5 Reasons Why Gut Health is Important - Nikki Yelton RD

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5 Reasons Why Gut Health is Important

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Gut health matters! Things happen throughout the body (even the heart and brain), but actually have their origins in the gut microbes. Keep reading to learn why gut health is important.

gut microbiome and foods that support it

Reading Time: 7 minutes

If there’s one area of health that trumps every other, it’s that of your gut microbiome. Why? Because our gut microbiome largely influences every other system and function within the body. Gut health is the starting point of all health. Or, disease. This is why gut health is important! In fact, Hippocrates once said, “All health starts in the gut.”

THE GUT MICROBIOME EXPLAINED

Gut health matters! Your gut microbiome is home to trillions of microorganisms. In fact, in total, your gut microbiome likely weighs five pounds. Now, that’s a lot of bacteria! 

The gut microbiome consists of healthy and pathogenic organisms. Despite common belief, this balance of healthy and harmful organisms are necessary for a healthy microbiome. Yes, we actually need “harmful” pathogens to stay healthy!

Biodiversity is so important. Diversity of species is essential to balance , and the gut thrives on balance and harmony (kind of like planet earth). When things are working properly, we have a diverse, abundant community of microbes. Trouble arises when the gut microbiome suffers from imbalances and pathogenic bacteria overtake their beneficial counterpart. 

what happens when you heal your gut and why gut health is important
WHAT ORGANISMS ARE IN THE GUT?

There are trillions of microorganisms, good and bad, that make up the gut microbiome, including:

  • Bacteria

Some are bacteria are pathogenic,  yet most are super beneficial to the gut. If you have dysbiosis, this means you have too many bad microbes and not enough good ones. This can lead to leaky gut.

  • Fungi

Fungi is associated with being bad, but the key is maintaing a balance. It only  becomes problematic when there is too much fungi present. It competes with the bacteria in your gut. If one is flourishing, the other is withering. This is why if you have candida yeast, the good microbes in your gut suffer.

  • Viruses

Viruses are tiny particles made up of DNA or RNA. Illnesses like influenza, HIV, and hepatitis B usually come to mind, but not all viruses are bad. They are an important part of balanced gut and necessary to keep bacteria in harmony.

  • Parasites

Parasites on the other hand, are sneaky little buggers. They steal energy from you and try to remain undetected without offering any benefit. 

  • Archaea

Archaea are extremely resilient. They don’t seem to compete with bacteria and fungi for energy and are not manipulated by diet as easily.

Organisms that are in the microbiome

There are many factors that influence the state of these microorganisms, including: diet, stress, infections/illness, lifestyle, medicine, and more. All of these factors, together, will hinder or support a healthy gut microbiome.

DIET AND YOUR MICROBIOME

Arguably, diet is one of the most influential factors on gut health. The food you eat is also food for your gut bacteria.  Healthy food feeds healthy bacteria whereas unhealthy foods feed bad bacteria.

This is also why diversity in food is so important. Eating a diet full of inflammatory, processed foods, like gluten, refined sugar, conventional dairy, GMO’s, pesticides, food dyes, and artificial sweeteners, create a stress response in the body. As a result, pathogenic bacteria thrive, feeding off these sugary, artificial foods.

On the other hand, eating a nutrient-dense diet, including plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, has an opposing effect. Whole food sources, like grass-fed meats, whole eggs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and coconut oil, favors the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

If you only eat certain types of food, you’re only feeding specific strains of bacteria and your gut will be off balance. This is true even if it’s healthy foods you are eating. Believe it or not, the foods you eat have a massive impact on the state of your gut! 

how to keep your microbiome healthy
5 REASONS WHY GUT HEALTH IS IMPORTANT

The gut is intertwined with all 5 areas of health. Gut microbiota is a command center. Things happen throughout the body (even the heart and brain), but actually have their origins in the gut microbes.

Your gut health affects your immunity, metabolism, hormonal balance, cognition, and gene expression. This is why gut health is important. When the gut is out of whack, you can see symptoms in all five areas. This is why it seems like so many symptoms are unrelated, when really it all comes down to an unbalanced gut microbiome. 

what organisms are in the gut and 5 reasons why gut health is important

Gut health is important. Period. Here’s why:

Immunity

Over 80% of the immune system is housed in the gut microbiome. When your gut is out of balance, your immune system also takes a hit. Excessive amounts of pathogenic organisms can interfere with immunity and create more stress within the body. On the other hand, beneficial microbes in the gut excrete large amounts of antibodies, reducing inflammation and improving immune response. The microbiome helps with the proper development of immune cells, identifies foreign invaders, gets immune cells to the needed location, and enhances immune cells’ infection fighting power. 

