Gut Health: Influencing Immunity, Disease, Mental Health, Body Composition, & More
You probably know by now that your gut is the foundation of your overall health. Maybe you heard your neighbor talk about probiotics, or read an article online talking about how yogurt is an important part of digestive health (can’t help but see Jamie Lee Curtis’ face in the Activia commercial…).
What may feel a little more fuzzy is WHY exactly gut health is important and what can help and hurt your gut health. If disease often begins in the gut, don’t you think we all need to be educated in taking care of it? Here is the breakdown:
The gut is also an important site of immune function, with over 70% of the body’s immune cells located in the gut. Research has shown that the gut microbiota plays a crucial role in regulating immune function, and that changes in the microbiota can lead to immune dysfunction and increased susceptibility to infection. Ironically, after a round of antibiotics to fight an infection, you may be even more susceptible to another, so make sure to give it special attention after taking a round.
There is growing evidence to suggest that changes in the gut microbiota can contribute to the development of a range of diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and even certain types of cancer. For example, studies have found that individuals with IBD have a less diverse gut microbiota than healthy individuals, suggesting that the microbiota may play a role in the development of the disease. As stated above, the gut is home to a large portion of the body’s immune cells, and imbalances in the gut microbiota can affect the immune system and contribute to conditions such as autoimmune disorders.
Intestinal permeability plays a big role in this. Also known as “leaky gut,” it refers to a condition in which the lining of the intestinal wall becomes more permeable than normal, allowing substances such as bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation and potentially contributing to the development of various diseases. Leaky gut is caused by a number of things, such as medications, poor diet, food sensitivities, stress, environmental toxins, etc.
Research has also shown that the gut microbiota can communicate with the brain through the gut-brain axis. This communication is thought to be important for regulating mood, behavior, and even cognitive function. Studies have found that changes in the gut microbiota can affect mood and behavior in animal models, and that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) may have a beneficial effect on anxiety and depression in humans.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood, appetite, and digestion. You often think about it being produced in the brain, with it being a “neuro”-trasnmitter after all, but did you know that according to the NIH approximately 95% of serotonin is produced in the GUT? It has a role in the gut too, like in the regulation of gut motility (aka the motor behind keeping things moving) and secretion of things like digestive juices.
Studies have found that the gut microbiota can affect serotonin production through several mechanisms. For example, certain types of bacteria can produce or consume neurotransmitters like serotonin, which can affect the overall levels of the neurotransmitter in the gut. The gut microbiota can also affect serotonin production indirectly by modulating the immune system, which can in turn affect serotonin levels. There is also evidence to suggest that alterations in the gut microbiota can affect the expression of genes involved in serotonin production, as well as the uptake and transport of serotonin in the gut.
Additionally, serotonin may be involved in the development of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gut-related disorders. Studies have found that individuals with IBS (and therefore altered gut bacteria) have altered serotonin signaling in the gut, suggesting that these factors may contribute to the development of the condition.
If you’re dealing with affective disorders such as depression or anxiety, it is CRUCIAL to pay attention to your gut health.
The gut is responsible for absorbing nutrients from the food we eat. This includes macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, as well as micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Adequate nutrient intake is essential for maintaining muscle mass and bone density.
The gut also plays a role in regulating energy balance, or the balance between calories consumed and calories expended. When we consume more calories than we expend, the excess energy is stored as fat, leading to weight gain. Conversely, when we expend more calories than we consume, we lose weight. The gut plays a role in regulating appetite and satiety, which can influence our food intake and energy balance. It does so by producing hormones that affect appetite, including leptin (the fullness hormone), ghrelin (the hunger hormone), and peptide YY (also plays a role in decreasing appetite). A disrupted gut microbiome can lead to things like leptin resistance, meaning you don’t feel full as quickly as you should, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
The actual type of the microbes in your gut can influence body composition, too. Studies have shown that certain gut bacteria are associated with higher levels of body fat, while others are associated with lower levels of body fat. The gut microbiota can also affect energy metabolism and inflammation, both of which can influence body composition. Particular strains that have been associated with lower body weight include Bifidobacterium, Akkermansia muciniphila, Lactobacillus gasseri, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, and Roseburia.
The foods that we eat can have a significant impact on the gut microbiota and overall gut health. For example, a diet high in fiber can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, while a diet high in inflammatory fat and sugar can have a negative impact on gut health. Studies have also found that certain dietary components, such as polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables, can have a prebiotic effect and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. However, diet isn’t the only factor. There are several lifestyle factors that also influence the state of your gut.
Stay tuned for more about how to improve your gut health, including specific foods you can and should eat every day, recipes to help, supplements to use, and more!
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