Our gastrointestinal tract or gut is home to over a trillion of microorganisms. This is collectively known as the gut microbiota or gut microbiome. These microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. Don’t let the name fool, our gut microbiome interacts with the body in different ways that extend beyond the gastrointestinal tract. As more research is published on the importance of our gut microbiome, people are focusing more and more on optimizing gut health.
The term gut health is used to describe the overall well-being and optimal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. Our gastrointestinal tract includes stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. These organs help our body digest food and absorb nutrients. Surpiringly, effects of our gut microbiome extend beyond our GI tact. Our gut microbiome influences our brain and mental health. This communication between our gut and brain is known at the gut-brain axis. Some The production of certain neurotransmitters takes place in the gut. Specifically serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which help regulate our emotions and mental health, are produced here. The vagus nerve, which is responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions, such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate, also facilitates communication between the gut and the brain. Our gut even plays a role in our immune system by regulating the immune system by influencing t cell production and boosting the body’s response to harmful pathogens.
As mentioned earlier, microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes live in our gut microbiome. Don’t be alarmed, not all of these are harmful. In fact the a balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria is the key. Dysbiosis (imbalance in the gut microbiome) can result in various digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. Research even links dysbiosis to health issues such as autoimmune disorders, allergies and obesity. Inadequate nutrition, stress, sleep disruptions and antibiotic use can contribute to an imbalance in the gut microbiome. Even taking antibiotics can disrupt the balance in our gut microbiome.
Maintaining a healthy gut involves several factors but let’s focus on nutrition. Including a balanced and nutritious diet rich in fiber, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods is key to maintaining a healthy gut. These foods provide prebiotics (fiber) that act as fuel for beneficial bacteria in the gut. Probiotics, which are live bacteria or yeasts that promote gut health, can also be beneficial. They can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and some supplements. Although overdosing on prebiotics and probiotics is not possible, overdoing it is! In this case, more is not always better. Overconsumption of prebiotics and probiotics can result in some rather unpleasant side effects like bloating, gas and nausea. Incorporating prebiotics and probiotics can be done throughout the day by easily including fruits, veggies and the occasional fermented foods. Probiotic supplements are available. When picking a probiotic supplement, be sure to check the number of bacteria per dose (colony forming untits), type/strains of bacteria and how the probiotics should be stored. In addition to diet, other lifestyle factors like regular exercise, stress management, adequate sleep, and avoiding excessive use of antibiotics may support gut health.
Cassie Evans is a registered dietitian and a published researcher. She has studied sports nutrition and completed an internship with the University of Miami Sports Nutrition Team and Nova Southeastern University’s sports performance team. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sports Science and received her CISSN in 2018. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Human and Sports Performance from the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.
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