What is “Gut Health” and Why is it So Important?

What does “gut health” mean, and why is this term becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society? In  medical fields, scientists perceive the body’s intestines as organs whose sole purpose of existing is to aid in digestion. However, in recent years, scientists have been studying these organs from a whole new light, placing much more emphasis on investigating the relationship between our gut health and our well-being. 

Our gut houses the location where the food we consume gets broken down into nutrients. These nutrients then enter the bloodstream and flow throughout our entire body. Although scientists are still unclear as to how to distinctly define and measure our ‘gut health’, it is evident that there is a strong correlation between the state of our gastrointestinal tract and our physical and mental well-being. The average gut is home to over 640 different bacteria strains, 20 hormones, and helps to digest and absorb the nutrients from the food we consume. Containing over 1014 bacteria located primarily in the large intestine, a rich and diverse gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome is essential for allowing sufficient nutrients to fuel our bodies. In addition, these bacteria help prevent harmful, pathogenic microorganisms from colonizing within our GI tract, provides energy for the gut wall from foods such as carbohydrates and fibres, regulates the mucosal immune system, and maintains the GI barrier. As a result, having a rich and diverse GI microbiota and an intact GI barrier is vital in maintaining a healthy gut.

Going into more detail, the mucosal immune system of an individual’s GI tract — the immune system that is located on the surface of their organs and bodies — both depends on the GI microbiome and helps to control it. This outer lining serves to protect external dangerous microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, etc… — from entering the GI tract, which can lead to possible discomfort and diseases. The mucosal immune system contains cells that are able to recognize and exterminate these harmful pathogens from entering through the gut wall. Thus, the GI microbiome and the mucosal immune system work closely with each other to form a strong and intact GI barrier, ultimately maintaining the body’s gut health!

In the case of a disturbance in the GI barrier, the balance of good and bad gut bacteria will be disrupted. The GI microbiota can alter very quickly and unintentionally as several factors can affect its functionality. For example, oral antibiotics will affect the gut’s ecosystem, decreasing the number of bacteria present in the GI tract. Altering the balance of gut bacteria can lead to discomfort, and in extreme cases, GI and extraintestinal diseases. People who are having trouble with their digestion can experience minor symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. However, if the symptoms are more acute — severe weight loss, jaundice, blood in stool, etc… –, there might be an underlying gastrointestinal problem that is linked to a disease such as irritable bowel disease (IBD) or colon cancer.     

There are a number of ways to support gut health in order to keep it running healthily! A person’s diet can influence their gut health substantially. Having a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide fiber that acts as fuel for the gut bacteria in the colon. This, in turn,  allows the digestive tract to flow smoothly through soft and regular bowel movements. In addition, consuming probiotics and prebiotics will also benefit the gut, as probiotics introduce good bacteria into the body, while prebiotics allow these bacteria to stay alive and healthy. In addition, refraining from tobacco, having moderate alcohol consumption, maintaining a good sleep schedule, and controlling stress are factors that have also been shown to support an individual’s gut health.

The term ‘gut health’ will appear more and more over the next few years as scientists have begun to research more about it. New discoveries in medical fields, such as with gut health,  can even offer new approaches to preventive medicine!. The gut microbiota is an essential system in our bodies as it plays many roles, from digesting and absorbing nutrients from the food we consume to preventing dangerous pathogens from entering the gut wall of the GI tract. Although this topic is still an area of science and medicine with several missing puzzle pieces, we have gradually become aware that certain components of our lifestyle — having a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding too much stress — can help maintain a healthy gut. 

So in the end, what should you be taking away from this article? Do not ever neglect your gut — keep it healthy, and your body and mind will follow too!

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