Everything You Need to Know About Gut Health

Listen to Your Gut.

Our guts hold trillions of living bacteria, both good and bad bacteria, critical to our health & well-being. This collective bacteria as a whole is referred to as our ‘gut microbiome‘. Ever heard the phrase, “trust your gut”? That’s because our guts are closely linked with our brain, and a healthy gut microbiome is linked to decreased risk of anxiety & depression, as well as a healthier immune system and decreased risk of chronic disease. Exciting and progressive research is being conducted regarding the many links between our gut and our health.You can think of our gut microbiome like our fingerprints – everyone has their own unique microbiome with a variety of different strains of bacteria. Our gut microbiome is often influenced by a variety of factors –  age, our diet, our environment, our genes, and certain medications (especially antibiotics, which can deplete both the good bacteria with the bad gut bacteria). So what exactly does our gut microbiota do? It metabolizes nutrients from food and certain medications, it acts as a protective barrier against intestinal infections, and produces vitamin K, which helps make blood-clotting proteins. However, research is showing that our gut might do a lot more and play a larger role in our overall health & well-being. Research has shown that not only having flourishing bacteria in our gut is crucial, but having a variety of different strains is important.

Here’s the low-down on the latest research:

From Harvard Edu:

“Rheumatoid arthritis. Two studies from the Mayo Clinic suggest gut bacteria may predict susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as well as offer a possible treatment. A study published online April 21, 2016, by Genome Medicine looked for a biomarker of the disease. Researchers were able to isolate certain bacteria that are high in RA patients, but low in healthy individuals. The other study, published online June 23, 2016, by Arthritis & Rheumatology, found that mice treated with the bacterium Prevotella histicola had less severe and less frequent symptoms and fewer inflammatory conditions associated with RA.

Cancer. A study published online April 13, 2016, by PLOS ONE offered some evidence that a particular strain of the bacterium Lactobacillus johnsonii may protect against some cancers. Scientists gave mice a mutation that is associated with a high incidence of leukemia, lymphomas, and other cancers. When treated with the bacterium, the mice developed lymphoma only half as quickly compared with a control group.

Heart disease. Research in the February 2016 Journal of Applied Microbiology found the bacterial strain Akkermansia muciniphila could prevent inflammation that contributes to fatty plaque buildup in arteries. Scientists believe the effect was due to a protein that blocks communication between cells in the inner lining of the gut. As a result, fewer toxins from a poor diet could pass into the bloodstream, which in turn reduced inflammation.

Immune system. In a study published online Nov. 5, 2015, by Science, University of Chicago researchers found that introducing a particular bacterial strain into the digestive tracts of mice with melanoma prompted their immune systems to attack tumor cells. The gains were comparable to treatment with anti-cancer drugs called checkpoint inhibitors.”

Research is also showing a potential link between gut health and obesity, insulin resistance, inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, and mental illness. There is a lot more research to be done!

So how do we support a healthy gut microbiome?

  1. Consume fermented foods. Fermented foods contain plenty of probiotics – nourishing your gut microbiome. Focus on foods such as kimchi, fermented tofu (tempeh), miso, sauerkraut, sourdough, buttermilk, kefir, kombucha.
  2. Consume prebiotics in addition to probiotics. You’ve likely heard of probiotics – AKA the “good bacteria” that can help flourish and replenish your gut bacteria. But have you heard of prebiotics? Prebiotics can be thought of as food for the probiotics. Prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds. Top foods high in prebiotics include Jerusalum Artichoke, bananas, garlic, asparagus, wheat bran, onions, leeks, chicory root, & raw dandelion greens.
  3. Get active! Early research has shown that physical activity, independent of diet, can help alter our gut microbiome. As one research article concluded, “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent of diet and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.”
  4. Focus on a variety of nutrient-dense foods. As with any diet, a variety of foods bring a variety of important nutrients. As mentioned earlier, it’s not just about the composition of the gut microbiota that’s important, but the variety of the bacteria strains. Focus on foods from all food groups and different types of gut-health foods for benefits.

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