Wednesday, 25 May 2016
Gut Health Importance - Effect on Mental & Physical Health
The more I learn about health and looking after the body from the inside out the more I realise just how important gut health is. We're so focused on the health of our other organs like the heart, lungs and brain that we forget about the huge organ system that is our gut. The gut is the organ system responsible for transporting and digesting food, absorbing nutrients and expelling waste, it consists of everything from the mouth to the anus so making sure it's working correctly is of course super important and vital for a healthy body, and a happy mind (more on that later)!
What Is The Gut?
The gut (or gastrointestinal tract) processes food from the moment it's first eaten until it's either absorbed by the body or passed out as faeces. The process of digestion begins in the mouth where your teeth and enzymes break down the food, then this food passes down into the gullet on to the stomach. Chemicals produced in the stomach begin the huge job of digestion. Some foods are absorbed through the lining of the stomach but the majority are absorbed in the small intestine. Foods that can't be digested, bacteria and waste is all passed out as faeces.
The Gut & Physical Health
The health of your gut determines what nutrients are absorbed and what toxins and allergens are kept out and therefore is directly linked to the health of your entire body. There are around 500 species of bacteria in your gut, all there to help you digest your food, produce vitamins, regulate hormones, protect your body and diminish toxins but too many of the bad bacteria does major damage.
When your gut isn't in a healthy state it wreaks havoc with our whole body. Not only does it cause issues like constipation, IBS, bloating, heart-burn, gas, acid reflux, etc but it can lead to more serious conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic fatigue, dementia, allergies and even cancer. Having a healthy gut is more than just avoiding irritable bloating or painful heartburn, it's vital for the wellbeing of your whole body & mind.
The Gut & Mental Health
There's a reason the gut is called the second brain, and did you know your gut contains more neurotransmitters than your brain itself? It communicates back and forth with the brain and when those messages get altered for any reason (like bad gut health) your mental health suffers. The connection between the gut and the brain is nothing new and it's no secret that individuals suffering with bowel disorders like Coeliac Disease, Chrones or leaky gut syndrome are far more likely to suffer from mental health issues such depression and anxiety.
Research has shown that when the gut is irritated, inflamed or under strain it sends signals through the body's central nervous system which can trigger mood changes and cause low feelings, anxiety, stress and depression. A new study even suggests digestive function may also affect certain cognitive functions such as memory and thinking skills, which would explain why a symptom of many digestive issues and disorders that effect the bowel is brain fog.
On top of this 90% of serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another and influences almost all of our 40 million brain cells including those related to mood, appetite, sleep, memory, social behaviour and temperature regulation....an imbalance of serotonin is linked with mental health issues like depression too.
When Your Gut Might Be In Trouble
As you now know gut health is vital and keeping it in optimum condition will benefit your mind and body so much. Many foods damage gut health and the average American diet (filled with processed, sugary, fatty foods) will damage the gut over time and it'll begin to function far less efficiently. Diets filled with simple carbohydrates, refined sugars and processed foods are damaging to the brain and allow bad bacteria in the gut to grow at a rapid rate. Other things that damage your gut are overuse of medication like anti-inflammatories, steroids and antibiotics. Stress is another thing that alters the gut nervous system resulting in a change in normal gut bacteria.
How To Keep Your Gut Healthy
If your gut is damaged due to poor diet or illness don't worry, it's perfectly possible to reclaim good gut health and the repair damage done. The best thing you can do for your gut is to eat a whole-foods diet with a focus on plant-based, unprocessed foods. Plenty of high fibre vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds and whole grains are a good idea.
If you think you suffer with intolerances or allergies try to figure out exactly what's going on within your body, either by seeking medical advice or keeping a food diary. Once you understand what's happening in your body you can begin an action plan to get you back to optimal gut health! Remove any problem foods (like gluten, dairy, soy) that could be causing issues, then the gut will start to repair and the nourishing foods you're providing your body with will heal you. Isn't the body clever?
Something else which will undoubtedly help your gut health is taking probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that have loads of health benefits and help your body function better. They can help improve digestive health, promote heart health and reduce depression. Probiotics can restore the ideal balance of gut bacteria and replace digestive enzymes to help you reach optimal health. You can get probiotic supplements but you can get them through everyday diet too by consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and yogurt - if you eat dairy make sure it's a natural yogurt but if not Coyo coconut yogurt is amazing.
Looking after your gut is one of the best things you can do for your mental & physical health. When you start treating your gut well it benefits your entire body and your mind too, so what are you waiting for?
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