Let’s face it, talking about gut health isn’t the most natural conversation starter. But the gut, and the microscopic bugs that live within, known as gut microbiota, control much more than we ever thought was possible.
Research on gut microbiota is published almost daily and from this we now know not only how important it is to get treatment and support for gut issues, but that looking after your gut can prevent a whole host of conditions too.
Many people’s lives are dictated by digestive health, with one in five of us needing to take time off work
due to their symptoms and over a quarter avoiding going out, according to a report by charity Love Your Gut.
The good news is, with some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you have the power to transform your gut health, meaning better overall health for you now and in the future.
We’re all unique
One of the biggest challenges is that a one-size-fits-all approach to gut health doesn’t work, as everyone’s microbiota is unique.
We know this after becoming guinea pigs for Professor Tim Spector and the Twin Research Department at King’s College London, when we took part in a ground-breaking piece of research.
As identical twins, we’re a great constant for medical research, and when taking part in Tim’s study we discovered that despite having 100% the same DNA, we only have 30 to 40% of the same microbiota, which could explain why our bodies behave so differently.
From learning more about how unique we (and our guts) are and the huge impact it has on health, we’ve made it our mission to empower you with evidence-based facts to enable you to make the best choices.
Why is your gut important?
You may think your gut’s primary purpose is digestion. But the friendly bacteria play a vital role in keeping
For example, did you know that the majority of your immune system is in your gut? Think of your gut microbiota as teachers to your immune cells – you need good teachers for a well-educated, effective immune system.
Major changes to your gut microbiota, whether through diet, lifestyle, stress or medication, can send your immune system into overdrive. This can cause inflammation, and long-term consequences include anything from mental health conditions to an increased risk of diabetes.
Your gut microbiota is made up of lots of different bacteria that work day and night to keep your body in check.
Most people are also unaware that around 90% of the body’s happy hormone serotonin is produced in the gut, which is why inflammation can affect mental as well as physical health.
Your inner ecosystem
There’s an entire ecosystem of microorganisms including bacteria, yeast and fungi living in your gut – your gut microbiota. However, sometimes the balance can get out of whack, and this is where you might experience problems.
These microbes help control blood sugar levels, produce vitamins, manage cholesterol and hormonal balance, prevent infections, control the calories you absorb and store, communicate with your nervous system and brain, and influence your bone strength, as well as performing hundreds of other essential functions.
But research has suggested that when your microbiota is out of balance, it can have a serious impact on your health. Studies have shown it could play an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular health, ADHD, autism, diabetes, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, autoimmune conditions and many more conditions.
Most research points towards gut microbiota inflammation leading to the development of many of these. However, at this stage it is challenging to say why, as we’re only beginning to understand exactly how different species of bacteria can be preventative or increase risks.
What are we doing wrong?
In the Western world, we’ve neglected the health of our gut bacteria. Our diet is often high in processed foods, which are packed with additives and emulsifiers that wreak havoc on gut microbes.
Also, while antibiotics are a lifesaver, they are like a nuclear bomb on gut microbiota and can affect the balance between the beneficial and less helpful bacteria, or even wipe out entire species altogether.
In addition to this, we’ve also created such a sterile environment with hand gels and cleaning products, that in our pursuit of hygiene we have killed off some friendly bugs we actually need.
Luckily, we now have the technology to study the DNA of gut microbiota, which is why we are making so many advances in understanding how they work and why they’re so important.
There is also demand to know more from the public, with so many people suffering from digestive issues, ranging from bloating and excessive wind to crippling pain.
But even if you don’t have these issues, we believe looking after your gut is as important as looking after your heart.
Got a gut feeling?
It might sound strange, but your gut health can have a major impact on your mental health. There is a neural and physical connection that runs from your brain all the way through your gut called the vagus nerve.
It’s like a motorway, with lots of lanes running in both directions to allow signals to travel from brain to gut and gut to brain. This amazing connection is called the gut-brain axis.
The bacteria in your gut have the power to affect mental health for better and for worse.
Take neurotransmitters. These are the chemical messengers that tell your brain how to feel, from happy to sad, motivated to demoralised. The amount of neurotransmitters you produce and how they are picked up by your brain largely depends on your gut. The three key ones are:
The majority of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut by microbes. If you have low serotonin levels you may encounter food cravings, low mood and even depression.
Dopamine If your gut microbiota is disrupted, it can inhibit the cells that make dopamine, the reward hormone associated with motivation. Low levels of dopamine are associated with difficulty concentrating and mood swings.
GABA Known as the calming hormone, the number of GABA receptors in the brain are dictated by your gut. The more receptors you have, the more your brain can utilise this chilled-out hormone. Low levels of GABA are linked to anxiety and restlessness.
Help your hormones
Not only do the bugs in your gut have the power to affect mental health, they also play an important role in hormonal regulation and how much oestrogen is in the body at any one time.
If your hormones become disrupted by your body producing too much or too little, this can affect metabolism, mood, how susceptible we are to certain diseases, as well as cardio and bone health. It affects both men and women but is also why post-menopausal women are more susceptible to osteoporosis.
Gut microbes play an important role in how your body regulates the amount of oestrogen that is circulating in the body. Your clever microbes produce something called beta-glucuronidase, which frees up oestrogen for the body to use.
If you don’t have enough microbes producing this, or they produce too much, your oestrogen levels will be affected, which influences body fat, metabolism, bowel movements, bone turnover and some skin conditions. Keeping your gut microbes in check can be a great start towards looking after your hormones.
- For more details, visit thegutstuff.com
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