What Is Gut Health- And Why You Should Care
Making sense of the microbiome
A lot of lip service is given to gut to health. We help you make sense of it, what it all means, and why you should be thinking about it.
Sounds like a weird question, doesn’t it? “What is your gut?”
But if you were tasked with answering it, what would you say? The place where your food goes? Point to your stomach area?
If you were to take a human intestinal tract, the small and large intestines, unfold it all, and lay it out in a line, you would have a line of about 30 feet in length. The surface area of your gut is about 32 square meters, which is about the size of a normal studio apartment. Your digestive system is massive.
The entire digestive system also includes your mouth, esophagus, and rectum, but what we care about the most in this article is your central gut – stomach, small intestines, and large intestines. Specifically, what’s called your gut microbiome, which is a community of microorganisms (in this case, bacteria) in a particular environment.
Most of the bacterial population resides in a little area of your large intestine called the cecum. And it’s this bacterial population that’s been the subject of some very intense talk, and research, in recent years. We’re discovering that this community doesn’t just affect your digestive system, but your entire body, and the health and population of this community are extremely important in maintaining every kind of wellness you can imagine. Just as living in any community goes, what one living thing does within that community can have effects on other community members.
We have more bacteria in and on our bodies than we do cells in our bodies. We are walking petri dishes. So, wouldn’t it then make sense that since your gut is so massively large, its bacterial population could have wide ranging implications on everything else? Well, this is very much the case. And you should really care what you do to it.
There have been numerous studies actually linking your gut microbiome to things like depression, anxiety, even seizures, sometimes narrowing the findings down to specific bacteria and their processes. This type of research has become so prevalent they’ve termed these probiotics as “psychobiotics” for their seemingly distinct link to brain health. There’s also a reverse link between your mental health and processes, having effects on your gut population, possibly creating a loop that could help explain and treat some disorders.
Your gut is also responsible for about 70%-80% of your immune tissue, which if that’s not amazing enough to think about the fact that your gut health may dictate a lot of your abilities in fighting off cold and flus, think about the fact that even some skin disorders (acne, rosacea, eczema) are influenced by the immune system. Players in your microbiome also help synthesize certain vitamins, and fatty acids, which are both big players in the health and appearance of your skin. Yes, looking to your gut might even be a better place to go than the beauty counters.
Disturbance or imbalance in the gut is called dysbiosis and its not just caused at Thanksgiving dinner. Because your microbiome has such wide ranging effects, what you do with many parts of your body also affect it, in turn. While your diet would be a clear player on your gut, even stress also affects your microbiome population. Studies have tracked a direct correlation between stressful events, especially chronic stress, in depletion of your gut’s bacterial makeup, even contributing to leaky gut syndrome (where the bacteria that’s supposed to stay in your gut ‘leaks’ out into your system and causes inflammation).
Since your food intake directly interacts with your gut it’s no surprise that what you eat can change your microbiome population. Diets high in animal protein, like our Western diet, have been shown to have damaging effects on your microbiome, as well as sulfur compounds, which are components and end products of certain foods and ingredients like preservatives, white breads, and alcohol. In all fairness, some really healthy things, like broccoli, contain a lot of sulfur compounds, but those healthy things come loaded with a bunch of other benefits.
We are only beginning to research and make connections to about what all your gut does, and what it does to your body as a whole. One thing, however is for sure. When your gut is out of balance, it can cause entire chain reactions of problems on systems you’d never suspect were related. Your gut is central to your immune and digestive systems, plays roles as far flung as vitamin synthesis, mental health, skin health, and systemic inflammation.
Now that you know what and where your gut is, and how its balance or imbalance can literally affect your entire life, you can take a little bit of charge in the health of it. Grabbing some ‘booch on the go, rather than snagging that soda, or sugary ‘recovery’ drink, is a great way to give you a little boost in taking control. Sometimes the smallest changes can make a huge difference. You can’t change what you don’t know about. So trust your gut, be aware, and take care of yourself and your body.