“Healthy gut” is a term that has come into the spotlight over the last several years as people are paying more attention to how the food they eat affect their overall health. But what is a healthy gut, why is it important to have one, and what are the steps to achieving one? Let’s explore.
Scientific evidence points to the life forms that live within humans’ bodies — trillions (and 10,000 different kinds) of tiny organisms that co-exist inside the human body — as driving the ship to health rather than genetics such as one’s DNA. In fact, the bacteria that live within the body — mostly in the gut — are actually responsible for keeping people healthy. These organisms help the body digest food, protect it from infection and help maintain a healthy immune system to defend the body against autoimmune diseases such as asthma and diabetes.
Scientists are beginning to recognize that the bacteria living within the gut makes up a microbiome consisting of approximately 100 trillion cells that inhabit the intestines and other parts of the digestive system. For the most part, these cells are designed to work together to help the digestive system and keep people healthy. These cells can even impact the function of the immune system, brain development, obesity, genetic expression, mental health and memory. They can also have influence over a person’s risk of disease, cancer, diabetes and autism.
When in balance, good bacteria in the gut have many benefits for the body. They have even been shown to prevent allergies by teaching the immune system how to differentiate between pathogens and non-harmful antigens in the body, and how to properly respond to each.
While bacteria are intended to do good within the body, they can also be the cause of many health problems if there is an imbalance of these microbes. In fact, 80 percent of the immune system is within the digestive tract — so it makes sense that a healthy body begins with a healthy gut.
An article posted on the Harvard Medical School website discusses the gut-brain connection as well, noting that the “brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines.” The article points to research that shows the brain-gut connection “can link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa” because the “gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion.” Stomach and intestinal problems as a result of stress may appear in many ways — from physical symptoms such as headaches and trouble sleeping to emotional symptoms such as an overwhelming sense of tension or pressure, poor concentration and quick temper. Those with anxiety or depression may also consider a health treatment approach takes into account one of the main core elements of functional medicine — nutrition.
Restoring balance within the gut through proper nutrition is the first step in achieving a healthy gut. Functional medicine can test gut function for typical patient ailments such as mood disorders, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and more. And while each patient is different and the nutritional plan that is best for one may not be the exact same as another when it comes to tackling gut imbalance, there are a few general things people can do to begin restoring that balance. First comes eliminating sugar and refined flours from the diet. It’s also a good idea to try a high-dose probiotic. Those that are suffering with intestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome or mental ailments such as anxiety and depression may benefit from an appointment with Dr. Ballehr to begin finding their way back to health — through their gut!