We have all experienced the symptoms of poor gut health at some point in our lives, and we know the feelings associated with bloating, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, burping, and abdominal pain. What we don’t think about is that these are the signs of poor gut health, the same gut that carries our second brain.
The term gut health has gone skyrocket high in the recent years. Medical literature and the food industry have equally promoted it. The medical industry promoted this term due to growing body of research and the food industry promoted it to sell more probiotics.
While the importance of gut health has long been the central theme of medicine for Asians, the western world now realizes that gut plays a role more important than generating a positive gut feeling.
So, what exactly is the meaning of gut health? Find out below.
A healthy upper and lower gastrointestinal system is what makes a healthy gut. In the absence of gastrointestinal complaints, one might claim that he has a healthy gut. This can be true if we exclude the potential gut health diseases that can exist even in the absence of complaints, for example, malignant bowel disease.
There are FIVE major criteria for a healthy gut.
- An effective food absorption, regular bowel movements, normal stool consistency, the absence of abdominal pain, and rare cases of bloating, nausea, or vomiting.
- The absence of gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases, heartburn, enzyme deficiencies, cancers, and food intolerances.
- The proper balance of gut microbiome (microorganisms that are essential for normal functioning of our body) and the lack of gastrointestinal infections.
- Effectual immune system.
- Good life quality, positive gut feeling, normal serotonin production, and intact enteric nervous system (a network of neurons that controls the functions of the gut).
Together, these positive five criteria make a healthy gut. Although it is not possible to know of the disease without a proper diagnosis, some specific symptoms do tell the person that something is wrong inside the gut. Before we move on to those symptoms, let’s see why is gut health important?
Importance of gut health
If we think in terms of human race, we might feel lonely in this huge world of galaxies, planets, and nebulas, but humans are never alone. Each human being is a host to trillions of microorganisms (gut flora and microbiome), and your gut is the region where these microorganisms have a huge impact.
Lack of healthy gut flora and an abundance of bad gut bacteria can pretty much cause trouble. Name a disease, and the chances are that it too is associated with the imbalance of microorganisms that reside in your very own body.
Your gastrointestinal system and the gut flora is not just associated with the processing of food, but it performs much more than that.
It is your gut flora that makes vitamin K and folic acid, signals your immune system, plays a metabolic role, and makes necessary molecules for your brain to function correctly.
Your gut prevents
- Lack of energy
- Bad Mood
Your gut flora promotes
- Healthy weight loss
- Healthy aging
And that is why POOR GUT HEALTH is important to be discussed.
Symptoms of poor gut health
There are different symptoms related to poor gut health that people experience, each associated with varying degree of seriousness. A few common are listed below:
- Abdominal pain
- Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing food)
- Acid reflux
- Excessive flatulence/wind
These symptoms appear when bad gut bacteria overtake the healthy gut flora.
How to have a healthy gut?
In order to improve gut health naturally and to restore the healthy microbiome, it is important to know of the factors that put your gut flora out-of-balance. Here’s a short list of things that give rise to bad gut bacteria:
- The absence of proper digestive enzyme functions secondary to zinc deficiencies or use of antacids.
- Overuse of certain medications such as antibiotics, steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs (Advil, Aspirin, Aleve, ), hormones and antacids.
- Stress (It can cause leaky gut and alteration in the nervous system of gut promoting bad bacteria).
- Toxins that damage the gut such as mercury.
- Undetected celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and food allergies (low-grade) can off-set the gut flora.
Food that is processed and has high sugar, low fiber, poor nutrition, and high calories can also cause the overgrowth of bad bacteria, interrupting the delicate ecosystem of the gut.
Apparently, these issues may only impact the gut, but they have far-off effects.
An imbalance of gut flora can cause obesity, diabetes, autism, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, liver diseases, chronic heart diseases, depression, and even cancer.
Steps to restore healthy gut flora
Through a focus on your gut, you can improve your overall health. Follow these steps to optimize your gut health and to restore healthy gut flora:
- Avoid using processed food. It usually contains ingredients that imbalances the gut flora.
- Consume high-fiber diets such as whole grains, vegetables, and nuts.
- Eat gut health food, i.e., probiotics such as yogurt.
- If you have food sensitivities, try eliminating gluten, corn, yeast, eggs, and dairy from your diet. Do this for around 1-2 weeks, and see if your symptoms improve.
- Get good fat. Omega-3 fatty acid helps in reducing the gut inflammation. Try that.
- Also, get treatment for gut infections. The bad bacteria, yeast, and parasites inhibit the proper functioning of your gut. Take action!
- Eat food that is rich in gut healing nutrients like zinc and glutamine.
- Do not take excessive antibiotics. If you have to, make sure your diet is microbe-friendly.
