One of the most buzz-worthy terms in health and wellness of late is "gut health". You'll hear gut health discussed in conversations related to everything from autoimmune diseases to psychological disorders. But what exactly does gut health mean, why is it important, and how do we achieve it?
The term "gut health" is thrown around on podcasts and social media, but often the meaning is taken for granted. Traditionally, the gut refers to the organs in your gastrointestinal (GI) system. The health of this system is largely determined by the microbiome, which are the trillions of microorganisms and bacteria that live in your gut. These microorganisms are linked to nearly every system within our bodies and as a result have a huge impact on our overall health. In fact, according to Dr. Ann Shippy, a gut health expert, up to 70% of our immune system lives in our gut.
When the balance of good versus bad bacteria in your gut is compromised, so too is your immune response. And when too much harmful bacteria is present in your gut it can have drastically negative impacts on your health.
When the gut is unhealthy it can cause mental issues such as anxiety and depression, heart disease, and digestive issues such as Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and ulcerative colitis.
Dr. Mark Hyman, one of the preeminent voices on gut health, makes the following recommendations when starting out on your gut health journey:
•Remove sugary, processed foods. The consumption of highly processed foods are not only key contributors to type-II diabetes and fatty liver disease, but also responsible for mental health issues, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases.
•Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Add things like wild-caught fish and turmeric to your diet or take an omega-3 supplement.
•Include fermented foods. Eat plenty of probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and yogurt. These all help your microbiome stay healthy.
•Reduce stress. Try adding stress-reducing practices such as meditation, deep breathing, or journaling to help control stress and keep your gut in the right "frame of mind".
•Exercise regularly. Research has shown that regular, consistent exercise reduces the negative symptoms of digestive disorders like IBS and IBD.
When it comes to your gut health, diet is key. If switching to a full-blown plant-based diet sounds like torture, start small and make at least one dinner a week meat free. Or if giving up dessert is something you just can't imagine doing, can you at least cut back to one small bowl of ice cream per week? The important thing is to be aware of your gut health and take small steps to get this important aspect of your health moving in the right direction.