Gut Health & How To Improve It Naturally
What is gut health?
The digestive system
Why is our gut health important?
Gut health issues symptoms
Gut health friendly foods
Lifestyle changes for gut health
What is gut health?
What's gut health?
Gut health describes the role and balance of bacteria in many areas of the gastrointestinal tract. Ideally, organs like the esophagus, stomach, and intestines all work together to consume and digest food without discomfort. But that's not true for its estimated 70 million people in the U.S. with digestive diseases. Gut health identifies the physical condition and physiologic role of the numerous areas of the gastrointestinal tract. Gut health influences many common ailments like heartburn, constipation, bloating, and loose stools.
The digestive system, among the human body's major organ systems, is known by other names: intestinal tract, digestive tract, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, GI system, and gut.
The digestive tract's objective is to extract and absorb water and nutrients from food to offer the raw materials necessary to sustain life. The digestive tract's construction is a long, muscular tube with specialized sections. These sections start at the mouth, leading through the pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, rectum, and finally, the anus. The digestive system can accomplish its purpose using four basic systems:
- Propulsion of food throughout the system
- Mechanical breakdown of food
- The chemical breakdown of foods
- Absorption of water and nutrients
The digestive system
- Propulsion -- Swallowing, Peristalsis: The first step of the digestion starts when you eat food. When your tongue pushes the food towards your throat (pharynx), it triggers the swallowing reflex. Swallowing triggers the careful coordination of many muscles. The process causes you to stop breathing momentarily while the passage into the lungs (the trachea) is sealed off by the epiglottis, a flap that prevents food from entering the lungs. Instead, it sends it to the esophagus. Food moving through your digestive tract is referred to as a bolus.
As you swallow a bolus of food, it passes the first of several sphincters (bands of muscle which shut off tubes such as a drawstring) on the esophagus's peak, which prevents it from moving back into the throat. Once in the gut, a process called peristalsis starts. The peristalsis entails the coordinated contraction of muscles running around and across the tube to make a wavelike movement that pushes the food ahead. Peristalsis moves food through each part of the digestive tract -- in the esophagus to the anus.
- Mechanical Digestion -- Chewing, Churning, Segmentation: A key to digestion is surface area. Breaking food into smaller portions unlocks more surfaces to chemical digestion. Food only spends approximately 6-8 hours in your stomach and small intestine. That means your digestive system has to be very efficient at extracting nutrients from food until it's gone. Mechanical digestion is a crucial process that produces chemical digestion feasible.
Mechanical digestion starts in the mouth with chewing. Chewing is the single biggest opportunity to expose food surfaces by movement. After the chewing, swallowing, and passing through the esophagus, the food finally collects in the stomach.
The majority of the mechanical digestion occurs in the stomach. In comparison to the intestines and esophagus, the stomach's muscle layers are thicker and more robust. Additionally, the gut has a third layer of muscle not found at other digestive tubes, which enables it to make a churning action as well as peristaltic movements.
While the stomach is keeping a meal (storage is another distinctive feature of the gut ), the valves or sphincters at the top and bottom close tightly and effective stomach muscles smash and combine the food, such as kneading dough in a bag. This divides food apart further while mixing in digestive secretions in the stomach. A small number of mechanical digestion occurs in the small intestine where a bolus of food in the stomach is split into smaller boluses by technical muscle movements called segmentation. Again, this procedure increases the surface area exposed to digestive processes by making larger pieces into smaller ones.
- Chemical Digestion -- Acids, Enzymes: However nicely you weigh or how much your stomach and small intestine squish and divide the chewed food into smaller pieces, the pieces aren't small enough to discharge enough nourishment to sustain a human. Chemical digestion is vital for completing the job. Even though the base of chemical digestion is water acting alone is much too slow. The enzymes or specialized proteins help to cause chemical reactions to occur quicker.
The enzymes to be mixed with food first are amylase in saliva, which also adds water. Amylases break down carbohydrates, such as starch, into sugars, which are turned into quick energy.
Chewing coats and mixes the recently formed surfaces with saliva. In the gut, proteases -- enzymes that focus on breaking down proteins are added to the food. Specialized cells in the gut also create hydrochloric acid (HCl), making the stomach contents quite acidic. HCl has three roles -- activating proteases, breaking down proteins, and sterilizing the food to shield us from pathogens hoping to hitch a ride.
