Did you know that 70% of Americans have digestive related symptoms or diseases? That’s a BIG number! Let’s take a look inside to see what’s going on.
This may come as a surprise, but the gut produces 75% of all neurotransmitters in the body and is home to millions of bacteria that are important for your health and immune system – like a million friends you never knew you had! The gut is home to your microbiome, which is an ecosystem of microorganisms (think fungi, bacteria, archaea, and viruses) inside your body.
Just like in any ecosystem, balance is important for all species to thrive!
Think of a forest you may have visited, and all of the flora and fauna that inhabit it. Every organism that dwells in that ecosystem interacts with other species to create a specific environment. If something throws off the balance of the community, the entire ecosystem is at risk. If an invasive species enters the ecosystem, it can impact all of the other organisms. This is very similar to the microscopic ecosystem in your intestinal tract.
A healthy, balanced microbial population in the gut regulates the immune system and protects against allergic reactions and intestinal inflammation. However, like many other ecosystems, the gut microbiome composition can be easily disrupted by a variety of factors.
What factors affect the composition of the gut?
- Environment (chemicals, hygiene, living partners, pets, city vs. rural living)
- Lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress)
- Medical practices (medications, vaccinations)
- Early life (hospital vs. home birth, type of delivery)
Due to modern lifestyle changes, pharmaceutical drugs and modern medicine practices, changes to the gut microbiome are occurring that disrupt the normal intestinal make-up, which results in dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is the condition of having microbial imbalances in the body that cause harm to the host (aka YOU). On the contrary, eubiosis is a term used to describe agut that has a healthy, balanced microbial population, which in turn regulates your immune system and protects against allergic reactions and intestinal inflammation.
Since some gut-altering factors are beyond your control, it becomes especially important that your diet and lifestyle promote eubiosis and a healthy, balanced gut!
Food acts as information for the gut, and is a form of connection to the gut microbiome. Healthy foods send positive messages of health to every cell in the body and gut, whereas unhealthy food sends signals of disease and inflammation, resulting in dysbiosis.
What diet factors negatively affect your gut? Here are some examples:
- High animal protein diets
- High fat diets
- Highly refined carbohydrates
- Sulphites & sulphates
- Artificial sweeteners, unhealthy food additives, and highly processed foods
Research has even shown that mice that ate highly-processed food that contained unhealthy food additives ate more, gained weight, increased body fat, and had impaired glucose tolerance and glycemic control. This is the opposite of what we want when it comes to successful weight loss! Similarly, research has shown that obese populations may have lower levels of healthy bacteria and higher levels of unhealthy bacteria than lean subjects.
The gut plays a principal role in many chronic diseases. Changes in the gut microbiome are implicated in inflammatory diseases, allergic diseases, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and non-communicable disease. Fortunately, you can support your gut by making sure your diet is rich in nutrients, whole and unprocessed foods, plant foods, fiber, and a colorful array of fruits and vegetables! Not only will this reduce your risk of disease and health complications, but a nutritious diet allows for easier and more sustainable weight loss. In other words: Make sure you’re treating those bacteria in your gut the way you want to be treated!