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Breaking Down Gut Health

April 27, 2017

All Disease Begins In The Gut

Dakote Howe, B.S. in Food & Nutrition

     You may have heard a lot of talk recently about prebiotics, probiotics, gut health and how these relate to overall health. Commercials on TV advertise supplements that claim to support a healthy gut. But, what do these claims even mean and is having a “healthy gut” all that it is made out to be? The purpose of this article is to answer some common questions about gut health – read further to find out more!

What is “gut health?”

     In simple terms, gut health is the overall well-being of our digestive system. It refers to bacteria living in the intestines, also known as our microbiome or gut flora. There are around 40 trillion bacteria living in our bodies, most of which are found in the intestines1. Surprisingly, the majority of cells found in the body are not human, they are microbial.2 Human cells are found in groups and are dependent on other cells for survival while microbial cells are isolated independent cells that are less developed than a human cell. Considering that our digestive systems are mostly made up of bacteria, it is up to us to make sure that these bacteria are healthy. We can do this by making smart choices when it comes to what we eat and drink. The main functions of the bacteria in our intestines are to aid in the digestive process, to metabolize vitamins (specifically vitamin K and the B vitamins) and to send signals out to the brain and immune system – all of which are pretty important3

Enterococcus faecalis is one of the most common types of bacteria in your gut flora

What are the signs of an unhealthy compared to a healthy gut?

     Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine once claimed that “all disease begins in the gut4.” This claim makes sense considering that the majority of our cells are microbial, most of which are found in the gut – so it is no wonder that gut health plays a key role in our overall health and wellbeing. Signs of an unhealthy gut include: irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, lactose intolerance, headaches, ADHD, auto-immune disorders, chronic fatigue, chronic inflammation, skin disorders and leaky gut syndrome3,4,8. A healthy gut, on the other hand, promotes better immune health, improved digestive health and regularity, increased energy levels, weight loss, blood sugar control and healthy skin1,5.

A Healthy Gut Improves Your Digestive Health + Overall Energy Levels 

What is the difference between good and bad bacteria?

     The bacteria found in our bodies are determined by the type of foods we eat1. Good bacteria help to strengthen the immune system while bad bacteria promote inflammation Bad bacteria ultimately lead to an unhealthy gut, resulting in the symptoms listed above. Ultimately, too much bad bacteria in the gut leads to chronic inflammation which can lead to major health issues like heart disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes and obesity7. Prebiotics are the food and nourishment for the good bacteria that is already found in the gut. They are complex carbohydrates with soluble fiber such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains1. Examples of good prebiotic foods are bananas, barley, beans, oats, apples, cocoa, flax seed, garlic, onions, beets, cabbage, artichokes, asparagus, carrots and leeks6,8. Alternatively, the bad bacteria feed off of highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, artificial sweeteners and unhealthy fats including store bought prepackaged candies, cookies and chips1. Therefore, it is important to eat a variety of healthy prebiotic foods to help nourish the good bacteria in the gut and to limit the consumption of highly processed foods with added sugars.

What are probiotics?

     Probiotics are strains of live, good bacteria that can be found in certain foods and supplements, which help to absorb nutrients into the body and support the immune system.1 Prebiotics are basically the food or fuel for probiotics. Foods that naturally contain probiotics include: kefir, kombucha, cultured vegetable such as sauerkraut and kimichi, raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar, yogurt, miso, tempeh, tofu, raw cheese and sourdough bread. Each probiotic food contains different strains of bacteria and the more diverse the gut microbiome is, the better1,6,8. Thus, it is important to consume a variety of foods rich in probiotics in order to increase the amount of healthy bacteria found in the gut.

Oats & Yogurt are a great prebiotic/probiotic combo.

If I eat healthy already, do I need to do anything else to make sure my gut is “healthy?”

     As long as you are consuming a healthy and balanced diet consisting of both prebiotic and probiotic rich foods, then it is likely that you already have a healthy gut6. However, if you experience any of the symptoms of an unhealthy gut as mentioned above, then it is best to talk to your doctor in order to see if any changes need to be made to your diet. Additionally, anyone that has been on a long term course of antibiotics (which kills both good and bad bacteria) may benefit from taking a probiotic supplement to help add healthy bacteria back into their gut6.

     In conclusion, yes, gut health is all that it is made out to be and has a great impact on our overall health – so, keep on drinking your kombucha and eating your oatmeal!



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