When your gut feels good, you never think about it, but when it doesn’t, it’s hard to think of anything else. The group of microorganisms that live in and make up your gastrointestinal tract play a role in almost every aspect of your health, from preventing chronic disease to keeping your immune system functioning. So it’s no wonder that when it’s out of whack you feel lousy.
But what is your instinct, exactly? And is it possible to improve your gut health? Here’s all you need to know.
What is the intestine?
The human gut is much more complex than even experts thought – it encompasses a huge range of internal organs involved in the digestion process to absorb nutrients from food and expel waste, says Rushabh Modi, MD, board-certified physician in both Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and Hepatology and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “Typically these are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon, with the pancreas and liver being essential as supporting organs that help build enzymes. digestive, ”he says.
How your gut keeps your body healthy
In addition to absorbing and transporting nutrients to all tissues in the body, the gut is vital for maintaining water and salt status and for expelling wastes, says Dr Modi. “Many vital nutrients and vitamins such as B12 and iron have specialized transporters that only exist in the gut as well,” he adds. Iron, for example, needs stomach acid to be absorbed effectively, and vitamin B12 also requires absorption of certain receptors in the stomach and midgut. “These nutrients are difficult to obtain by other means and they are essential for normal physiological functioning,” adds Dr Modi.
The intestine is also one of the main disease fighting systems in the body. “The acid in the stomach kills bacteria and viruses that can be accidentally consumed by the foods we eat, and the digestive tract is an important way to introduce antigens to strengthen immune function and protection in the body. “says Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “The digestive tract also digests the food consumed and extracts important nutrients to be taken into the body for essential use.”
Emerging research has even found a link between poor gut health and several neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism and depression. A study from the University of Geneva found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have different types of bacteria that thrive in their gut than those without the disease.
8 signs your gut is in pain
If your gut is unhealthy, there’s a good chance you will experience one or more of the following symptoms, even mildly or rarely:
- Acid reflux
- Stomach pains
- Changes in stool
- Inexplicable weight loss
“As the digestion of food and the production of waste are the two most vital functions of the gut, when patients have problems in these areas, the gut can often be the source of the problem,” says Dr Modi. Acid reflux and heartburn are also associated with the bowel, although you will feel the pain further from the core of the problem. Bloating is also becoming more and more common to the point that Dr Modi notes that patients see it almost as a normal reaction to the consumption of certain foods.
If you are experiencing inexplicable weight loss despite eating regularly, it may be a sign that your body is not able to digest or absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat and that there is a problem with your body. digestive system, according to Dr. Lee.
How to improve your gut health
The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to support your gut health. Here are some of the strategies that doctors recommend.
Eat a wide range of healthy foods
A diet made up of several different types of food can lead to a more diverse microbiome made up of more species, according to a review published in the journal Molecular metabolism. This, says Dr Lee, strengthens our microbiome and improves its resilience.
The best foods for gut health are fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, especially those with the most fiber, which help your digestive tract function properly. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day and men should aim for 38 grams per day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And cut back on unhealthy foods. “The more fat, fat, and salt you eat, the poorer your gut health will be,” says Scott David Lippe, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, NJ, and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Rutgers Medical School. This is something to keep in mind, especially when going out to dinner, as restaurants tend to load up with salt, grease, and grease because they taste great.
Try to cut out dairy products
If you have gas, distension, or softer stools after drinking milk or eating cheese, you may be lactose intolerant. “It affects a significant number of adults, especially those who do not have Northern European ancestry,” says Dr Lippe. “A quick and easy test is to drink a glass of regular milk. If this makes you sick, then you are lactose intolerant. If you are not ready to cut out dairy products, you can also try taking lactose tablets before consuming foods containing dairy products.
Consider a probiotic
These tiny microorganisms help support your metabolism and rebalance your microbiota, says Douglas A. Drossman, MD, gastroenterologist and professor emeritus of medicine and psychiatry, UNC Division of Gastroenterology at UNC School of Medicine. He recommends taking them if you have symptoms of an unhealthy bowel; however, there may be no benefit otherwise. There isn’t actually a ton of research to support the gut benefits of probiotics.
A review published in Therapeutic advances in gastroenterology, for example, found that probiotics have a positive impact on the gut microbiota of people with certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, but have done little to improve the gut microbiota of people with certain conditions. healthy people. “If you are taking antibiotics or have a diarrheal illness, taking probiotics can be very helpful,” adds Dr. Lippe. However, he recommends trying to get your fair share of foods rich in probiotics like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi first.
Incorporate more prebiotics into your diet
“Prebiotics are not bacteria, but rather types of food that good bacteria like to eat,” says Dr. Milstein. “We have to feed the good bacteria and starve the bad bacteria. »He recommends stocking up on foods containing good bacteria such as nuts, berries, bananas, flax seeds, legumes, artichokes, onions, garlic, chicory, dandelion leaves, asparagus, leeks and whole grains. “Nutrition is personalized, but putting fruits and vegetables and fiber on our plate at every meal helps gut health and therefore brain health,” adds Dr Milstein.
Monitor your vitamin D levels
Recent research plush in Nature Communication studied the link between gut bacteria and vitamin D levels and found that nutrient deficiencies play a key role in increasing the risk of certain diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, and Cancer. Any form of disturbance of the gastrointestinal barrier is what is commonly referred to as “the leaky gut,” according to Dr. Drossman, which he believes can increase an individual’s risk of developing gastrointestinal illnesses. infectious, inflammatory and functional, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. “Most people with leaky gut have very low levels of vitamin D as well as very low levels of the two major omega 3s – EPA and DHA – in their bodies,” he says. He recommends that most people take at least 5,000 IU (125 mcg) of vitamin D3 per day and consume enough fish oil (or the vegan equivalent) of 1,000 mg of DHA per day. Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any type of supplement.
Manage your stress level
Being stressed not only impacts your mental health, it also affects your physical well-being. Chronic high stress levels can have a direct impact on your gut health, says Dr. Drossman. While it may not always be possible to eliminate stressors in your life, adopting stress management strategies, such as diaphragmatic breathing, meditation or yoga, can help, says Drossman. . “It’s also a good idea to consider consulting with a mental health care provider to determine if brain therapies (cognitive behavioral treatment, hypnosis, mindfulness) can be used,” he adds.
Get enough sleep every night
When you don’t get enough sleep your whole body is affected, including your gut. In fact, new research shows just how interconnected your gut microbiome and the quality of your sleep are. A study from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida found that poor sleep can negatively impact your gut microbiome for reasons as yet unknown, which can then manifest itself in a host of other health issues. such as autoimmune diseases and mental disorders. . The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
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