Understanding and Boosting Gut Health: Importance and Tips

We hear so much about gut health these days, but do we really know what it’s all about? And how can we understand more about it when the terminology used to describe this complex area of our body can be so confusing, for instance gut microbiota, gut microbiome and gut flora to name but a few. Let’s drill down into this subject in a bit more detail and find out why the gut’s so important and what we can do to improve our gut health.

What is the gut microbiome?

A microbiome is defined as ‘a collection of microbes (the microbiota) plus their functions and genes, found in a particular environment’. This includes yeasts, viruses and various other types of microorganisms as well as bacteria, which can reside in or on the body. There are many different microbiomes found throughout the human body but we’re going to focus on the gut microbiome, which incidentally is the largest of the microbiomes, and has many important roles.  

What does it do? 

The microbes in our gut are involved in regulating bowel movements, food digestion as well as the production of beneficial compounds such as certain vitamins. However, that’s not all they do, far from it… 

Approximately 70% of all our active immune cells are in our gut. Our beneficial bacteria interact with these immune cells and play a vital role in supporting our immune system and protecting us from disease-causing microbes. Our gut bacteria also help to keep our gut wall healthy. This is important especially when our gut is ‘leaky’ as it can allow allergens and toxins into the bloodstream, and this can lead to inflammation and potentially disease. 

Our gut bacteria also interact with our brain, with an astonishing 80% of signals going from the gut to the brain and only 20% from the brain to the gut. Research is showing that if our gut isn’t healthy, for instance if there’s an imbalance in the number or type of microbes in the gut, it can contribute to brain-related conditions such as anxiety and depression.  

As if that wasn’t enough, studies suggest that having an unhealthy gut can also impact other areas of the body such as our lungs, skin, and intimate health. What’s more if we’re pregnant the state of our gut microbiome can influence the development of our baby’s gut microbiome, and not just whilst they’re young but potentially throughout their whole life!  

So, it’s clear to see that looking after our gut health can really pay dividends in so many areas of our health. The most obvious question now is… 

How do we improve our gut health? 

Firstly, we should try to avoid: 

  • Processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and foods low in fibre.  
  • Pollutants such as pesticides, artificial food additives, heavy metals and chlorinated tap water. 
  • Some medications, particularly broad-spectrum antibiotics, which indiscriminately kill both good and bad bacteria. 
  • Alcohol, which can not only have an impact on our gut microbiota but our gut wall too. 
  • Stress and disrupted sleep. 

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