Gut Health refers to the balance between good and bad micro-organisms that reside in your digestive tract. According to Dr Will Cole, there are approximately 100 trillion bacteria living in your digestive tract. These bacteria, yeasts and viruses are also known as a gut microbiome or gut flora.
What does gut health mean and why is it important?
The gut microbiome is a layer of micro-organisms that covers the inside of a digestive tract, and this layer contains a variety of different bacteria, fungi and viruses. Most of these bacteria are good for your body, and in just a moment we will discuss some evidence-based research that shows links between the effects of good bacteria on immune system, mental health, skin conditions, digestive system and certain disorders. However, the main function of the good bacteria is to limit the growth of bad bacteria and ensure that they don’t cause too much damage. They work by multiplying themselves and leaving little space for the bad bacteria to grow (WebMD.com, 2019)
Healthy Gut is important because it can be linked to bloating, gas, stomach cramps, diarrhoea or constipation, IBS, and any food allergies or intolerances. How often do you hear that someone is coeliac or lactose intolerant? This may be caused by other things too, but in some cases it can be due to bad gut health.
What causes bad gut health?
Bad gut health means that the bad bacteria managed to multiply within the gut microbiome. According to Dr Will Cole, the following factors may contribute towards bad gut health:
- Diet – A diet that is low in essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals) or high in sugar can contribute to the growth of bad bacteria and yeast.
- Medication – Certain antibiotics or pain killers like Ibuprofen can kill some of the good bacteria in your gut, this gives the opportunity for the bad bacteria to spawn
- Stress – Stress causes high cortisol levels which can impact gut health as it is involved in many body processes. For instance, having adequate cortisol hormone levels can help in controlling blood sugar levels and regulate metabolism, but if cortisol levels are too high it can lead to anxiety, high blood pressure, and in some cases stroke.
Effects of bad gut health on your body
Gut health may increase the risk of heart disease
When you consume foods, some of the gut bacteria create a chemical called Trimethylamine N-Oxide (TMAO) which may cause cholesterol to build up in blood vessels. When the cholesterol builds up in blood vessels, it can lead to a condition called Hypercholesterolemia (Singh et al, 2017). In simpler terms, this condition is known as high cholesterol. This is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (Alphonse and Jones, 2016). The foods to avoid minimising the risk of this condition are eggs and red meats which have shown to be bad for gut. It is important to note that eggs and red meat provide many health benefits so it wouldn’t be wise to eliminate them from your diet but rather consume these in moderation.
There was another study done by Spady et al (1993) that found that eating saturated and trans fats greatly increases bad cholesterol (LDL) whereas healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats seem to elevate the risk of chronic diseases. These causes are driven by the effects of the consumed fats on gut microbiome.
Gut health may cause Inflammation
Researchers have found that consuming animal protein may increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease. It is important to understand that whatever you eat will have an impact on your wee micro-organisms. For instance, a study done by Jantchou et al (2010) looked into the correlation between animal protein and inflammatory disease. The study found that consuming high animal protein diet like meat or fish has shown to significantly increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease. A more recent study done by Ge et al (2019) looked into the effects of oxidized pork on gut microbiome. This study has shown that changes to microbiome that were induced due to consumption of oxidized pork lead to weight gain, inflammation and oxidative stress.
With that being said, more studies may be required to truly establish the effects of gut health on inflammation but it may be worth knowing that inflammation is one of the main causes of heart diseases, autoimmune disorders (lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), and stroke. Consuming the right kind of foods may help in reducing inflammation.
Gut Health may cause anxiety and depression
If you are unfamiliar with how your body works, your brain receives and sends signals all over your body which enables your body to function properly. Research has surfaced showing that our gut health may affect our emotions and the way our brain processes the information from your senses. When we say senses, we mean smell, sight, flavour and touch. As a result, gut health may lead to mental disorders like autism, anxiety and depression.
One of the studies done by Lach et al (2018) looked into the link between gut microbiome and mental health. It was found that gut microbiome may have an effect on different hormones which may impact our mental state. Overall, it was found that gut microbiome is important in regulating stress-related illnesses. Another study done by Rieder et al (2017) found that there are multiple direct and indirect communication pathways between the gut and the brain which can have implications to human health, especially regarding anxiety and depression.
Weight gain and obesity may be caused by gut health
We previously mentioned that the gut can impact our emotions and hormones, and even affect our brain’s communication. With that being said, some research suggests that the gut microbiome may affect hormones that regulate appetite. There was a study done by Meldrum et al (2017) that found that bad gut health may be one of the leading causes of obesity as it increases calorie absorption, appetite and fat storage. This study seems to suggest that bad gut health contributes to the metabolism of calories and helps your body store the consumed calories as fat. In addition, it also increases your appetite. So, whilst understanding that the main driver of weight gain is excess calories then it seems that bad gut health can increase the risk of weight gain and obesity.
Acne, skin and hair conditions may be caused by gut health
Acne and skin are regulated by an integumentary system, this is a barrier that protects the skin, hair, nails, glands and nerves from external stressors. External stressors include things like cold air or water, hot air or water, toxins within the air etc. This system also retains body fluids which helps to keep skin hydrated, eliminates toxins and regulates body temperature. This system is regulated by our immune system, and this is what the gut microbiome can affect. Bad gut health can affect the absorption of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which are required to keep the immune system strong. As a result, the immune system takes a hit and struggles to maintain integumentary system which opens up the opportunity for external bacteria to enter and attack our skin, hair and nails.
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We hope this information has helped you understand how important gut health is and how vast the effects of bad gut can be. It is strange to think that something that isn’t your mind can cause so many problems, but here we are.
Have you been experiencing any health issues and can’t explain what is causing them? It could be due to gut health. Comment below if there is any further information we could provide to help you!
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