Everything you should know about gut health
Gut-related issues are on the rise these days and every second person is complaining of one or the other kind of gut-related problems. The main cause for this is the erratic lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits. Not eating enough greens, eating a lot of junk & fried foods, drinking, smoking, not getting enough physical exercise, and underlying chronic medical conditions are some of the known reasons for gut and digestive issues. To find a solution to your gut-related problems, first you need to know what gut health is.
What is gut health?
Gut health refers to the state of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and its optimal functioning. The GI tract, also known as the gut, is a complex system that includes the stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), and various other organs involved in digestion & nutrient absorption. The health of this system is influenced by the balance of microorganisms, immune responses, and the integrity of gut lining.
Factors that support gut health
Some of the key factors that contribute to gut health are –
The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiota. These microorganisms play a crucial role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and maintaining a healthy immune system. An imbalance in the composition of the gut microbiota (known as dysbiosis) can lead to various health issues.
Digestion and Absorption
A healthy gut efficiently breaks down food into nutrients that can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Proper digestion and absorption are necessary for providing the body with the energy and nutrients it needs to function properly.
The lining of the intestines acts as a barrier that prevents harmful substances, such as undigested food particles and toxins, from entering the bloodstream. A compromised intestinal barrier can lead to increased inflammation and a variety of health problems.
A significant portion of the immune system is located in the gut. A well-functioning gut immune system helps defend the body against harmful pathogens while lowering the guard in face of beneficial microbes and food antigens.
The gut is often referred to as the "second brain" due to the extensive network of nerves within it. This gut-brain connection, known as the gut-brain axis, plays a crucial role in regulating mood, emotions, and even cognitive functions.
How to improve gut health?
Improving gut health is not an overnight thing. A lot of impactful changes are needed in diet & lifestyle, and your doctor might also recommend certain gut-health supplements for added support. Have the supplements on time and as per your doctor’s recommendation to see visible changes.
Here are some ways to improve gut health –
Eat a Diverse Diet:
Consume a wide variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds. Different types of fiber and nutrients support the growth of diverse beneficial gut bacteria.
Increase Fiber Intake:
Fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seeds provide nourishment for the good bacteria in the gut. Soluble fiber, in particular, supports the growth of certain beneficial strains.
Include fermented foods in your diet:
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha contain live beneficial bacteria that can introduce new strains to your gut.
Consume prebiotic-rich foods, such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, and oats. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that feed beneficial gut bacteria.
Consider adding probiotic-rich foods or supplements to your diet. Choose probiotics with strains that have been shown to have health benefits for your specific needs.
Drinking enough water helps maintain the mucosal lining of the intestines and supports digestion & absorption.
Reduce added sugars:
High sugar intake can negatively affect gut health by promoting the growth of harmful bacteria. Minimize your consumption of sugary foods and beverages.
Limit intake of processed foods:
Processed foods are often low in nutrients and high in unhealthy fats and sugars, which can negatively impact gut health.
Get enough sleep:
Prioritize a regular sleep schedule and aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Sleep is linked to good gut health and overall well-being.
Physical activity can naturally improve gut health by helping beneficial gut bacteria flourish and promoting better digestion.
Avoid Overuse of Antibiotics:
Use antibiotics only when necessary, as they can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria. If you must take antibiotics, consider probiotics afterward to support recovery.
Limit antibacterial products:
When asked how to improve gut health, we often forget limiting the use of antibacterial products. Overuse of antibacterial soaps and cleaning products can negatively affect the diversity of your gut microbiota.
Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol:
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt gut health and increase inflammation.
Consider your intolerances:
If you suspect certain foods are causing digestive discomfort, consider discussing food intolerances with a healthcare professional.
How to improve gut health naturally?
Here are some tips that you can follow on how to improve gut health naturally –
Eat slowly, savor your meals, and pay attention to hunger and fullness cues.
Choose Healthy Fats:
Incorporate sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats support a healthy gut lining.
Chew Your Food Thoroughly:
Chewing your food well aids in digestion and nutrient absorption.
Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, etc.), flaxseeds, and walnuts, can help reduce inflammation in the gut.
Eat Whole, Unprocessed Foods:
Prioritize whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds. These foods provide essential nutrients and fiber that benefit gut health.
Increase Fiber Intake:
Consume a variety of fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Fiber supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and aids digestion.
Gut health supplements
There are many types of gut health supplements available and it might get confusing to choose the best one. That’s why it is recommended to seek proper medical guidance. Your doctor would be able to suggest a proper gut health supplement based on your health, age, and lifestyle. If you just want to maintain good gut health then doctors would recommend preventive supplements, and if you have a gut-related problem, such as leaky gut, IBS, etc. then your doctor can recommend gut health supplements along with other multivitamins.
Ideally, you should take supplements at the same time everyday. But there can be certain supplements that your doctor recommends to take on an empty stomach or at a particular time of the day. Follow his/her instructions or the dosage instructions mentioned on the pack to get the best results.
Who needs gut health supplements?
Gut health supplements, such as probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes, are often consumed by individuals wanting to improve their digestive health, support gut microbiota, or manage specific gastrointestinal issues. However, it is best to consult your doctor to know if you need gut health supplements. You can also talk to your doctor to know how to improve gut health naturally.
Here are some categories of people who need gut health supplements –
People with gastrointestinal issues
Certain conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis might benefit from specialized gut health supplements recommended by a healthcare professional.
People with digestive issues
People experiencing digestive problems like bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) might explore gut health supplements to help alleviate these symptoms. Probiotics and prebiotics are commonly used in such cases.
People with autoimmune disorders and allergies
There is ongoing research into the role of the gut microbiota in allergies and autoimmune disorders. In some cases, specific probiotics or dietary modifications might be suggested to help manage these conditions.
People with weak immunity
Some individuals with a weakened immune system or those susceptible to frequent infections might consider probiotics to support their gut immune system.
Athletes and sports enthusiasts
Athletes and sports enthusiasts may consider gut health supplements to support nutrient absorption and overall gut function, which could impact their performance.
Remember that before adding any new supplements in your routine, you should talk to your doctor. Also understand what gut health means and how the supplements will work for you. Follow the dosage instructions carefully for the best experience.