Happy Gut Series, #1: The Basics

A happy gut is a healthy body is a happy you! Throughout my years of nutrition education, working with patients, and going through my own wellness journey, one thing has become very clear - the gut is most definitely the cornerstone of health and the most important determinant of health and disease. But how many people are truly aware of the importance of this mostly overlooked organ? 

By supporting normal digestion and elimination we can counteract dysfunctions in the body that we are not even aware of and are causing so many other problems throughout our whole body system. A major factor in gut health is the balance of bacteria that inhabit it and the possible consequences of harmful bacteria outweighing the beneficial bacteria.  Needless to say, good gut health and a balanced bacteria population is far underrated. This ‘Happy Gut Series’ will cover the basics about our gut health while focusing on gut bacteria, the ways that gut bacteria impact the rest of our bodies, the foods that effect it (prebiotics and probiotics), and additional dietary and lifestyle factors that can have a major impact on our gut health.

 The cornerstone of health: the gut is responsible for regulating many aspects of health as shown in this diagram.

The cornerstone of health: the gut is responsible for regulating many aspects of health as shown in this diagram.

You may already be aware of this, due to its rising popularity in mainstream media, but our bodies are actually inhabited by organisms that outnumber our own cells 10 to 1! As crazy as it may seem, more and more evidence is coming out that bacteria and other microbes take up a very large space in our bodies and therefore can play an equally major role in our well-being. Until recently, our intestinal tract including our gut, has most often been seen as solely a way to breakdown and deliver nutrients to our bodies.

Over the last twenty years or so, researchers have found mounting evidence that there is much more to it then that. A major finding was the realization that our micro biome (all the microorganisms in our body) are not only vast in number but that there are hundreds of different kinds that can have either beneficial or harmful effects on our health. These microorganisms are most present in our large intestine or “gut” and are collectively called our microbiota. The amount of each type of bacteria is crucial to the functioning of our digestive tract and can have effects throughout our whole bodies.

What is the gut?

•The entire alimentary canal comprised of the mouth esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines

•Most often referring to the large intestine and its large number of health effecting bacteria –the gut flora or the “microbiota”

•Allows for absorption of nutrients to enable daily metabolic processes and acts as a barrier to harmful substances

 

What is gut imbalance or ‘dysbiosis’?

•Good or ‘symbiotic' bacteria synthesize nutrients, aid digestion and absorption, inhibit growth of infectious organisms, stimulate the immune system, and improve digestive health

•Bad or ‘pathogenic' bacteria produce toxins, carcinogens, and antigens

•Dysbiosis is a shift from good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut

 

Signs of gut imbalance:

•Frequent upset stomachs

•Uncomfortable bloating

•Inconsistent, uncomfortable bowel movements

•Heartburn or indigestion

•Joint pain

•Fatigue or brain fog

•Anxiety or depression

 

Possible causes of gut imbalance: 

•Food allergies/sensitivities

•More harmful bacteria than helpful bacteria in the gut - dysbiotic microbiota

•Diet high in sugar,  refined carbohydrates and inflammatory fats; diet low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and probiotics

•Candida or parasites

•Use of antibiotics

•Digestive disorders: IBS, UC, Crohn’s, SIBO

 

The next topic in this ‘Happy Gut Series’ will discuss how our gut health and bacteria balance can have far reaching implications to other parts of our bodies and overall health.