The gut microbiome
The gut microbiome refers specifically to the living microorganisms in your intestines. An individual has about 300-500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract. While some microorganisms are harmful to your health, many are so beneficial and even necessary for a healthy body.
Having a good variety of these good gut bacteria can boost your immune system function, enhance symptoms of depression, help combat obesity, and provide various other benefits.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
Many negative effects of modern life such as high-stress levels, less sleep, eating high-sugar and processed foods, and taking antibiotics all can damage your gut microbiome. This in turn may affect other body health, like the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormones, ability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer.
There are certain ways an unhealthy gut might manifest itself. Some of the very common signs include:
- Upset stomach
Stomach issues like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and even heartburn can be signs of an unhealthy gut. A balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and removing waste from the body.
- A high-sugar diet
A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can reduce the number of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause enhanced sugar cravings, which can further harm your gut. High quantities of refined sugars, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, have been associated with increased inflammation in the body which can cause a number of diseases and even cancers.
- Changes in weight
Changes in weight without making alterations to your diet or exercise habits may be a sign of an unhealthy gut. An imbalanced gut can hamper your body’s ability to absorb any nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat especially belly fat. Weight loss may be caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, while weight gain may be caused due to insulin resistance or the urge to overeat due to reduced nutrient absorption.
- Disturbed sleep
An unhealthy gut may cause sleep disturbances such as insomnia or poor sleep, therefore can cause chronic fatigue. The majority of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is made in the gut. So gut damage can hamper your ability to sleep well.
- Skin irritation
Skin conditions like eczema may be linked to a damaged gut. Inflammation in the gut caused due to poor diet or food allergies may lead to increased “leaking” of certain proteins out into the body, which can irritate the skin and cause certain conditions such as eczema.
- Autoimmune conditions
Researchers are continually finding new evidence of the effect of the gut on the immune system. It’s thought that an unhealthy gut may increase systemic inflammation and affect the functioning of the immune system properly. This can cause autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself rather than attacking harmful invaders.
- Food intolerances
Food intolerance is difficulty digesting certain kinds of foods. It’s considered that food intolerances may be caused by the poor quality of bacteria in the gut which in turn can cause difficulty digesting the trigger foods and unpleasant symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and nausea.
How to improve gut health naturally?
- Lower your stress levels
Chronic high levels of stress can be very difficult to handle for your whole body, including your gut. Some ways to reduce stress may include meditation, walking, spending time with friends or family, diffusing essential oils, reducing caffeine intake, laughing, yoga, etc.
- Get enough sleep
Not getting sufficient quality of sleep can have a serious effect on your gut health, which can in turn lead to more sleep issues. Try to get at least 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
- Eat slowly
Chewing your food properly and eating your meals more slowly can help enhance full digestion and absorption of the nutrients properly. This may help you lower digestive discomfort and maintain a healthy gut.
- Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water has been shown to have a beneficial impact on the mucosal lining of the intestines, and also on the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Staying hydrated is a simple and easy way to enhance a healthy gut.
- Take a prebiotic or probiotic
Taking a prebiotic or probiotic supplement may be a great way to boost your gut health. Prebiotics provide “food” meant to enhance the growth of good bacteria in the gut, while probiotics are live good bacteria. People having bacterial overgrowth, such as SIBO, should not consume probiotics. It’s best to consult your healthcare professional when choosing a probiotic or prebiotic supplement to ensure its best benefits.
- Check for food intolerances
If you have symptoms like cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rashes, nausea, fatigue, and acid reflux, you might be suffering from food intolerance. Try eliminating common trigger foods to see if your symptoms get better. If you are able to identify the food that is causing these symptoms, you may see a positive change in your gut health by changing your eating habits.
- Change your diet
Minimising the quantity of processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods that you eat can lead to better gut health. Also, having lots of plant-based foods and lean protein can positively affect your gut. A diet high in fibre can lead to a healthy gut microbiome.
Types of food for gut health
Diet and gut health are linked very closely. Avoiding processed foods, high-fat foods, and foods with more refined sugars is extremely essential to maintaining a healthy microbiome, as these foods destroy good bacteria and enhance the growth of damaging bacteria. There are certain foods you can eat to actively boost the growth of beneficial bacteria, contributing to your overall health. These foods include:
- High-fibre foods
- Garlic and onion
- Fermented foods
- Collagen-boosting foods
The human gut is much more complex than thought and has a huge effect on whole-body health. A healthy gut leads to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion, and it may help guard against some cancers and autoimmune diseases. There are certain lifestyle changes you can make to positively impact your gut health and your overall health as a result.