The Importance of Gut Health
Updated: Jan 10
The link between gut health, hormones, skin and weight.
Many people think the word gut refers only to their stomach, but the gastrointestinal tract stretches from your mouth all the way to your derriere.
Contrary to popular belief your gut does so much more than just process the food you eat. Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms that work hard to support your health and wellbeing. Research has already shown your gut influences your mood, metabolism, immunity and the quality of sleep. Our gut also has an impact on our hormones, skin and weight.
The gut and stress hormone
Gut health can be compromised by the stress hormone cortisol, which is released into your blood stream by the adrenal glands. Prolonged stress and chronically high cortisol levels can suppress your immune system, making you vulnerable to pathogens and infections. Ongoing stress can also alter the balance of bacteria in your gut and damage the gut wall.
The gut and skin
Plump, healthy skin and fast wound healing are universally recognised markers of good health. They are also signs of a healthy balanced gut microbiome. If your gut is out of balance, then your skin is likely to be inflamed, congested or irritated.
Research has shown that people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are likely to suffer from skin problems. Intestinal permeability or leaky gut means that your body can’t efficiently absorb nutrients essential for healthy skin.
When your gut is more permeable undigested nutrients and endotoxins escape into the bloodstream and are sent to the liver for processing. If your liver is already loaded your body then tries to eliminate the toxins via your skin, which can cause congestion or inflammation.
The gut and weight
Research has shown that the gut microbe affects appetite, cravings and metabolism. Some gut microbes can increase sensitivity to the hormone leptin, which tells you when to stop eating. Other gut microbes have been shown to reduce gut inflammation and help extract more energy from your food.
When you eat fibre your gut microbe produces short-chain fatty acids that may help reduce a predisposition to weight gain. Adults with low gut microbial diversity are more likely to be obese. The latest research suggests changing your diet to encourage greater microbial adversity may reduce your chances of becoming obese.
How can you improve your gut health?
1. Lower your stress levels
Chronic high levels of stress are hard on your whole body, including your gut. Some ways to lower stress may include meditation, walking, getting a massage, spending time with friends or family, diffusing essential oils, decreasing caffeine intake, laughing, yoga, or having a pet.
2. Get enough sleep
Not getting enough or sufficient quality of sleep can have serious impacts on your gut health, which can in turn contribute to more sleep issues. Try to prioritise getting at least 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Your doctor may be able to help if you have trouble sleeping.
3. Eat slowly
Chewing your food thoroughly and eating your meals more slowly can help promote full digestion and absorption of nutrients. This may help you reduce digestive discomfort and maintain a healthy gut.
4. Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of water has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines, as well as on the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Staying hydrated is a simple way to promote a healthy gut.
5. Take a prebiotic or probiotic
Adding a prebiotic or probiotic supplement to your diet may be a great way to improve your gut health. Prebiotics provide “food” meant to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, while probiotics are live good bacteria. People with bacterial overgrowth, such as SIBO, should not take probiotics. Not all probiotic supplements are high quality or will actually provide benefit. It’s best to consult your healthcare provider when choosing a probiotic or prebiotic supplement to ensure the best health benefit.
6. Check for food intolerances
If you have symptoms such as cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, rashes, nausea, fatigue, and acid reflux, you may be suffering from a food intolerance. You can try eliminating common trigger foods to see if your symptoms improve. If you are able to identify a food or foods that are contributing to your symptoms, you may see a positive change in your digestive health by changing your eating habits.
7. Change your diet
Reducing the amount of processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods that you eat can contribute to better gut health. Additionally, eating plenty of plant-based foods and lean protein can positively impact your gut. A diet high in fibre has been shown to contribute tremendously to a healthy gut microbiome.
4 Types of food for gut health
Diet and gut health are very closely linked. Avoiding processed foods, high-fat foods, and foods high in refined sugars is extremely important to maintaining a healthy microbiome, as these foods destroy good bacteria and promote growth of damaging bacteria. There are also a number of foods you can eat that actively promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, contributing to your overall health. These foods include:
1. High-fibre foods
High-fibre foods such as legumes, beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, and leeks have shown a positive impact on gut health in numerous studies.
2. Garlic and onion
Garlic and onion may have some anti-cancer and immune system-enhancing properties based on various studies, which are closely tied to some of the primary functions of the gut. Some of these benefits are anecdotal, although some research has been done.
3. Fermented foods
Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, tempeh, miso, and kefir are great dietary sources of probiotics. While the quality of these foods may vary, their benefits on the gut microbiome are well studied.
4. Collagen-boosting foods
Collagen-rich foods such as bone broth and salmon may be beneficial to overall health and gut health specifically. Many of these benefits are anecdotal conclusions and further research could be done. You could also try to boost your body’s own collagen production through foods. Try adding a variety of foods, like mushrooms, good dairy, or certain meats.