The five things you need to know about your gut for good health
By Elle Eastwood, Naturopath and Nutritionist BHSc.
It seems like everyone is talking about gut health at the moment. We hear popular phrases like “everything starts in the gut!” and Hippocrates himself (the father of medicine) famously stated ‘all disease begins in the gut’. But why is it so important and how does gut health actually influence the rest of our body? This is the first of a 4 part series on gut health. In today’s article, we discuss the impact of the gut on your mood, weight, sleep and immune system.
- You have more bacteria in your gut, than human cells
The bacteria that reside in your gut are referred to as the gut ‘microbiome’. For every gene in your body, you have at least 350 microbial ones! Your gut microbiome weighs around 1.5kg and contains around 10,000 different bacterial species – it could be considered an additional organ! These gut bugs are just as critical to your health as your other vital organs, like your lungs, heart, brain and liver. Your gut microbiome is like your own unique fingerprint and helps to keep you healthy and happy!
- Your gut affects your mood
Approximately 90% of our body’s serotonin is manufactured in the large intestine. Your gut makes more serotonin than your brain does! Serotonin is our ‘happy’ neurotransmitter, essential for maintaining healthy moods and wellbeing. Tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin) is tightly managed by bacteria in your gut. This is why a healthy gut = healthier moods.
- Your gut affects your weight
Not only do genetics, diet and exercise play a role in determining our body weight, but also the microbes (bacteria) in our gut. Certain groups of bacteria have demonstrated they are extremely efficient at obtaining calories from food, thereby increasing calorie absorption. If your body is able to absorb more calories from food as it passes through your intestinal tract, the greater the likelihood of weight gain. Wre therefore want to keep these bacteria to a minimum. Eating high amounts of dietary fibre improves the ratio of ‘good’ bacteria and creates short chain fatty acids which the body can utilise for energy. Lean, slender people typically have much more diverse bacteria communities in their gut, in comparison to obese individuals.
- Your gut helps modulate your immune system
Approximately 70% of the immune system is found in your gut. The bacteria in your gut act like a gigantic gatekeeper army, working constantly to train your immune system to distinguish between harmful and non-harmful organisms. An overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria (known as dysbiosis) plays a major role in the development of allergies, autoimmune diseases and chronic disease.
- Your gut health affects your sleep
Exciting new research shows your gut microbiome can influence the timing and quality of your sleep. Gut dysbiosis is associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing sleep problems, fatigue and disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Alterations to our circadian rhythms, like what may occur from jet lag or shift working, can disrupt our microbial rhythms and have negative effects on sleep. Valuing our sleep and it’s quality is an important part of caring for our gut health!
So there you have it. The gut has wide reaching impacts over many important areas of our health. Improving the state of your gut will have a beneficial, ripple effect on your mood, sleep, weight and immunity. Tune in for the next installment where I’ll be discussing ‘Five foods to help heal your gut’.
Hsin-Jung Wu & Wu, E 2012, ‘The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity’, Gut Microbes, vol. 3, no, 1, pp. 4-14
Perlmutter, D, 2015, Brain Maker; the power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain for life, Yellow Kite, London, UK.
Elle Eastwood is a naturopath and nutritionist (BHSc) who first entered the world of complementary medicine after her own childhood journey with ulcerative colitis. Her experience of managing a chronic condition from a young age gave her a first hand insight into navigating an autoimmune disease diagnosis. Elle is committed to providing holistic treatment tailored to each individual’s unique needs. Ultimately, her goal is for patients to walk away from a consultation feeling happier and healthier. Elle is also a kiwi, cheese lover and chronic tea drinker! Find out more at www.wellwithelle.com
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