It’s not just an army that marches on its stomach – you do as well. The benefits of a healthy gut affect so many more aspects of your life than most people think.
Millions and millions of fungi and bacteria and other organisms live inside your gut – in your intestines and your colon. Yes, it’s a bit creepy to think about it, but without them you wouldn’t survive very long as these good bacteria truly are responsible for making your body work. These organisms – your microbiome, as they’re also known as – help to digest your food and get the nutrients from them that you cannot produce yourself – but that is not all they do.
They also play a major role in determining your metabolism (and your weight), making your immune system work properly, and they also have a major effect on your mood. In short, they help to give you the nutrients you need to live on, they keep you healthy and they can make you feel happy. What could be more important than that?
A little more about these three processes
- Your gut bacteria affect your appetite and determine how many kilojoules and nutrients you absorb from the food you eat. A healthy person has a wide variety of healthy gut bacteria.
- There is a strong connection between your brain and your gut (via something called the vagus nerve). Not only can anxiety cause digestive problems, but your gut health affects your mood – in fact, your gut produces 95% of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. If this balance is disturbed, it could lead to chronic depression and other mood disturbances.
- Your immune system never sleeps – it is constantly on guard against attacks launched against you. Almost 80% of your immune tissue can be found in your gut. It doesn’t just protect you against nasties that might lurk in the food you have eaten, it also protects you against nasty germs doing the rounds. And it keeps the whole system ticking over.
What you eat and how you live (as well as genetics, of course) have a direct effect on your gut health.
So how do you feed the good bacteria and make it possible for them to keep you happy and healthy?
- Eat probiotic foods, such as yoghurt, pickles and traditional buttermilk that feed the good bacteria. Speak to your doctor about taking probiotics, especially if you have been on antibiotics.
- Increase your fibre intake by eating more wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds, vegetables and fruit.
- Cut down on junk food and foods high in bad fats. They put strain on the gut.
- Find a way to reduce your stress levels, get regular sleep, go easy on the booze – and get some exercise!
By SUSAN ERASMUS
Sciencedirect.com; Harvard Medical School; National Institutes of Health; The British Medical Journal