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The digestive system is a vital part of bodily function that is often overlooked. We often make the mistake of thinking digestion is simply food going in the body and waste going out. However, much more than this is taking place.
The body is filled with fungi, viruses, and bacteria that are collectively referred to as the microbiome. While bacteria is usually thought of as a source of sickness or disease, some bacteria is essential to keeping your body healthy.
There are many types of bacteria in the gut and each of these bacteria are important to the overall health of the body. Collectively, this bacteria weighs about as much as the human brain.
The bacteria in the gut work to keep it healthy and can also protect the body from a number of diseases.
You were first exposed to microbes while in the womb of your mother. As you began to grow, the numbers and types of microbes in your body began to diversify. An interesting fact is that the food you eat will influence the types of microbes in your gut.
A few ways gut microbes affect your body are:
- Digesting breast milk: Some of the earliest bacteria in the gut of babies support the process of digesting healthy sugars from breast milk.
- Fiber digestion: Certain bacteria in the gut is used in fiber digestion. In the process, short-chain fatty acids are produced. These fatty acids also support the health of the gut.
- Boosts immune system. Gut microbes communicate with immune cells and influence the body's ability to respond to infection.
- Controls brain health. Gut microbes affects the central nervous system and influences the function of the brain.
Gut Health and Weight
An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes in the gut can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Multiple studies have studied the gut microbes for identical twins when one became obese and the other did not. These studies demonstrate gut health is not determined by genetic factors.
In one study, the gut microbes from the twin suffering from obesity were transferred to mice. The mice gained more weight than mice in the control group who ate the same diets.
Gut Health and Heart Disease
A study involving 1,500 people showed gut health had a direct effect on levels for triglycerides and good cholesterol. Unhealthy gut microbes may also be responsible for producing chemicals that block arteries and can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
Bacteria like Lactobacilli reduces cholesterol levels when sufficiently present in the gut. Including chlorella growth factor and probiotic supplementation can increase the levels of good bacteria in the gut and boost overall gut health.
Gut Health and Blood Sugar
A healthy gut can support healthy blood sugar levels and decrease risk factors for diabetes.
One recent study observed 33 infants who were at risk for type 1 diabetes. It was determined the diversity of gut microbes lowered just before the onset of the disease. It was also demonstrated that unhealthy bacteria increased before the onset of type 1 diabetes.
Another study showed that gut health may be responsible for varying blood sugars in people who ate identical diets.
Gut Health and the Brain
A healthy gut can have positive benefits on brain health in a number of ways. One way is the production of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. One of these neurotransmitters, serotonin, regulates mood and fights off depression. Serotonin is produced in the gut.
The gut also uses millions of nerves to connect to the gut. Gut health may play a role in controlling the messages that flow to and from the brain.
Studies have also shown individuals who suffer from psychological disorders often have bacteria in their guts not present in healthy people.
How to Improve Gut Health
The good news for us all is there are a number of effective ways to improve gut health:
- Eat a diverse diet. A diet consisting of a wide range of foods will result in a wide variety of gut bacteria. Foods high in fiber are great for promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
- Consume fermented foods. Foods like sauerkraut and yogurt contains healthy bacteria and reduce the presence of unhealthy bacteria in the gut.
- Limit artificial sweeteners. Studies indicate some artificial sweeteners cause unhealthy bacteria to grow in the gut.
- Eat probiotics. Certain fibers are known as probiotics due to their ability to stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
- Consume whole grains. Whole grain is digested by the healthy bacteria in the gut and helps with weight loss, the risk for cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
- Eat a plant-focused diet. Eating a diet of mostly vegetables reduces the number of unhealthy bacteria in the gut.
- Limit antibiotics. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut. Overconsumption of antibiotics can lead to resistance and weight gain. Take only when absolutely needed.
The Bottom Line
The health of your gut plays a vital role in your body's ability to digest food and the effectiveness of your immune system. An imbalance in the bacteria existing in the gut can cause a number of problems with health that include obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
You can add to your gut health by eating plenty of fermented foods, vegetables, and whole wheat.