“Gut health” — it’s all over headlines, the focus on books, and it’s even a hashtag. So what’s the dealio?
Well, it all comes down to our microbiome. Our microbiome is our intestinal ecosystem. It is made up of trillions of cells, including a thousand different species of bacteria (there are more microorganisms living in our bodies than stars in the Milky Way).
But don’t panic — not all bacteria are bad. The ones in our guts help boost our immune system, play a large role in our digestive processes, and regulate our hormones and our moods. Without our bacterial neighbors, we wouldn’t be able to absorb nutrients, synthesize essential vitamins, or ward off toxins and carcinogens.
As with all things, our microbiome and its microbes are influenced by our environment, as well as the amount of exercise and sleep we get, stress levels, and our diet. When you wake up hungover and short on sleep, you feel terrible — your gut bacteria aren’t too happy either. Similarly, when you forget to eat lunch, you’re more likely to feel fatigued and irritable — and it turns out that the food we eat has the most profound impact on what types of microbes live in our gut.
While there’s no “secret” to health and vitality, a good gut offers a strong foundation. Dr. Christiane Northrup, a women’s health expert, explains
“Refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods get absorbed quickly into your small intestine without any help from your microbes. That means your gut microbes stay hungry so they begin snacking on the cells that line your intestines,” Northrup says. “When your intestinal wall becomes leaky, particles of food enter your bloodstream, causing your immune system to attack them, and ultimately your own tissues. This leads to inflammation and whole cascade of conditions.”
Chronic (and preventable) illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease are on the rise. So is obesity. Neither trend should surprise: the foods most commonly consumed, advertised, and available wreak havoc on our microbiome.
So instead of reaching for the bag of potato chips or movie theater candy, weigh your options. Eating a varied diet, filled with tons of nutrient-dense, plant-based, and fermented foods (like kimchi) strengthens the lining that protects our body from toxins, parasites, bad bacteria, viruses, and actually programmes our microbiome to function optimally, as it’s meant to.
But let’s not forget about mental health—an essential part of holistic wellness. We know stress impacts our digestive health, our skin, our energy, and our susceptibility to illness. We’ve all been there. But our gut is said to have more neurotransmitters than our brain. So knowing that happiness activating neurochemicals, like serotonin, are also produced by neurons and found in greater concentrations in our gut, good food not only supports your body, but your brain and mood, too.
Turns out Hippocrates was right when, 2,000 years ago, he said “all disease begins in the gut.” Wellness sure starts there, too.