Why You Should Care About Your Gut Health

If I’ve spoken with you for more than 5 minutes in the last 5 months, there is a great possibility that I’ve thrown random, unsolicited facts at you about your gut, to which almost everyone responds, “Isn’t that the organ that helps you poop? Ew, Katherine, that’s kind of gross…” That response would be understandable if that was truly all our gut did for our bodies, but I have become so fascinated by all of the amazing things (besides helping us poop) that our gut does for us.

Now, before we get into the mind-blowing details, let me explain to you what the human gut actually is. Your gut, aka your gastrointestinal system, is the long tube starting at your mouth and ending at your anus that processes food through the digestive system.

Courtesy of The Flow by Pique

Before you make up your mind and tell me “ew!” when I spew gut facts at you, here are the 5 top reasons you should care about your gut and your gut health. I promise you that it’s the coolest organ in our entire bodies.

1. Your microbiome lives within your gut.

Did you know that more than half of our human bodies are not actually made up of human cells? Crazy, I know. Human cells only make up 43% of your cell count, while bacteria make up the other 57%. Most of these bacteria live in your gut and the colony of them is referred to as your microbiome.

Courtesy of Psychology Today

More than 640 different species of bacteria are capable of living within your gut, and each combination of bacteria determines the key factors that make us who we are. This includes our body shape, personality, energy levels throughout the day and even how we display our emotions. Because there are so many possible combinations of bacteria, you likely have completely different species of bacteria living within you than your best friend or the person sitting next to you reading this.

It’s fascinating to realize that you would not be the person you are without the exact bacteria that live in your microbiome. Your gut is what makes you, you.

2. Your gut serves as your second brain.

Most of us have heard of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system as divisions of the autonomic nervous system, but did you know that there is a third division? It’s called the enteric nervous system and contains the system of neurons that govern your gut.

I’ll spare you from the specific scientific details on how the enteric nervous system functions, but these neurons in your gut are responsible for so much more than just signaling your digestive tract to work. While it’s not able to learn math problems or think through philosophical questions, this second brain plays an important role in our bodies. Every time you have “butterflies in your stomach” or a “gut feeling” about something, you likely are getting signals from your gut! Your enteric nervous system sends nerve signals that play a critical role in determining our mental state.

3. The health of your gut contributes to your mental and physical health.

These nerve signals that the enteric nervous system sends to your brain are sent through a system called the gut-brain axis. This means that the cognitive and emotional centers in your brain are directly connected to your gut bacteria and neurons.

Courtesy of Journal of Clinical Medicine

Since our actual brain and our “second brain” talk to each other, therapies that will help one brain will, in turn, help the other. For example, if you have symptoms of depression, one way of treating the depression would be through making sure that your gut is healthy. When your gut is healthy, your mental and physical health are more likely to improve and vice versa.

4. Your diet plays a key factor in keeping the bacteria in your gut healthy.

So how can you keep your gut healthy and your gut bacteria happy? Your dietary choices are critical to maintaining a healthy gut. 

Courtesy of The Indian Spot

Eat This:

  • Fiber-rich foods, brightly colored fruits and vegetables and lean proteins
    • EX: legumes, apples, blueberries, ground turkey breast, quinoa, kale
  • Probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods
    • EX: yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha

Not That:

  • Processed foods with high sugar content and no nutritional value
    • EX: chips, cookies, alcohol, white bread

5. Your gut health is a reflection of the lifestyle choices you make.

Every choice you make in your daily life will directly impact your gut health. Whether it’s your diet, how much you exercise, or how much sleep you get, every decision you make regarding your day will have an impact. The best advice is to make smart choices every day. Try to get 8 hours of sleep, establish routines, move your body and spend time with loved ones. This will ultimately decrease your stress levels, improve your physical health and therefore establish a healthy gut.

Your gut health affects your mental and physical health, which affects every aspect of your health. Every system in your body is intertwined, and your gut affects them all.  Taking care of yourself and your gut will make you more energetic and healthier in the short term, but also in the long run. Your gut is what makes you the unique individual that you are, so celebrate that by taking care of yourself!

Make a commitment to yourself to care for your gut health and make positive changes to your lifestyle. Soon, you will find that not only the health of your gut but also your full body wellbeing will be changed for the better.

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