Our gut plays a major role not only in our gastrointestinal health, but also in the health and well-being of the entire body. There is a strong connection between the brain and the gut. Improving gut health therefore, subsequently improves not just our physical health but our mental health as well. Stomach which is part of our Digestive System, is also referred to as the gut. The importance of gut health can never be emphasised enough. There are thousands of species of gut microbes/ gut flora that live in our gut. This includes many different species of bacteria.
Different Types of Gut Bacteria:
The different types of bacteria along with the other microorganisms like virus and fungi form the microbiota or the microbiome. Each and every individual has a different mix of bacteria in the body and is unique just as a person’s fingerprint. It is influenced by our mother’s microbiota, the environment we are exposed to at birth, from our diet and from the lifestyle we live. Although bacteria is found throughout our body, our gut bacteria has the maximum impact on our wellbeing. It can affect our metabolism, our moods and our resistance to diseases and illnesses.
Gut bacteria can be categorised as good bacteria that is healthy and beneficial for the body and bad bacteria that is not beneficial for the body. Bad bacteria can lead to inflammations within the body. Both types of bacteria coexist within. The health of our gut depends on the right balance between the good and the bad bacteria that live in there.
In a gut that is in good working condition and works as it should, both the good and the bad bacteria keep each other in check. But, when there is an imbalance between the two and if the inflammatory bacteria takes over, they can produce by products that pass through the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream, spreading the inflammation to other parts of the body.
The good gut bacteria helps:
- Absorbing the nutrients present in food
- Good digestion of foods we eat
- Fight the bad gut bacteria
- Improve our immune system
- Improve our mood
- Fight inflammations
- Control the nervous system thereby controlling the brain health
- Prevent the disease causing bacteria from sticking to the walls of the intestine
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Reduce risk of heart disease
The unhealthy/bad gut bacteria can cause:
- Inflammations within the body
- Bloating, gas, diarrhoea, stomach pain or nausea
- Difficulty in absorption of nutrients from food
- Allergies and health issues
- Obesity and hormone disorders
- Mood swings, anxiety and depression
- Chronic illnesses like diabetes, fatty liver, cardiovascular issues, cancer, etc
- Neurological disorders like dementia and schizophrenia
Prebiotics and Probiotics:
They are commonly known as stuff that is good for digestion and gut health. So what are they?
Prebiotic is basically fibre, the non digestible part of some foods. It is found in wheat bran, oats, onions, garlic, bananas, apple skin, barley, etc. Prebiotic fiber goes through the small intestine undigested. It then gets fermented when it reaches the large colon and feeds the good bacteria in the gut while promoting the increase of the friendly bacteria there. Thus it improves the gut health and reduces the risk of diseases by boosting our immunity.
Probiotic is the live beneficial bacteria that are naturally found in fermented foods. For example, yogurt, kimchi, kefir (a milk drink), idli, paneer (Indian cheese), dark chocolate (in small amounts), pickled vegetable like cucumber in vinegar, etc. Probiotics are known to improve the digestive health, immune system health and improve the absorption of nutrients from foods.
How to ensure Good Gut Health:
- Pay attention to how your body reacts to the different foods you eat. Foods that are otherwise gut friendly may cause gut health issues for someone sensitive to those foods. So listen to your gut and avoid the foods that have a negative impact on your mood or body.
- Gut bacteria feeds off whatever is left over in the colon after the digestion of all the nutrients from the foods we eat. Therefore ensure that you are having nutrient dense foods and foods rich in fiber. For example, vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, lean proteins, nuts, etc.
- Take time out to eat slowly and mindfully. Ensure you are focussing on the food you are eating and chew your food slowly and completely before swallowing.
- Follow a balanced diet and limit highly processed foods and foods high in fats, salts and added sugars. They have a negative impact on our gut health, thereby our metabolism and our mental state.
- Take foods that are a rich source of Prebiotics and Probiotics as they are beneficial for the nutrient absorption and helps in good digestion.
- Ensure you are exercising regularly as it improves blood circulation, reduces stress and improves emotional wellbeing. It stimulates bacteria capable of producing substances that protect against gastrointestinal disorders besides helping you stay fit and active.
- Get a good night’s sleep everyday. Sleep disorders and lack of sufficient sleep leads to significant reduction in the types of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This in turn affects physical and mental wellbeing.
- Have clean drinking water and stay hydrated through the day. Water helps in the process of digestion, elimination of toxins from the body and encourages the growth of probiotics which aid the body in nutrient extraction.
It is often easy to understand and tell when our gut bacteria is thrown out of balance. We begin to feel bloated, gassy, get diarrhoea, stomach pain or vomiting and nausea. These are all signs that the gut is trying to tell us that something is not working right in there. Many times the body is well equipped to fix these imbalances by itself, after a short time. However, prolonged neglect of gut health can sometimes lead to chronic issues which may then require a medical diagnosis and treatment.
Take care of your gut health and keep it healthy, in order to optimise your health and wellness. A Healthy Gut means A Healthy You!