You may think our digestive system is relatively simple. Food goes in, is broken down into nutrients that are absorbed, and then the waste is excreted. While that is true, emerging research has found that our gut has far-reaching effects on our entire body. In fact, gut health is so important that some medical professionals believe if your gut isn’t healthy, you won’t be healthy. You may be wondering how that is possible.
It all starts with the trillions of bacteria living in our digestive tract (gut). They make up what is commonly referred to as gut microflora or gut microbiome. A person has about 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract. These microbes are important for so many reasons. Aside from helping us digest and obtain energy from food, they also impact our brains, hearts, immune systems, and more. Read on to learn the ways these gut bacteria impact your health.
- The Immune System The gut microbiome is ground zero for our immune system. The gut helps build and boost the body’s immune system and helps protect against infection by communicating with immune system cells. In healthy people, beneficial flora in the small intestine produces useful chemicals that kill viruses, bacteria, and fungi. These chemicals also help create an environment in the intestine that makes it hard for bad bacteria to survive. It’s also thought that an unhealthy gut may increase systemic inflammation and alter the proper functioning of the immune system which can lead to autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself rather than harmful invaders.
- Digestive Health The good bacteria in your gut produces enzymes that help with digestion, nutrient absorption, and more. But when the gut’s bacteria is out of balance, you can experience various gastrointestinal problems. Stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. It’s thought that food intolerances (different than food allergies) may be caused by the poor quality of bacteria in the gut. This can lead to difficulty digesting the trigger foods and unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, etc.
- Brain Health Have you ever felt nervous about a certain situation and gotten “butterflies” in your stomach? Or been under stress and felt stomach cramps or an upset stomach? There’s a reason for this. Your brain and gastrointestinal tract are intimately connected. Your thoughts and emotions have a direct effect on your stomach and intestines. Scientists call the way the brain and gut communicate the “gut-brain axis”. Research into this field of study has linked many psychiatric disorders to changes in the microbial environment. In fact, research has shown that boosting these healthy bacteria may help to prevent or at least manage certain mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.
- Obesity and Weight Gain Gut bacteria plays a role in the body’s metabolism and can affect how your food is digested. Your body also produces a number of different hormones that affect your appetite, including leptin, ghrelin, and peptide YY (PYY). Some studies have shown that different bacteria in the gut can affect how fat is stored and how much of these hormones are produced which will determine when you feel hungry or full. Thus, a healthy gut bacteria may be important for maintaining a healthy weight.
- Heart Health Certain types of gut bacteria convert nutrients commonly found in red meat such as carnitine and choline, into a problematic substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO, for short). Unfortunately, elevated levels of TMAO are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and early death, according to a June 2018 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As you can see, the health of your gut has a profound impact on your health in many ways. Ensuring you have a proper supply of good bacteria by consuming probiotic-rich foods and/or probiotic supplements can help ensure you stay healthy from the inside out. Have questions on what supplements you should take daily? Take our supplement quiz!
Robertson, R. (2022, January 19). How your gut bacteria can influence your weight. Healthline. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-bacteria-and-weight
Robertson, R. (2017, June 27). Why the gut microbiome is crucial for your health. Healthline. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health
The brain-gut connection. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021, November 1). Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
Zhang, Y.-J., Li, S., Gan, R.-Y., Zhou, T., Xu, D.-P., & Li, H.-B. (2015). Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 16(12), 7493–7519. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms16047493