Gut health is a hot topic in wellness over the last decade and has only been growing stronger in interest. From nutrient absorption to gut bacteria, we’ll break down the concept of healing your gut by diving into why it matters and ways to improve your gut health.
Gut health refers to the health of your entire digestive system, whose major function is to break down food and absorb nutrients in your body. The gut, or digestive system, includes your mouth, stomach, intestines, and rectum.
Gut health is highly important in the overall health of the body. Much of the connection between the gut and other body systems stems from the gut-brain axis. This axis is a communication network between the nervous systems in the gut and the brain, linking emotional and cognitive functions with the functions of the gut. Via this axis, the gut is linked to all systems in the body, giving healing your gut health increased relevance to total body health.
Nutrients are needed in every cell and process in the body. Since the gut is the main source for nutrient absorption in the body, supporting the gut’s nutrient absorbing pathways is essential.
The gut is also host to trillions of gut microbes including bacteria and yeasts. We’ll discuss further how the gut flora play a major role in the health of the gut and body overall.
When considering a probiotic supplement to support your gut health, it’s helpful to first know how probiotics can be helpful in order to choose one that is effective. Probiotics are live bacteria in supplements or fermented foods. The right balance of gut bacteria and yeasts can keep unhealthy microbes from overgrowing, strengthen the gut lining, and enhance the immune system.
The types of bacteria classified as probiotics consist of those already beneficially present in the human gut and therefore work to support balance of gut bacteria levels. Two of the most abundant healthy bacteria in the human gut are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These two particular species of bacteria are some of the most promising in supporting a healthy digestive system.
Care/of’s Probiotic Blend supplement contains per capsule 8 billion CFU in total of three particular strains — Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and Lactobacillus acidophilus LA-5 which have been shown to colonize the gut with helpful bacteria, stimulation of immune responses.
In addition to supplements, probiotic bacteria and yeasts can also be found in fermented foods and beverages. Fermented products are defined in a 2019 review article as “foods or beverages produced through controlled microbial growth, and the conversion of food components through enzymatic action.” These products include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, natto, and fermented vegetable foods like raw sauerkraut, fermented pickles, and kimchi.
Depending on the desired outcome, fermentation creates beneficial end products that may consist of healthy live bacteria and yeasts, as in yogurt and kombucha, as well as metabolites like organic acids and vitamins. A 2021 study showed that a diet high in fermented foods increased microbial diversity, a characteristic that strengthens and protects the health of the gut.
Microbial diversity has known positive associations with protection against gut disorders and enhancing the immune system, including helping to establish immunoregulation in the first few years of life.
Add a serving or two of various fermented foods daily to support the health and healing of your gut.
Diets rich in fiber have a multitude of physiological benefits, especially related to gut health. Higher fiber diets are defined as a diet that meets or exceeds the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for dietary fiber set by the United States institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM defines this for female and male adults between the ages of 19-50 years old to be 25g and 38g, respectively. However, most Americans consume only half the levels of recommended daily fiber intake.
Fiber is considered a non-digestible food substance that bypasses digestion and is fermented by microbes in the large intestine. Fiber supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria and aids in forming normal bowel movements. Regular bowel movements are an essential process in the body for elimination of waste, hormone regulation, and cholesterol control.
Increased fiber can also increase microbial diversity and improve gut appetite regulation driven by interactions between the gut and hormones.
Meeting the recommendations for a higher fiber diet can be simple by incorporating more plant foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts and seeds in your diet. Food-based supplements like Care/of’s Chia-Flax mix contains 4g per serving and can tastes great when mixed with protein powder or mixed into yogurt or oatmeal.
Dietary polyphenols are additional compounds naturally occurring plants that can have profound effects on gut health. Due to their prebiotic-like effect, specific polyphenols have been shown to have a dual benefit in supporting favorable gut microbiota. Polyphenols can both inhibit the growth of pathogens as well increase the growth of beneficial strains such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
Common food and beverage sources of polyphenols include fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, spices, tea, coffee, and wine. Polyphenols are responsible for giving the color, flavor, and aroma to these foods. Many polyphenols are also powerful antioxidants which protect against oxidative stress in the body. Herbal botanicals, like those in Care/of’s available herbal supplements, are also rich in polyphenols.
A diet rich in minimally processed plant foods, but not necessarily to the exclusion of animal foods, has purported benefits on increasing gut health. In particular, plant-based diets plentiful in fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, polyphenols, and prebiotics. These plant compounds are known to positively impact overall health through their beneficial interactions with the gut microbiome. Particularly, these plant-based compounds can enhance levels of specific health gut microbes and increase microbial diversity.
Of note, those who choose to be exclusively plant-based should take particular care to obtain adequate nutrients of concern in plant-based eating, including Vitamin B12 and iron.
Moderate exercise improves body composition and leads to beneficial effects on gut microbial composition and diversity. Endurance exercise has been shown to exhibit positive effects on gut microbial microbiota, provided that the exercise intensity is controlled.
Elite athletes have been shown to have increased gut microbial diversity and levels of microbes that produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), substances that feed cells of the gut lining and increase gut lining strength.
Rodent studies suggest that the gut microbiota may influence performance, possibly through specific microbes that may enhance lactic acid utilization.
Through the gut-brain axis already described, gut health and stress have a reciprocal relationship. Cortisol, often known as the “stress hormone”, can disturb the balance of gut flora and decrease SCFAs and even tryptophan synthesis.
On the other hand, enhancing gut health, especially through certain probiotic bacteria, can have favorable changes in stress response in the body. In multiple clinical studies, probiotics have been shown to enhance resilience to stress and improved emotional responses.
Diets high in processed foods are associated with worse gut health and metabolic health markers, as these diets are often lacking in the diverse beneficial plant compounds such as polyphenols and fibers, as described above. Higher sugar intake in particular is associated with decreased microbial balance, reduced gut barrier function, and decreased immune regulation.
Processed sugars are sugars not in the context of the fiber and beneficial compounds found in whole and minimally processed plant foods. When consumed in the highly refined form and especially along with other processed foods, sugar can promote the growth of undesired gut bacteria and yeast.
Gut health is important for total body health, especially through the interplay of the gut-brain axis. While stress, processed foods and sugar, excessive exercise and other aspects of life can negatively impact gut health, there are plenty of natural ways to improve gut health. Probiotic supplements and fermented foods provide beneficial microbes and their metabolites to the gut. Plant based foods and compounds enhance gut bacterial balance. And regular exercise and reducing stress levels can support gut flora equilibrium.