Your Beautiful Body

Following Your Gut: The Importance of Digestive Health

The body's second brain

Nothing is more uncomfortable or ruins a day quite like poor digestion. Gas, bloating, and constipation aren’t really table talk but maybe they should be. Your gut-health indicates far more than just what’s going on in your stomach!

The “Gut”

Overall, the gut refers to our intestines. Inside of our intestines exist trillions of microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

We actually contain more bacteria cells than human cells and altogether the microbes within us can weigh as much as 5 pounds.

While some bacteria can cause disease, many of them play a significant role in our health. The gut microbiome could possibly influence our weight, heart health, blood sugar, diabetes risk, and brain health.

The Body’s Second Brain

Many individuals who suffer from a wide range of mental disorders also experience issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

The microbes within your gut produce neurotransmitters that function in altering your mood, so this really isn’t too surprising. Perhaps the saying, “follow your gut” really goes a lot further than you always thought!

Beyond our moods, the gut can even contribute to headaches, tiredness, joint pain, and weakened immunity.

Unfortunately, many of us are not properly fueling the healthy bacteria we need to alleviate or avoid the symptoms altogether.

Gut Health

Signs of an Unhealthy Microbiome

Most people are feeding the bad bacteria in our guts, while depleting the good kind, through diets rich in processed foods.

In addition, antibiotics kill tons of the bacteria within our bodies. This not only leads to poor health in our gut, but also increases antibiotic resistance.

There are countless signs your microbiome could be out of wack. Here are a few of the most common, courtesy of Reader’s Digest:

  • Stomach Discomfort
    • This could include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, heartburn, reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, IBD, and colitis.
  • Food Cravings
    • Since the bacteria we want to avoid feeds on sugar and trans fats, it’s not surprising craving foods rich in these such as chips and cupcakes indicates poor gut health.
  • Weight Fluctuation
    • Too many small intestine microbes can interfere with absorbing vitamins, minerals, and fat causing weight loss. Other bacteria harvests more calories from food and can cause weight gain.
  • Inconsistent Mood
    • 80-90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, therefore any intestinal disturbance can promote depressive mood changes.
  • Restless Sleep
    • Serotonin deficiency can also lead to insomnia. Chronic fatigue and symptoms of fibromyalgia can be traced to gut imbalance as well.
  • Skin Irritation
    • Inflamed or itchy skin can be causes by imbalances within the gut.
  • Autoimmune Conditions
    • Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are even tied to gut imbalances.

Ways to Improve Intestinal Function

Thankfully, there are tons of ways to improve your intestinal health.

Of course, the biggest and most variable component you can alter is your diet. What we eat can start to alter our gut bacteria in as little as one day.

Focus on foods that are rich in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics. Fiber cannot be digested in our bodies, but it aids in the growth of the good bacteria in our gut that can digest it. Prebiotics are what probiotics feed on and probiotics are the good bacteria within our intestines that create healthy digestion.

Foods rich in fiber include any plant-based whole-foods such as beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. The highest in fiber include: raspberries, artichokes, peas, chickpeas, broccoli, lentils, beans, and whole grains.

Prebiotic-laden food includes fruits and veggies such as bananas, asparagus, artichoke, garlic, onions, oats, and apples.

To get your dose of probiotics you can take supplements and consume fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

Diversifying your diet increases the number of bacteria you’re exposed to which can also strengthen your intestinal function.

The next time you find yourself with a headache or low mood, check in with your gut to ensure you’re caring for it properly!

Cover image via Consumer Reports

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Also published on Medium.

Sarah is a sophomore studying journalism at the University of Miami. She...