5 Reasons You Should Care About Your Gut Flora
We’ve all been told to trust our guts when it comes to making decisions, but how about trusting our guts to take care of our immune systems, moods, and our overall health? Healthy gut flora builds the foundation for a healthy body, so maybe it's time to start taking “trusting your gut” a little more literally!
- Gut flora is the population of bacteria that inhabit your gut to help digest food, absorb nutrients, and keep you healthy.
- A healthy microbiome is the foundation for a healthy body; our gut health is connected to our immune systems, mental health, and even autoimmune diseases.
- You can improve your gut flora by getting quality sleep, hydrating, eating whole foods, and reducing stress.
What is gut flora?
Let’s start with defining what constitutes our gut; the gut includes the organs such as the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. Gut flora on the other hand is the community of bacteria that populate your digestive organs to help you digest foods and absorb nutrients. These bacteria may be small, but they play a huge role. Research connects our gut flora to our immune systems, mental health, autoimmune diseases, skin disorders, and even cancers.
Just like a fingerprint, the 300-500 gut flora that inhabit your digestive tract and formulate your microbiota are incredibly unique, determined partly by your mother’s microbiota, as well as your lifestyle and diet.
Essentially, these good bacteria do a lot more than just help to digest the food we eat. They help to stave off all the bad bacteria, and keep multiplying to keep your digestive tract in equilibrium (AKA keeping it healthy!)
Different types of gut flora
There are four dominant bacteria that play essential roles in our gut health. They include firmicutes, bacteroidetes, actinobacteria, and proteobacteria.
Firmicutes generally break down carbohydrates in the gut that can’t be digested by the body’s enzymes, like fiber and resistant starches. Additionally, they provide energy to the cells in your gut lining, control inflammation in your intestines, and encourage the production of hormones to keep your metabolism healthy. These bacteria can be found in yogurts, flaxseed, garlic, oats, and onions.
Bacteroidetes help protect against obesity; research shows that they do not digest fats well. Having an off ratio between firmicutes and bacteroidetes (your F/B ratio) has been linked to obesity and/or inflammatory bowel disease.
Actinobacteria are the key to maintaining homeostasis (a healthy equilibrium) in your gut, and proteobacteria are the key to help shape and regulate your immune system. These compile only a small percentage of the microbiota compared to firmicutes and bacteroidetes, but they all contribute substantially to a healthy gut and body.
Why should we care?
As if I haven’t mentioned it enough, your gut health sets the stage for a healthy body and mind, and it has a direct impact on almost every body system. Specifically, here are 5 reasons we should really care about our gut health.
- Your gut is in constant communication with your immune system
Did you know that over 70% of your immune system lives right in your gut? Yes- you read that right! Most of the time, when you’re feeling under the weather, it can be traced right back to your gut. Our immune systems help create diversity in our gut, and the gut helps to strengthen and develop our immune system further.
- There is a direct correlation between gut health and mental health
And this goes far beyond just being “hangry!” Up to 90% of our dopamine and serotonin are produced in our guts, as well as other significant neurotransmitters that help to regulate moods and behaviors. Research shows that irritation in the gut can trigger changes in your mood. Furthermore, people with gut disorders are more susceptible to anxiety and depression.
- Gut flora helps regulate inflammation in your body
Inflammation is the body’s go-to response to irregularities and poor health. This can show itself in the form of bloating, allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. While some of these are beyond our control, improving gut health can help to reduce and regulate symptoms.
- A healthy gut means healthy bowel movements
Your gut absorbs all the usable nutrients from your food and disposes of what it doesn’t need. When working properly, your body processes food efficiently! However, when any one part of this system is imbalanced, you can experience uncomfortable side effects including bloating and constipation.
- Gut flora helps absorb vitamins and minerals from your food
All the necessary vitamins that come from our intake of fruits and veggies get absorbed by your gut to work properly in your body. Not only will eating fruits and veggies improve your gut health, but the micronutrients will be absorbed and used by your body elsewhere. Eating fruits and vegetables is just always a win-win. Period.
How we can improve our gut flora
It is critical we take the steps towards caring for and improving our gut flora to keep ourselves healthy and protect our bodies from head to toe, and from the inside out!
Here are some habits to incorporate into your daily routine to treat your gut flora like a queen (or king!):
- Reduce stress
- Get better quality sleep
- Eat slower
- Take probiotics
- Focus on your diet
Overall, irregular sleeping habits and the disruption of your circadian rhythm can negatively impact your gut flora. These effects include bloating, inflammation, stomach pain, sensitivities to certain foods, and changes to the gut microbiome as a whole.
Additionally, focusing on your diet and consuming more plant-based, whole foods will keep your gut flora happy which in turn, keeps you happy! Incorporating more high-fiber foods such as beans, broccoli, berries, and whole grains provide nourishment for microbiota, preventing it from relying on your gut lining to digest food, keeping your gut lining intact.
Taking a probiotic or consuming foods high in prebiotics and probiotics helps to modify your microbiome and to create a community of bacteria in your gut that works for you, rather than against you. Prebiotics can be found in most fruits and vegetables, and probiotics can be found in yogurts and fermented foods; you can also take a daily supplement to boost your intake of healthy bacteria.
Our gut health forms the building blocks for the rest of our overall health, and it directly impacts nearly every aspect of our body. If you’ve never considered your gut health before, it’s never too late to begin incorporating simple steps into your daily routine to start giving your gut some top-of-the-line treatment!
It’s time to start taking care of a system that takes care of us!
Written by Morgan Taylor