Why Is Gut Health Important For Our Total Wellbeing?05.13.2021
Good gut health isn’t only important for digestion, but it’s the key to our overall health and wellbeing too. From keeping our digestive system running smoothly, to playing a role in our brain function, skin health and immune system too, a healthy and happy gut is truly at the centre of our whole wellbeing.
What is the gut?
First thing’s first: What is the gut and what does it actually do? Put simply, our gut refers to our gastrointestinal tract, which is a long hollow tube that extends from our mouth all the way down to our back passage.
The term "gut health" really describes the function and balance of bacteria through the many parts of this tract, from our mouth, down the oesophagus and through to the stomach and intestines. Together, these parts of the gut all work to break down and absorb the nutrients from our food, as well as eliminate wastes, and support a healthy and strong immune system.
On top of this, the gut also plays a part in maintaining a healthy weight, keeping our heart healthy, and communicating with our brain via nerves and hormones which, surprisingly, can impact our mood as well as brain function itself.
Poor gut health and digestion
When your gut is healthy, digestion should be easy and smooth sailing. So, if you’ve been noticing symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain or a change in bowel motions, it could be a sign that your gut needs a little attention.
While gas is produced as a normal part of our digestive process, an imbalance in gut bacteria in some cases leads to more fermentation and production of gas that’s out of our ordinary. This can cause that uncomfortable, full, bloated feeling and abdominal pain which is often due to trapped gas.
Sensitivities or intolerances to foods that you otherwise used to be able to enjoy are also signs that something isn’t quite right with your gut. Food sensitivities can occur when the gut lining becomes "leaky" and allows small food particles through to the bloodstream which alert an immune and inflammatory response. These types of reactions can cause digestive symptoms like bloating and gas, but may also cause issues like headaches, fatigue, eczema, and "brain fog".
Food intolerances, on the other hand, are often due to the body lacking in specific enzymes, which makes it hard for us to properly digest and break down foods. One common example is lactose intolerance, where the body doesn’t make enough of the enzyme lactase that’s needed to break down the sugar lactose in dairy. These types of intolerances can cause digestive system issues such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, nausea and diarrhoea.
A happy gut = a happy mind
Housing around 100 million nerve cells, it’s no wonder our gut is often referred to as the 'second brain'. Through these specialised cells, our gut and brain are in constant communication with one another, continuously sending messages back and forth between the two.
Research shows that the health of our gut – particularly the balance of good gut bacteria – has a strong influence on not only our brain function, but influences our risk of anxiety and depression too.
Studies also show that over 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced within the gut alone. Known as our “happy hormone”, serotonin is responsible for helping us regulate our mood, with changes in serotonin levels linked with depression and anxiety in some people. With this in mind, it’s no wonder how poor gut health can affect our mood and feeling of wellbeing.
How your gut health affects your weight
Our gut contains over 100 trillion microorganisms – mainly bacteria – which all have a role to play in our overall health, including the ability to manage our weight. Research shows that an imbalance of gut bacteria may be closely linked to weight gain, obesity and diabetes. In fact, sugar and carbohydrate cravings can actually be driven by an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria within the gut. An overgrowth of yeast in particular, known as Candida albicans, can often be behind those intense sugar cravings which further feeds its growth. This can result in a vicious cycle... the more sugar we eat, the more disrupted our balance of gut bacteria can become, making it more and more difficult to manage our weight.
Further studies have also shown that specific strains of good bacteria through probiotic supplementation can support metabolism and help us to lose weight, potentially by improving blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity and reducing intestinal permeability.
A strong immune system
Approximately 70% of our immune system lies within our gut, which is why it’s so important to address if you’re someone that’s constantly getting rundown and sick. When it comes to our gut microbiome, a balance of good gut bacteria is essential, as it plays a big part in the function of our immune system and how our body responds to infections.
Research shows that imbalances in gut microflora can increase the risk of autoimmune diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Our skin and the gut microbiome
When it comes to our skin, concerns like eczema and psoriasis may also be linked back to poor gut health. While the exact way our gut affects our skin remains unknown, studies suggest it is likely due to imbalances in the gut microbiome along with increased intestinal permeability that triggers inflammation and changes within the skin.
Further research has also shown this connection – in one study, patients with rosacea were 13 times more likely to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. More recent evidence also suggests that irritable bowel syndrome is significantly more common in people suffering from acne.
Where the gut is irritated and inflamed, this not only makes digestion of food difficult, but affects absorption too. Absorption of nutrients is absolutely vital when it comes to the health of our skin as well as our overall wellbeing. Vitamins and minerals such as zinc, vitamin C and vitamin A are essential for healthy skin and wound healing, as well as to provide antioxidant protection to fight off premature aging.
If the gut isn’t able to absorb nutrients effectively, this can ultimately lead to issues with the health and structure of our skin. While topical products can certainly help improve some skin concerns, maintaining a happy and healthy gut is the first step to look after our skin from within.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
How do you know when your gut is healthy? Your body will tell you if there is a problem. Some tell-tale signs that your gut needs some TLC include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Excessive gas (e.g. burping or flatulence)
- Heartburn or reflux
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Food intolerances or sensitivities
- Skin concerns such as eczema, acne and psoriasis
How can I heal my gut lining naturally?
Eating a diet that is rich in fibre plus a wide variety of whole foods is important for our overall gut health and total wellbeing. Eating more fibre – especially foods high in prebiotic fibre such as oats, beans, nuts, bananas and apples – is essential to keep the balance of our gut bacteria in check, and helps the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut to grow and survive.
Avoiding processed foods, artificial sweeteners and highly refined sugars is also important, as eating too much of these foods can cause unfriendly bacteria to overgrow leading to issues with our digestion as well as our overall health too.
Supplementing with nutrients and herbs such as glutamine, slippery elm and marshmallow can also be beneficial for our gut lining and digestive function. Research shows that glutamine, an amino acid, helps to heal the gut lining by reducing intestinal permeability and can dramatically help to improve gut function especially in those with digestive issues like IBS. Other herbs like chamomile and ginger can also help to relieve gut symptoms like gas, bloating and digestive discomfort. Two Islands Happy Gut contains a specialised blend of glutamine and herbs including slippery elm, marshmallow, ginger and chamomile to quickly and effectively improve the health of the gut lining and ease digestive discomfort. With added chia seeds and apple fibre, Happy Gut can also help to regulate bowel motions and reduce gas and bloating.
Along with diet, managing stress and getting a good night’s sleep is also crucial for a healthy gut. Chronic stress, as well as lack of sleep, is known to affect our digestion and the gut microbiome, which in turn can affect other areas of our health. Prioritising at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night plus managing stress through practices such as yoga, mindfulness and limiting caffeine consumption can really help support a happier gut.
3 superfoods for gut health
While there are a number of foods that are great for our gut and total wellbeing, including these 3 top superfoods in your diet on a regular basis can really help to encourage a healthy and diverse microbiome.
- Fermented foods. Fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir are naturally rich in good probiotic bacteria that help support a healthy gut microbiome.
- Bone broth. Bone broth is naturally rich in collagen as well as special amino acids like glutamine and glycine that help to support the gut lining. Consuming bone broth on its own or as a base for soups and stews is a fantastic way to support overall gut health and digestion.
- Garlic. Garlic is rich in prebiotic fibre that helps to feed the good gut bacteria in our large intestines. While garlic can help to keep our microbiome healthy and balanced, keep in mind that it is a high FODMAP food, which may cause gas and bloating in some people.