- Extra virgin oil has reasonable amounts of microbe-friendly polyphenols. Prefer it over other fats.
Healing your gut is not a one day job. It is also not a one-man’s job. You might need to consult your doctor to see if there are undetected gastrointestinal problems. If yes, you’d have to avoid stuff that can aggravate your condition. However, there are certain foods that we call as gut health foods and some others that we say are bad for the gut flora. By keeping an eye out for these foods, you can improve your gut health naturally.
Foods good for gut health
There is evidence that probiotics can help promote a healthy gut.
Probiotics are the living organisms that have multiple health benefits.
While probiotics are available as gut health supplements, you can also reap the benefits by eating probiotic-rich foods. Here’s a list:
Yogurt is a rich source of probiotics, the good bacteria that promote a healthy gut. It helps alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Since yogurt is a fermented product created from milk, it may prove to be better than milk for those who have lactose intolerance. This is because bacteria in yogurt convert some lactose into lactic acid which is tolerable for such individuals.
Note that all yogurt items are not probiotic rich. Read labels and choose the ones that contain live or active culture.
Kefir grains are made from a combination of bacteria and yeast. Created from a mixture of kefir grains and cow/goat milk, kefir is a probiotic food (fermented milk) that has numerous health benefits.
Kefir has shown to help with digestive problems, protect against infections, and contributes to one’s health. Lactose intolerant people usually tolerate kefir better than milk.
People often consider yogurt as the best probiotic food, yet kefir is even better than yogurt.
The two types of buttermilk are
The leftover milk after making butter is what we call as traditional milk. It is the only version of buttermilk that is good for gut flora because it contains probiotics. Whereas, cultured milk that is usually available in the market does not have probiotic effects.
Chinese call it an immortal health elixir. Kombucha is produced by fermenting black or green tea with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.
The science-based evidence on the health benefits of Kombucha are lacking, but since it is a fermented food, it may have positive effects on the gut health.
You must have seen those cucumbers in a solution of salt and water. Those are pickles.
Pickles are a good source of healthy bacteria that may improve your gut health. They also have good amounts of vitamin K. However, note that vinegar made pickles lack live bacteria. Go for the ones that are let to ferment in salt and water solution.
It is a Japanese food made by fermenting soybean with koji and salt. Sometimes, rice and barley are also used along with salt and koji. It is a good source of probiotics.
You can add it to your diet as a miso soup. Besides the gut health benefits, it is also rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
It is a soybean bound in a cake form as a result of controlled fermentation and natural culturing.
Although tempeh originates from Indonesia, it is popular worldwide. People consume it as a substitute for high protein meat diet.
The process of fermentation results in bacteria producing some vitamin B12 which is otherwise found in eggs, meat, fish, and dairy products. So, tempeh makes an excellent food for vegetarians as well as for those who want to eat probiotic food to improve their gut health.
It is a fermented form of finely cut cabbage. It has a sour taste. Sauerkraut has been around for years, but it is especially popular in the European countries.
This probiotic food not only promotes healthy bacteria and gut health, but it is also a rich source of different vitamins, iron, manganese, and antioxidants. Just make sure that you purchase unpasteurized sauerkraut because the pasteurized version is devoid of active bacteria.
Other foods that promote healthy gut
The best kind of high-fiber food is fruits and vegetables. Below is a short list of foods that are a good source of promoting healthy gut flora:
- Green peas
They contain lots of fiber and promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut, therefore, promoting gut health. Whole grains also improve the immune system and reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart diseases. Examples of whole grains include the following:
- Whole Wheat
- Brown rice
Whereas, refined grains include enriched bread, white rice, and wheat flour.
Things that are bad for gut health
It’s good to know about the foods that are important for a healthy gut, but it is equally important to highlight those things that are bad for your gut health.
You may not like it, but chronic and excessive consumption of alcohol can actually cause an imbalance of gut microbes.
Antibiotics also contribute to the change in diversity and composition of gut bacteria.
While lack of physical activity plays a role in weight gain, cardiovascular diseases, and other health issues, it also affects the gut health. Research shows higher levels of healthy gut bacteria in physically active individuals as compared to those who lack in physical activity.
Cigarette smoking can potentially cause inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease, whereas smoking cessation improves the gut flora within just nine weeks of giving up the habit of smoking.
Sleep deprivation and excessive stress have also shown to affect the gut health negatively.
The topic of gut health needs extensive research to find out the extra-gastrointestinal effects of poor gut health. Evidence also lacks the number of things that we can do to have a healthy gut. However, it is crucial that we apply whatever knowledge we have so far. Based on the suggestions in this article, start with a healthy gut diet plan to improve your gut health, and avoid the things that are harmful to the healthy microbiome.