The gut is sometimes perceived as an underrated tool in building immunity against diseases and bacteria. Because it is comprised of many organs, maintaining a healthy gut is crucial to ensure that each one is doing its job. There are several ways to tell if you have poor gut health. There are also many lifestyle changes you can make to improve it, but first it’s important to understand the gut’s function and purpose.
What Does the Gut Do?
The gut is a complex system that refers to more than the extra pounds that can appear on the abdomen and hips. Though it was formerly believed to be one long intestine where food could be passed, absorbed and excreted, it is actually much more. The entire gastrointestinal digestive tract found in the gut is comprised of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon and rectum.
Within the gut, these building blocks protect and maintain healthy function through the intake and absorption of essential nutrients and water. The gastrointestinal system assists with a large portion of the body’s overall operation. The brain and gut constantly communicate in order to decide when, what, how much and how fast to eat and drink. Then, once the food or beverage is consumed, the nutrients are broken down and distributed accordingly.
The gut is filled with hundreds of species of bacteria that live in the intestines. Some of these microorganisms may contribute to illnesses such as the stomach flu, but many of them are crucial and necessary to sustain optimal health. Additionally, the acid in the stomach sterilizes food and aids in immunity. Oval clusters of lymphoid tissue stick to the intestinal wall to monitor the lining of the gut and produce antibodies that fight allergens and antigens.
Overall, a healthy gut requires a balance between good bacteria and microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. When the gut flora is in order, optimal energy is taken from food, toxins are removed, and healthy serotonin levels are maintained.
How to Tell If You’re Having Problems With Your Gut
Usually, when there is an internal problem, your body will try to send out a warning. This may come in the form of an ache, rash or other health issue. Poor gut health can be caused by an increased number of bad bacteria. One could be suffering from poor gut health if he or she:
- Is experiencing irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, bloating or skin rashes
- Can’t sleep or is suffering from insomnia
- Has allergies that are becoming more prevalent
- Has increased episodes of depression or anxiety
- Is gaining or losing weight inexplicably
If you’re not already diagnosed with a medical issue, many of these symptoms can be related to an unhealthy gut.
Improving Digestive Issues
Restoring an entire digestive system can be a challenge, especially if it’s accustomed to a certain lifestyle. For example, your body may have been able to handle certain foods with no problems during the teenage years. However, that might not be the case entering early or late adulthood. When you get older, it’s important to adjust habits and make health a priority in order to prevent long-term, chronic illnesses.
This infographic was created by Factor, a keto meal delivery service
The following are several ways you can enhance digestion.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. Artificial antibiotics may be doing more harm than good. While they can reduce the number of bad bacteria in the body, they may also be fighting the good bacteria. This could lead to an imbalance and lack of defense.
- Eat processed foods in moderation. Many items on grocery store shelves these days are now disguised with enticing colors and artificial flavors. There could be false advertising involved when these items claim to be a nutritious option. However, old-school fruits and vegetables can’t be beat as a main source of vitamins and minerals.
- Drink H2O. Many people don’t realize they’re thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. For optimal health, drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day to fully flush toxins from the body. For those that are prone to reaching for sugary drinks, try infusing water with fresh fruit.
- Get active. If you’re in a sedentary position for most of the day, the body can become accustomed to being in one position. This can limit its natural flow of microbiomes. Stretching can also encourage healthy bowel movements.
The Rundown on Gut Health
As we’ve established, the gut is an intricate system of organs that aids in digestion and overall health. Though it includes much more than one long intestine, being mindful of how each organ relies on the other can shift perspectives on health. If you have concerns about the gut and its role in physical well-being, consult a doctor. However, by making appropriate adjustments to one’s lifestyle and dietary habits, the gut can function at full capacity for years to come.
Author bio: Kara Kash, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Factor — a premium weekly meal delivery service that fuses world-class culinary dishes with the latest in nutrition science to produce fully prepared meals that are as delicious as they are nutritious.