Autoimmunity or allergies are perfect examples. This where the immune system attacks its own body because inflammation is causing it to view it as a threat. According to research, gut bacteria can actually predict whether you will develop asthma. In a scientific study, researchers analyzed the diapers of 300 toddlers at age three months. Specific changes in gut bacteria predicted which children would develop asthma years later. To prove the gut bacteria was actually causing the asthma, they transferred the stool from the diapers into germ free mice. The mice all developed inflamed lungs, which indicates the development of asthma. 

Metabolism

Your metabolism is responsible for managing body weight, body fat mass, and energy production. The gut microbiome largely influences the operation of these functions through blood sugar regulation and nutrient absorption. It’s been shown that a less diverse microbiome is associated with obesity, while a largely diverse microbiome correlates with leaner body mass.

This is because your gut bacteria has control of how you process and metabolize your food. Your microbes control the release of hormones that regulate appetite and energy balance, such as leptin, GLP-1 (Glucagen like peptide 1) and peptide YY. When we properly nourish our gut, our microbes extract everything we need from our food and nothing we don’t, signal us to stop eating so we don’t overdo it, and promote metabolic balance that doesn’t require counting calories. 

In a recent study, researchers studied identical human twins, who are genetically the same, however one was obese and one thin. They took stool from the twins and transferred it into germ free mice, also transferring each twin’s unique microbes. The mouse who got the thin twin’s microbes stayed lean and the mouse who got the obese stool became obese. Both mice were fed the exact same diet and calories. This goes to show how impactful our gut microbes are on our metabolism. 

Hormone Balance

Microbes in the gut influence almost every hormone in the body, including: hunger hormones (leptin and ghrelin), stress hormones (cortisol, glucagon, and prolactin), sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone), vitamin D, and more. When there is a larger presence of harmful microbes, certain hormones increase (like cortisol and estrogen), creating a cascade effect of hormonal imbalances. 

A healthy gut keeps estrogens and androgens in place. The gut secretes the enzyme beta glucuronidase, which activates estrogen and manages the flow of estrogen. Too much estrogen leads to endometriosis, breast and endometrial cancer Not enough estrogen leads to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Also, a bacteria called Clostridium scindens is known to convert cortisol into androgens in the gut. If you have too much C. Scindens, you have too much androgen. Ultimately, these hormone imbalances lead to chronic health issues, like autoimmunity, weight gain, and more.

Cognition

The brain-gut axis is a strong connection. The gut is also known as the second brain, or enteric nervous system. There are over five hundred million nerves in your intestines sending signals to your brain through the vagus nerve. The gut actually produces more than thirty neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine! 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine are produced in the gut. Intestinal serotonin is able to influence gut motility, mood, appetite, sleep, and brain function.

This is why an imbalanced microbiome increases the risk of mental illness, like depression and anxiety. Also, it leads to reduced cognitive function and increased counts of brain fog. Leaky brain is a real thing! 

Gene Expression

The gut microbiome can actually affect how your genes express themselves. This is called epigenetics, which is how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Depending on the balance of your gut microbes, your body creates chemical tags that can turn genes on and off. This means even if certain hereditary conditions run in your family, if you take care of yourself and your microbes, there is a good chance that gene will not have the opportunity to express itself, as the chemical tag has turned it off.

Basically, genes load the gun, but your lifestyle pulls the trigger. The lifestyle choices we make (ie. diet, sleep, activity, stress, hydration) all impact how our genes express themselves. When genes become “dirty,” the risk of acute and chronic sickness increases.

WRAPPING IT ALL UP 

Without a doubt, a healthy gut is essential for a healthy body. It truly is the command center for your health! This is why we are so focused on healing the gut in my practice. When you heal the gut, everything else begins to fall into place. To get a jumpstart on your gut health, download my FREE Leaky Gut & Autoimmune Starter Kit. This valuable resource will help you start healing and nourishing your microbiome. If you need additional help, join the waitlist for my Microbiome Makeover coaching program.

5 reasons why gut health is important
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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