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Gut Health

The Ultimate Guide to Gut Health

The Ultimate Guide to Gut Health
Writer and expert1 month ago
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‘Good’ bacteria, ‘bad’ bacteria, flora, microorganisms. Chances are you’ve heard all of these terms on more than one or two occasions but don’t really know what to do with them. From your digestive system itself, to your brain, heart and even your skin, the gut microbiome, which is home to that bacteria you’ve heard so much about, has an influence on almost every nook and cranny in your body. All of which means that gut health is directly related to all round, whole body health. Sounds like something you should know more about, right? We’re here to help. Read on for our complete guide to your microbiome, what it does and how to care for it.

Why is Caring For Your Digestive System So Important?

Your gut microbiome – made up of all the microscopic bacteria, fungi and even viruses that live there – is incredibly important for your health. But what is the microbiome, how does it impact our intestinal health and do we have an influence on how it functions?

What is the gut microbiome?

The human microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes, most of which exist in the gut, specifically in a pocket of the large intestine known as the cecum. To give you an idea of just how numerous these microorganisms are, there are more of them overall than there are cells in the human body (around 40 trillion compared to 30 trillion cells)[i]. In fact, so many microbes do we contain that scientists estimate that in total they could weigh as much as 1 – 2kg, equivalent to the approximate weight of the brain. The gut microbiome isn’t just there to add weight to the body though, in fact it is extremely important to our wellbeing, with each bacterium playing a role, however minor, in human health.

Are gastrointestinal problems linked to imbalances in gut flora?

The gut microbiome is key in keeping us healthy and is thought, naturally, to play an important role in gastrointestinal health. Amongst those conditions linked to gut flora imbalances or issues are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)[ii] and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)[iii]. Specifically, experts think that the bloating and cramps that those who have IBS experience could be down to gut dysbiosis, with specific microbes producing the gas that leads to this type of discomfort[iv].

It’s not all bad news though. According to those in the know, certain bacteria could actually help to improve gut health. For example, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli have each been seen to help in the sealing of intestinal walls in leaky gut syndrome as well as preventing the adhesion of unhealthy bacteria in the gut[v]. Which is why you’ll see these two bacteria strains used so often in probiotic food, drinks and supplements.

The Brain, Immunity and More: How Your Gut Influences Whole Body Health

It’s not just your gastrointestinal health, however, that your gut flora has an influence on. From top to toe, scientific research tells us that the microbiome is important for many different aspects of human health.

How the gut biome could influence immunity

One of the most important jobs the gut’s microbiome takes on is in helping to control your immune system. Numerous studies have looked into the connection between our gut flora and immunity and have concluded that the microorganisms living inside our gut sends out important signals that tell our immune system just how it should behave[vi]. Experts believe, therefore, that the microorganisms inside us all don’t just ensure immune homeostasis but that they could also influence our susceptibility to specific disorders and diseases[vii].

The importance of the gut-brain axis

Experts are increasingly fascinated in the ways in which our gut flora may impact our brains through something they call the gut-brain axis. The two, biology tells us, are connected through both neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, that are produced in the gut[viii] and via nerves, including the vagus nerve, which directly connects the intestinal system and the brain. These connections have led scientists to conclude that there could well be a direct connection between mind and gut[ix]. This is backed by studies suggesting that people with certain psychological disorders may host different species of bacteria inside their gut[x]. Studies have even shown that the use of certain probiotics could improve the symptoms of a variety of mental health disorders, including depression[xi].

What else does the gut microbiome effect?

From the very moment we’re born, the gut microbiome gets to work. In fact, the bacteria in our gut even plays a part in the digestion of the sugars found in breast milk[xii]. With the potential to help or to harm, depending on a range of factors, our microbiome is believed to influence various aspects of our health. Numerous studies, for example, suggest that dysbiosis in the microbiome could influence our propensity to gain weight[xiii] or may cause our skin to develop conditions such as acne or psoriasis[xiv]. The gut could, experts think, even play a role in heart health, with certain bacteria linked to heart disease[xv] and the consumption of probiotics linked to a reduction in cholesterol[xvi].

Diet and Supplements: How to Take Care of Your Gut

With the gut microbiome connected to so many different parts of your body and in so many different ways it’d be pretty foolhardy not to take better care of it. So just how do you keep your gut well-balanced and working at its very best?

What can I eat to support good gut health?

For healthy digestion and a balanced gut microbiome it’s vital to eat well. Diversity in eating is key[xvii], helping you to ensure a good range of bacteria in your gut. Experts recommend eating a variety of fibre-rich fruit, beans and legumes as well as prebiotic foods[xviii] to help stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. In addition, having an intake in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut are known to contain so-called beneficial bacteria and could also reduce the amount of disease-causing bacteria in the gut too[xix], resulting in a healthy gut. Polyphenols, which exist in red wine, dark chocolate and green tea, are especially recommended for their ability to stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria[xx]. Furthermore, having an intake of fatty acids such as kale, broccoli or fish, salmon/tuna, which is also high in Omega-3 can support with blood sugar regulation.

What lifestyle factors impact gut health?

Those everyday rules – reduce stress, get plenty of sleep,exercise regularly – are thought to be just as important for gut health as for any other aspect of your wellbeing. Stress, in particular, has been seen in studies to negatively impact the gut[xxi], with sleep deprivation thought to be just one of the causes of this damaging stress[xxii]. Meanwhile, athletes are seen to have a wider diversity of gut bacteria than us mere mortals[xxiii], underlining the potential positive effects of regular exercise on our gut flora.

One key piece of advice given by gut health experts is to avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. According to research, exposure to antibiotics could cause a gut imbalance lasting anywhere up to six months[xxiv]. And if antibiotics are necessary? Taking a regular digestive supplement throughout the course and beyond is advised, in order to help support your gut.

What supplements should I take for digestion and gut health?

From yogurt drinks to pills, there are a wide variety of supplements that claim to support your microbiome. However, not all supplements are made equal and it’s important to choose a high quality product that delivers live bacteria direct to your system.



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