You may have heard the term gut health before but what does this actually mean?
Well, gut health refers to the trillions of microorganisms (including bacteria, yeasts and fungi) and their genetic material which live in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI tract includes all the hollow organs of the digestive system – your mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus – also known as the process your food goes through from the point it enters your mouth to its exit.
The community of bacteria within your gut is known as your gut microbiota and is VERY important.
It’s important to note that
- Infancy and the early years play a vital role in the development of the gut microbiota – from the birthing method, whether you were breast or formula fed, into the weening onto solid foods. It all impacts your child’s gut health.
- Other factors which affect our gut health include: stress, infection, ageing, antibiotic use as well as international travel.
- Fibre intake is so important for good gut health. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that an adult (aged 17 years+) consumes 30 grams of fibre per day. Research suggests that a diet high in fibre can help increase the amount of “good” bacteria in the gut and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (i.e. heart diseases, strokes), type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
- Your diet impacts your gut health throughout your entire life. Any alterations in your diet can significantly affect your gut microbiota in as little time as 24 hours.
The more diversity within your diet = a better nutrient supply for your gut microbes = a happier, healthier gut 🙂
But why is gut health so important?
It is inevitable that your gut health will change throughout your lifetime due to the many external factors mentioned above. Having a healthy gut (i.e. greater gut microbiota diversity) reduces your likelihood of infection and disease. Also roughly 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut.
What are the possible consequences of poor gut health?
- A lower gut microbiota diversity is associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (such as IBS), coeliac disease, obesity, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, atopic eczema + many more
- May lead to a decrease in serotonin production, which will affect your sleeping habits and in turn cause fatigue due to poor sleep
- A greater likelihood of constipation or diarrhoea – which can be very uncomfortable to live with
- There is a strong correlation between your gut and brain, also known as the gut – brain axis. More research is needed in this area but poor gut health is suggested to impact anxiety and depression
I hope you have found this post helpful. There is so much more I could cover but I didn’t want to overwhelm you with lots of information. I have some ideas for future posts relating to gut health – diving more into the gut – brain axis, specific diseases, for instance IBS as well as advice to manage and improve your gut health and microbiota diversity. Please let me know if you would be interested in this – gut health is a topic I am very passionate about so would love to share more.
Key terms used throughout this blog post:
Your oesophagus is a muscular tube (around 9 metres long) which connects your mouth to your stomach.
Small Intestine – Where most of your digestion occurs. The small intestine is narrower than the large intestine but has a greater surface area. On average your small intestine is 7 metres in length.
Large Intestine – Consists of four different regions: the cecum, colon, rectum, and anus.
Microorganisms can also be referred to as microbes.
IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Atopic eczema – is the most common form of eczema, a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, dry and cracked (NHS definition)
Serotonin – a hormone produced in the gut which primarily affects our mood, sleep, digestion and overall well- being.
Gut – brain axis refers to the biochemical signalling between your GI tract and central nervous system (CNS). Your CNS includes your brain and spinal cord.