Published On: Sat, Jul 11th, 2020

How Gut Health Affects the Mind and Body

How much time do you spend thinking about your gut health? If you’re like most people, it barely registers as something worth consideration.

According to recent studies, though, our gut health may play a more active role in physical and mental health than we ever thought before. Given the right strategies, including gut health supplements and positive digestive health habits, you can improve your gut health and enjoy a wide variety of benefits. Here’s how.

photo/ Darko Stojanovic

The Impact of Gut Health

Gut health refers to the functional capabilities of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Within that system, you possess millions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which all work together to help your digestive system to work effectively.

These microflora constitute what we call your “gut microbiome.” The healthier and more diverse it is, the healthier your gut can be said to be.

Overall, your gut health has a variety of major beneficial effects on the body and mind, such as:

  •         Digestive health. One of the most obvious boons of a healthier gut is more thorough and effective digestion. The microorganisms in your gut help you break down complex materials in the foods you consume. When you have a diverse assortment of microflora available there, you’re able to digest food more efficiently—and get more nutrients out of them. You’re also able to sustain better overall digestive health, including regular and complete bowel movements.
  •         Immune health. The immune system performs an interactive role with the digestive system: Your gut microbes have a role in communicating with the immune system of your gut wall. Other immune system components interact indirectly here, and ultimately influence how well your immune system functions throughout the body.
  •         Mental and emotional health. Your digestive system contains a bundle of nerves that functions almost like a second brain. This system is called the enteric nervous system (ENS), and comprises 100 million nerve cells. Your ENS is responsible for a number of bodily functions, but perhaps most interestingly, it’s responsible for relaying complex signals to the central nervous system (CNS). When your digestive system isn’t healthy or functioning properly, it may generate feelings of anxiety, stress, or even depression. Because of this, a healthier gut and digestive system may play a role in sustaining better mental and emotional health.

How to Improve Gut Health

There are many ways you can improve your gut health directly, such as:

  •         Eat a balanced, varied diet. The best thing you can do for your gut health is eat a balanced and varied diet. Fruits and vegetables are among your best options, because they provide plenty of fiber and micronutrients. But beyond them, it’s vital to consume a wide variety of foods to support various types of microorganisms that flourish in your digestive system. It’s also a good idea to eat probiotic foods, which contain live, “good” bacteria; these sources include such delicacies as sauerkraut, yogurt, and soft cheeses.
  •         Take gut health supplements. You can also support your gut health by taking gut health supplements. Though individual supplements vary, most contain a mixture of nutrients and compounds intended to support the development and healthy functioning of gut microflora. For example, you may find gut health supplements that contain arabinogalactan, a fermentable fiber that stimulates microflora production.
  •         Increase your fiber intake. Fiber is positive for your digestive health overall, so eating more fiber can support the good bacteria and microorganisms in your GI tract. Foods high in fiber include most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you’re not getting enough fiber in your daily diet, you can take an additional supplement.
  •         Stay adequately hydrated. Water is essential for almost every aspect of human health, and digestive health is no exception. Make sure you drink plenty of water every day if you want to support a healthy gut microbiome.
  •         Ease the burdens on your digestive tract. Your digestive system will function more efficiently and experience fewer issues if it has less of a burden to bear. How can you relieve the burden your digestive system faces? Start by eating smaller meals, and dining more consistently throughout the day, rather than aggregating your day’s intake of food into single, gigantic meals. You can also ease the pressure on your GI tract by chewing your food more thoroughly, and avoiding foods you know are likely to cause you gastrointestinal distress (such as spicy foods, or dairy products for lactose-intolerant individuals).

As you incorporate new habits to improve your gut health, you’re likely to start to feel a greater sense of well-being. Whenever you change your health habits, do so gradually, and take note of how your body and mind respond to the unfamiliar regimen.

If you’re uncertain about the value of a new habit or strategy, speak with your doctor for more guidance and information.

Author: Anne Johansson

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