The stomach's churning thoroughly combines the gut secretions to the food -- that includes more additional water -- to guarantee the enzymes are functioning on all of the available surfaces.
As food continues its journey into the small intestine, the acidity is rapidly neutralized. This occurs by the action of sodium bicarbonate that is released from the pancreas. The right amount of sodium bicarbonate is added to deactivate the gut's proteases and trigger a fresh batch of enzymes that function in the small intestine. These new enzymes -- amylases, proteases, and lipases (to help break down fats) -- can also be provided to the small intestine from the pancreas. And all this adds more water.
At precisely the exact same time, the gall bladder releases bile salts - which it's been storing and focusing as the liver creates them into the small intestine. Bile salts emulsify fats (keep them blended into water) to improve their absorption. If you've had your gallbladder removed, then you'll still have some bile salts helping to digest your foods, but only in the little amounts, the liver can create as the food goes through because there's not any longer a place to store them. As boluses of mixed and moistened enzymes and food continue moving through the small intestine, the nutrients in the diet are finally broken all of the ways down into molecules. The nutrients are finally small enough to be absorbed and utilized by the body.
- Absorption: Absorption of nutrients starts to occur in the downstream areas of the small intestine. Food molecules pass through the small intestine cell walls and enter the bloodstream. They are then transported to the liver to be processed. After processing, they are sent to the rest of the cells and organs in the human body. Very little is actually absorbed from the gut. The large intestine absorbs some vitamins, but it's mostly specialized to recover water and combine waste.
Why is our gut health important?
The Gut Microbiome and Digestion
Most of the bacteria living in your gut are situated in the large intestine. Although what is left of the food that happens, there's mostly stripped of the nutrients that the body can release and use, there's still lots of nutritional value that we can not directly access.
A small portion of this intestine microbiome's symbiotic value is it may break down parts in food, like dietary fiber, so our enzymes cannot. When these organisms are getting their nourishment from our waste, they're also producing molecules beneficial to us. For instance, the large intestine absorbs vitamin B12 and vitamin K, produced by gut bacteria. The short-chain fatty acids created by gut bacteria are utilized by the intestinal cells for nourishment.
- Encourages Healthy Digestion: How do you keep the digestive system functioning efficiently? You can follow some simple tips:
- Chew thoroughly
- Prevent the use of antacids and acid-blockers
- Support healthy gut bacteria with prebiotics, such as fermented foods like yogurt or sauerkraut, and nutritional supplements
- Replenish healthy gut bacteria with probiotics, particularly following antibiotics
- Consider using digestive enzyme supplements if you've Indicators of bad digestive efficiency
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat a balanced diet that contains plenty of soluble and insoluble fiber
- Avoid over-eating
The best way to stay healthy includes routine exercise, lowering stress, and good sleep. All of these factors contribute significantly to your body's systems' proper functioning, which then supports healthy digestion.
Why should we listen to our gut health?
All food is finally broken down in the intestine into a molecular form that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nourishment throughout our bodies. This action is possible only with a healthy digestive system. A healthy gut includes healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. A healthy gut communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones to maintain health and well-being.
Gut health issues symptoms
What are the symptoms of gut health issues?
At some stage, everyone experiences digestive problems such as abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, constipation, heartburn, nausea, or vomiting. When symptoms persist, it might be an indication of an underlying problem that requires medical care.
Weight loss without a great reason, blood in the stool, black stool (a sign of bleeding in the gut), severe nausea, fever, severe stomachaches, trouble swallowing food, pain in the throat or chest when food is consumed, or jaundice (a yellowish discoloration of skin or eyes) could possibly indicate an underlying gastrointestinal problem that can lead to severe consequences. Ask your doctor if any of these symptoms occur.
Gut health friendly foods
What are some gut-health friendly foods?
Here are some tips for selecting foods to follow:
1. Consume several whole grains and lentils.
2. Avoid eating out.
3. Stop eating when full.
4. Eat fresh vegetables and fruit every day.
5. Eat homemade yogurt.
6. Buy only one piece of cake or candy at a time to satisfy my sweet tooth. Prevent bingeing.
7. Visit the farmers market weekly for seasonal vegetables and fruits.
8. Eat nuts every day -- but in moderation. A small handful is sufficient.
9. Avoid diet beverages and sugar-free, low-fat foods. Artificial sweeteners can lead to bloating, and low carb foods don't satisfy hunger and encourage overeating.
