many physiological functions. It regulates various aspects of gastrointestinal physiology, including gastric motility, cellular proliferation, absorption, and digestion.
Sleep deprivation is associated with obesity and increased susceptibility to GI problems like acid reflux, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and GI cancer. Poor sleep also negatively affects your brain, impacting your mood and gut.
Give your tired body the rest it deserves and try to get at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Many factors disturb your gut health, ranging from genes and family history to diet and stress. A disrupted microbiome can have grave repercussions for other organs/systems such as the brain, heart, and immune system. Recognizing an unhealthy gut is the first step towards restoring your microbiome balance and improving your health.
Heartburn, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are all signs that indicate a problem within the gut. Healthy people with a healthy gut should be able to digest food and excrete waste material without much discomfort, as their digestive system physiology is intact.
An imbalanced intestinal environment, called dysbiosis, is incapable of discharging its responsibilities, which include digesting food, absorbing nutrients, storing fat, and maintaining blood sugar. Dysbiosis is a state of low microbial diversity in which the gut is occupied by less beneficial bacteria and more opportunistic ones.
Weight changes can be attributed to this derangement in gut physiology. Weight loss may be due to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), while weight gain can be linked to insulin resistance or overeating (induced by nutrient malabsorption).
A reciprocal relationship exists between the gut and sleep. The gut is responsible for producing most of the body's serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood and sleep-wake cycle. An unhealthy gut can cause insomnia, circadian misalignment, and affective disorders. Sleep conditions like insomnia result in exhaustion and chronic fatigue and severely impact your quality of life.
Research shows a correlation between the intake of prebiotics and sleep quality in humans, further solidifying the link between the gut and sleep.
Processed foods and sugar are major culprits behind the undesired proliferation of bad bacteria and the elimination of good bacteria. This change in gut microbial composition results in sugar cravings (which causes further damage) and also makes a person more susceptible to digestive problems such as a leaky gut.
A high-sugar diet, loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, induces inflammation within the body, leading to health issues like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In addition to raising inflammatory markers, it elevates levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), or substances that harm your cells.
An unhealthy gut can affect your skin and cause conditions such as acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema. That is why everyone says "eat clean" for healthy and clear skin!
One study concluded that 15-20% of people with ulcerative colitis and 25-30% with Crohn's disease would have skin conditions like rosacea. This unique gut-skin connection was demonstrated by a 2012 research study in which a drug they used to treat psoriasis led to decreased disease activity in Crohn’s patients.
This link between the gut and skin has a key mediator: inflammation. Stress and systemic inflammation (such as through an impaired intestinal barrier that leaks the gut bacteria into the bloodstream) destroy the skin's integrity and protective role. It is unable to produce copious amounts of anti-bacterial proteins, which results in weakened defenses and greater vulnerability to skin infections and further inflammation.
Your gut is the site where all food gets processed. Disruption within the gut microbiome will contribute to indigestion and food intolerance. Food intolerance usually manifests as bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Autoimmune diseases, where the body targets its own cells, can be linked to unwanted systemic inflammation. Excessive growth of bad bacteria and impairment of intestinal barriers can trigger the development of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
Additionally, overuse of antibiotics can alter the healthy microbiome in the gut and predispose people to autoimmune diseases. In a nutshell, your gut microbiota has the potential to cause your body's immune system to go haywire.
We host an entire microbial ecosystem in our gut, whose well-being is directly tied to ours.
Due to the multiple roles the gut flora plays, it is no surprise that a healthy gut contributes to good overall health. The gut microbiota primarily helps you digest your food and absorb nutrients that charge your body. Additionally, the gut microbiome has been linked to many other systems–it affects your brain health, your heart, and your body's immune response. By maintaining a healthy and diverse microbiome, you can protect your body from a plethora of conditions such as heart disease, depression, inflammatory bowel syndrome, high body weight, insomnia, etc.
A healthy gut means a healthy you. By focusing on preventative medicine, dietary improvement, and healthy lifestyle choices, you can take charge of your gut health and protect yourself from diseases.
New and exciting ways to monitor gut health are also on the way. Designed with high-quality biometric sensors, the Çava Seat can track your gut health, heart health, fitness progress, and more, without changing your daily routine. Daily bathroom visits provide some of the best information needed to identify gut imbalances and food sensitivities.
By tracking your vitals, body composition, and waste quality the Çava Seat is able to learn over time and make recommendations to help you live a healthier life.
To improve your gut health quickly, try following these evidence-based and research-backed hacks. These measures will help nurture your gut microbiota and improve your overall health and quality of life.
Food items that are a source of prebiotics and probiotics are your gut's best friend. Some foods for a healthy gut include:
All body systems function optimally when you have a healthy gut. Signs of a happy gut are as follows: