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Key Facts About Gut Health

First things first, we should probably define what we mean when we say ‘the gut’.

The gastrointestinal tract is more commonly and simply known as ‘the gut’. The gut encompasses all parts of the body involved with food intake and output from top to bottom.

The gastrointestinal tract starts at the mouth and runs all the way through the body and ends at the anus. When we refer to the gut, we are usually referring to the several organs which are essential to the digestion process, including:

  • the oesophagus
  • the stomach
  • the small intestine
  • the large intestine
  • the colon
  • the rectum

Having good gut health can impact more than you realise, and it’s a lot more than a bad stomach ache now and again.

Only 1 in 4 adults prioritise their digestive health. Read on to find out how good gut health can lead to improved physical and mental health.

4 facts about gut health and mental health

  • The digestive system is often called “the second brain”
    The gut comprises 100 million neurons, this network of nerve cells lining the digestive tract is so extensive that it has earned the nickname the human body’s ‘second brain’. This extensive network uses the same chemicals and cells as the brain in our heads to help us digest and to alert the brain when something is amiss.
  • The intestine produces 90% of the body’s serotonin
    A majority of our body’s serotonin, the key neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, is made in your gut.
  • Scientists have shown that brain levels of serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’ are regulated by the amount of bacteria in the gut during early life. The research shows that normal adult brain function depends on the presence of gut microbes during development.

    Approximately 60% of those who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders are found to suffer from one of several psychiatric disorders

  • Your gut and brain are intrinsically linked through the vagus nerve
    The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. It sends signals in both directions.
  • In animal studies, it has been shown that stress inhibits the signals sent through the vagus nerve and also causes gastrointestinal problems. Stimulating the vagus nerve can actually prevent or lower inflammation, you can do this through practices such as massage, acupuncture, yoga and deep breathing exercises.

  • Better sleep quality was associated with a healthier gut
    Research has revealed that adults who report poor sleep quality also have a less than ideal gut microbiota, as well as less cognitive flexibility. In fact, the gut and sleep relationship is a two-way street – sleep disorders and disruptions are also known to negatively impact the gut microbiota.
  • 5 facts about gut health and physical health

  • 70% of the immune activity in the body happens in the gut
  • Simply put, if the intestine is functioning as it should, then its microflora will neutralise hostile agents as efficiently, preventing your immune system from wasting precious immune defences. If the intestine isn’t working properly, then it’s more likely that diseases will occur. It can also result in an overactive immune system and autoimmune diseases.

  • Changing what you eat can improve your gut microbiome in as little as 3 days
  • There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria in the digestive system alone. It may seem impossible to change the health of that many beings, but the good news is that your microbiome can quickly change. Making positive changes like skipping ultra-processed and animal-derived fatty foods can start to improve your gut microbiome in just three days but be patient, the long-term benefits can take several years to show!

  • Inflammatory skin diseases, like eczema and psoriasis, are linked with poor digestive health
    The link between eczema and gut health lies in the gut-skin axis, which refers to the way intestinal flora influence the microbes that live on our skin. Specialists are not 100% sure how this works but believe that an imbalanced microbiome may play a role in the inflammation and immune response that causes eczema.
  • Gut Bacteria May Affect Cholesterol Buildup and Kidney Disease
  • Studies show that gut bacteria can play a significant role in regulating cholesterol levels and may even affect the onset and progression of kidney disease.

    Evidence suggests that gut microbiota produce metabolites that can either promote or prevent the accumulation of harmful cholesterol in the body. Additionally, certain strains of gut bacteria have been found to produce short-chain fatty acids that can reduce inflammation in the kidneys and prevent damage to these vital organs. Understanding the complex relationship between gut microbiota and disease has the potential to revolutionise the ways we prevent and treat a wide range of health conditions.

  • A healthy gut microbiome can contribute to heart health
    Fiber-rich diets can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 30%.
  • "There's a complex interplay between the microbes in our intestines and most of the systems in our bodies, including the vascular, nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, all of which are linked with cardiovascular health," says Dr. Stanley Shaw, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

    Since diet plays a significant role in the composition of gut microbiota, what you feed your gut can therefore affect heart health — for better and for worse.

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