10. Drink water throughout the day. Add a pinch of salt to the water to replenish electrolytes.
Generally speaking, fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent options. Fish and chicken are better than red meats. Avoid charring meats to lower colon and stomach cancer risks. Avoiding excessive alcohol, caffeine, and fatty foods may control symptoms of acid reflux. Seeds, nuts, and legumes such as lentils are excellent sources of both fiber and protein. Use common sense to avoid getting carried away by food trends that guarantee magical results overnight.
Lifestyle changes for gut health
Lifestyle modifications for gut health
Some food options are common causes of heartburn, constipation, and bloating.
If you experience these symptoms, start using a food journal to find out if there are connections between your symptoms and particular foods. Stay away from fried foods and consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation, since they aren't healthy in the long term. If you continue having gastrointestinal problems despite making wise food choices, ask your physician.
- Adequate sleep is vital for gut health. It's not unusual for individuals with disturbed sleep to suffer from nausea, bloating, constipation, and other digestive concerns.
- Regular exercise is proven to decrease stress levels and help maintain a healthy weight, which may positively affect gut health.
- Chemicals can wipe out both harmful and good germs in the gut. Avoid taking antibiotics for conditions like frequent colds or sore throats. These disorders are often due to viral infections that don't respond to antibiotics anyway.
1. Brown K, et al (2012). Diet-induced dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota and the effects on immunity and disease. DOI: 10.3390/nu4081095
2. Exploring the role of gut bacteria in digestion. (2010). . phys.org/news/2010-08-exploring-role-gut-bacteria-digestion.html
3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Food allergy. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20355095
4. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Stress management. .mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-relief/hlv-20049495
5. Lio PA, et al. (n.d.). Leaky gut and atopic dermatitis: Does the concept hold water or is it full of holes? nationaleczema.org/leaky-gut/
6. Mayer EA. (2011). Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication. DOI: 10.1038/nrn3071
7. Poroyko VA, et al. (2016). Chronic sleep disruption alters gut microbiota, induces systemic and adipose tissue inflammation and insulin resistance in mice. DOI: 10.1038/srep35405
8. Alvaro et al. (2009). Composition and metabolism of the intestinal microbiota in consumers and non-consumers of yogurt. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114507243065.
9. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.). Allicin. pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Allicin#section=Pharmacology-and-Biochemistry
10. Parnell JA, et al. (2012). Prebiotic fiber modulation of the gut microbiota improves risk factors for obesity and the metabolic syndrome. DOI: 10.4161/gmic.19246
11. Pendyala S, et al. (2012). A high-fat diet is associated with endotoxemia that originates from the gut. DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2012.01.034
12. Food problems: Is it an allergy or intolerance? (2015). my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10009-food-problems-is-it-an-allergy-or-intolerance
13. The iHMP Research Network Consortium. (2014). The integrative human microbiome project: Dynamic analysis of microbiome-host omics profiles during periods of human health and disease. DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2014.08.014
14. Jameel F, et al. (2014). Acute effects of feeding fructose, glucose and sucrose on blood lipid levels and systemic inflammation. DOI: 10.1186/1476-511X-13-195
15. Pryde SE, et al. (2002). The microbiology of butyrate formation in the human colon. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480096
16. Quigley EMM. (2013). Gut bacteria in health and disease. . ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
17. Rachid R, et al. (2016). The role of gut microbiota in food allergy. DOI: 10.1097/MOP.0000000000000427
18. Rethinking fiber and hydration can lead to better colon health. (2013).
19. Samadi N, et al. (2018). The role of gastrointestinal permeability in food allergy. DOI: 10.1016/j.anai.2018.05.010
20. Segain et al. (2000). Butyrate inhibits inflammatory responses through NFκB inhibition: implications for Crohn’s disease. DOI: 10.1136/gut.47.3.397
21. Stefka AT, et al. (2014). Commensal bacteria protect against food allergen sensitization. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1412008111
22. Useros NR, et al. (2015). HYDRAGUT study: Influence of HYDRAtion status on the GUT microbiota and their impact on the immune system. fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.29.1_supplement.593.1
23. Yano JM, et al. (2015). Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.047
24. Zhang et al. (2015). Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. DOI: . 10.3390/ijms16047493
Do you have a personal story to share about what worked for your condition? Share your journey so others can heal.
Get brief informational answers to your question from experts.