Gut Health 101: What You Need to Know

I’d love to shake the hand of the man who introduced us to the concept that “All disease starts in the gut,” but unfortunately Hippocrates left us millennia ago. It has taken us just about as long to come to the realization that despite his lack of scientific proof at the time, Hippocrates had made […]

I’d love to shake the hand of the man who introduced us to the concept that “All disease starts in the gut,” but unfortunately Hippocrates left us millennia ago. It has taken us just about as long to come to the realization that despite his lack of scientific proof at the time, Hippocrates had made a critically important statement.

Today experts can provide us with overwhelming evidence of the intimate link between gut health and overall health and well-being, a link that is often referred to as the brain-gut connection (or gut-brain axis). In fact, the gut is frequently called the second brain, since more than 95 percent of receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin are located there. Serotonin is a chemical that plays a significant role in regulating mood, social behavior, sleep, memory, libido, sexual function, digestion, and appetite.

Read about the benefits of probiotics on gut health

Why gut health is critical

Given the intimate relationship between our gut and your brain—the two brains if you will—it makes perfect sense that we would want to ensure we are providing the best support and nourishment for their optimal function. That’s why our food choices are so important, as is our microbiome (the vast array of microorganisms in our gut). Keeping our gut bacteria in balance is a key element in overall health.

The bacteria in our gut are charged with breaking down our food, assisting in the production of essential nutrients, and helping with optimal bioavailability of those nutrients. If our gut bacteria are out of balance—that is, the balance is in favor of bad or disease-causing microbes rather than good or beneficial bacteria—then we can experience a wide variety of health challenges. Some of those challenges include allergies, food intolerances, compromised immunity, difficulties with cognition and memory, lack of energy, muscle weakness, slow growth in children, and chronic inflammation.

What health problems can be caused by an unhealthy gut?

Some very common health challenges can be caused by an imbalance of healthy bacteria in our gut. For example:

  • Autoimmune disorders. Experts are not exactly sure what causes autoimmune diseases, but one popular theory is that they develop when there is an abundance of bad bacteria in the gut. Some autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis, among many others.

  • Mental health. The intestinal wall is home to about 500 million neurons, which make up the enteric nervous system, or your second brain. Since this second brain is composed of the same cellular tissue as our brain, it’s no surprise that disturbances here affect mental health. It’s been shown that we can change behavior when we change our gut bacteria. Therefore, challenges such as stress, anxiety, depression, brain fog, and mental exhaustion respond to efforts to bring better balance to our gut health.

  • Compromised immune system. If our digestive and intestinal systems are compromised because of an imbalance of bacteria, then our immune system is weakened as well. One example of such a compromise is leaky gut syndrome, in which the intestinal wall becomes permeable and toxic substances can pass into the bloodstream. This situation can cause our immune system to go into overdrive in order to fight these invaders, which in turn compromises our ability to fight off infections and other invaders. The result can be any number of illnesses, fatigue, and weakness.

  • Type 2 diabetes. It appears there’s a direct connection between type 2 diabetes and the presence of an abnormally high level of bad bacteria in the gut. Another finding is that obesity tends to be associated with a less diverse population of microorganisms in the gut. Both of these scenarios point to the importance of maintaining a healthy, diverse population of good bacteria in the gut to help ward off type 2 diabetes.

  • Skin disorders. The appearance of our skin reflects what is going on internally, which is one reason why it’s important to keep our gut health at an optimal level. Acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and various types of dermatitis all are symptoms of what is happening inside the body, and the gut in particular.

  • Weight problems. It appears that gut bacteria have an impact on the way the body stores fat and how we respond to hormones that make us feel full or hungry. It’s also been noted that obese individuals have a different bacteria environment in the gut than do their leaner peers.

  • Digestion and intestinal disorders. Acid reflux, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are among the most common digestion and intestinal challenges people face. All of these conditions can be helped by adding more good bacteria to the intestinal tract and restoring balance to the microbiome. One way to help ensure there is a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut is to take a probiotic supplement that provides numerous different species of good bacteria.

Read about probiotics: how to maximize their effectiveness

What can impact gut health?

  • Chlorinated water. Chlorine kills bacteria, both good and bad. If possible, avoid chlorinated water (we recommend using a water filter whenever possible).

  • Food choices. When we choose foods that promote inflammation (e.g., refined sugars, trans fats, gluten, omega 6 oils, processed foods), we are promoting bad bacteria growth. Any food that contains additive also should be avoided. Instead, choose whole, natural foods, including fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchee, tempeh and natto, that support and promote a healthy gut.

  • Probiotics supplements. Probiotic supplements are another way to ensure you get enough of these critical good bacteria. Often a combination of fermented foods and supplements is the best choice. When choosing a probiotic, it’s important to choose one that is high quality, has guaranteed efficacy (in other words, the cultures will get where they need to go), and one that is backed by research. Bio-K+ is one such brand. The unique patented formula created by Bio-K+ has been thoroughly studied, and its three bacteria have been proven to be synergistic (lack of competition between them) and therefore, work more effectively together. Probiotic supplements are especially critical if you are taking antibiotics. Bio-K+ has been very effective in helping reduce the risk of diarrhea due to antibiotics and the risk of diarrhea due to Clostridium difficile (AKA C-Diff). People often experience digestive issues after a course of antibiotics because antibiotics kill all bacteria, both good and bad. If you are currently taking antibiotics be sure to finish your prescription, but also start taking Bio-K+ concurrently (2-3 hours away from your does of antibiotics) and for 5 days after you finish your antibiotics, to help repopulate the good bacteria that have been harmed.

  • Unmanaged stress. The stressors associated with modern living, from exposure to pollutants such as heavy metals and food additives, to noise pollution, emotional challenges, financial worries, uncertain political climate, and global warming all take a toll on gut health. It’s important to practice stress reduction on a daily basis, such as deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, progressive relaxation, visualization, meditation, or exercise, among others.

  • Medications. Use of antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and a wide variety of other prescription medications all can disrupt your gut health. Use of NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, also can disrupt the intestinal lining. Probiotic supplements are recommended if you are taking such medications.

Being aware of the factors that affect gut health both from a negative and positive perspective will help you improve your overall gut health. Depending on your overall health picture and the signs your body is giving you, changes in your food choices can go a long way. For that extra boost, a supplement may be just what your gut needs.

[Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post by our partner Bio-K+. Bio-K+ offers a 100% probiotic product with proven benefits and effectiveness on human health. Bio-K’s probiotic helps to maintain a healthy intestinal flora, support intestinal functions and activate your immune system. They have a wide range of products for your needs including fermented drinkable products for adults and children as well as capsules. For more healthy inspirations, visit Bio-K+ blog.]

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