Is it necessary to be concerned about my gut microbiome?
Until quite recently, the concept of following your instincts was mainly symbolic. While the heart, lungs, and liver are crucial to maintain in optimal condition, the stomach, intestines, and colon were often seen as simply functioning without much thought or attention. They would process whatever was consumed and may occasionally protest, but overall they were considered to be carrying out their duties efficiently.
Recently, evidence has accumulated indicating the significant impact of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi that reside in the gut on various aspects of human health. This includes the immune system and mental well-being. Research has revealed that the human gut contains approximately 500 million neurons, in addition to the 100 billion in the brain. The “gut-brain axis,” a system of biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system, appears to be a two-way street. For example, professional athletes tend to have a more diverse gut microbiota compared to the general population. However, it is also apparent that this relationship is reciprocal. While their efficient gut bacteria may contribute to their athletic abilities, engaging in regular exercise likely promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
According to Dr James East, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London, maintaining a healthy gut is crucial for overall human health. Some common indications of gut problems include persistent changes in bowel movements, abdominal pain, blood in the stool, weight loss, and difficulty swallowing. If any of these symptoms are experienced, it is important to seek medical assistance. Additionally, the gut microbiome may play a role in other areas such as weight gain and mental health, leading to ongoing research on the potential benefits of altering or improving the microbiome. This field of study presents an exciting opportunity to address societal issues that have not traditionally been associated with gut health.
The digestive system may influence hunger, nutrient absorption, and body rhythms. A study showed that diet effectiveness could vary based on the types of bacteria in the gut. Another recent review of 21 studies revealed that 11 of them supported the idea that controlling gut bacteria could improve anxiety. How can you optimize your gut health to maintain physical fitness?
According to East, making simple changes to your diet can have a positive impact on your health. These changes include following a Mediterranean-style diet, which involves reducing processed meat intake and increasing consumption of olive oil, fish, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Additionally, incorporating enough fiber, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly can improve gut function. It is also beneficial to eat a variety of foods.
How quickly food moves through the digestive system, known as gut motility, can indicate the overall health of one’s microbiome. A shorter “transit” time for food typically suggests a healthier gut.
To improve the diversity and health of your gut bacteria, the most effective and cost-efficient method is to incorporate prebiotics and probiotics from whole foods into your diet. Prebiotics stimulate the growth of existing gut bacteria by providing them with a food source, while probiotics are live bacteria that replenish your supply. Increasing prebiotics can be achieved by consuming more garlic, onions, legumes, beans, and berries in your regular meals. As for probiotics, options such as kimchi (try it in quesadillas), sauerkraut (pairs well with scrambled eggs), and kefir (ideal as a post-workout beverage) can be considered.
It may be beneficial to steer clear of processed foods, but the connection between your gut and alcohol is complex. A research study found that gin reduced the levels of beneficial bacteria in participants, while moderate consumption of red wine appeared to increase it. Additionally, as previously mentioned, maintaining a healthy exercise and sleep routine seems to be crucial for gut health. It’s a two-way relationship, so by tending to your gut’s well-being, you can rely on it to take care of you.