Gut health seems to be a trending topic these days and with very good reason. More and more research is coming out proving just how important a healthy gut is for your overall well-being. Scientists have now linked bad bacteria in your gut to many illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, crohns, colitis, colon cancer, arthritis and even anxiety, depression, and autism. It is evident that with all this research we need to pay more attention in making sure we keep our gut health in check.

Many people hear the word gut but may not know exactly what that means; lets’ break it down as simply as we can. The term gut refers to the gastrointestinal tract (aka digestive tract or GI tract) and is made up of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon) and anus. The 3 functions of the gastrointestinal tract are transportation, digestion and absorption of food. We take the food in, where we then digest it and extract and absorb energy and nutrients and then expel the remaining waste as feces. Living inside the gut are 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria containing nearly 2 million genes. These bacteria are paired up with other organisms such as viruses and fungi which make up what is known as microbiota or the microbiome.

The mix of the bacteria in your body is determined by your mother’s microbiota, the environment you’re exposed to at birth and from your diet and lifestyle. While bacteria do live throughout your body it is the ones in your gut that has the biggest impact on your health. Don’t forget that while some bacteria are harmful there are many species of bacteria that is needed to keep us healthy. Good bacteria are our first line of defense against foreign “invaders” (pathogens), they promote repair of damaged tissue and most importantly, by having good bacteria in your body, bad bacteria don’t get a chance to grow and cause disease. Bad bacteria can exist at low levels in your body without causing harm or wreaking havoc but when it is not being suppressed by good bacteria is when it can subsequently lead to all of the illnesses we mentioned earlier.

To make sure that we are keeping a heathy gut we have listed below some of the most effective ways to influence your healthy bacteria.

1- Pro and prebiotics – When speaking of gut health, the term probiotic and prebiotics often accompany it. Probiotics are a good bacterium that live in your body naturally and helps your intestines break down foods. You can also supplement with a probiotic to support healthy digestion. Until recently probiotics were the only ones getting attention but lately we hear of prebiotics as well. Prebiotics don’t actually contain any bacteria but what they ae made up of is dietary fiber. They act as fuel for the probiotic bacteria and while you don’t need a prebiotic for probiotics to work, taking them might make the probiotic more effective. On the contrary prebiotics taken by themselves seem to have little to no effect and are only effective when used in conjunction with a probiotic.

2- Cut out the junk food- Sugar in our diets feeds all the wrong types of bacteria and a diet high in sugar only leads to the growth of the bad bacteria. Recent research has shown that even artificial sweeteners promote growth in the undesirable strains of bacteria.

3- Eat more plants and fiber-The wider variety of different fruits and vegetables will provide the fiber needed to feed our good microbes and clean out our gut. Any bitter vegetable such as horse radish and bitter melon are great for the microbiome.

4- Avoid excessive antibiotic usage – Unfortunately they are killing off many of our good bacteria. There are cases where an antibiotic is a necessity so when this is the case you should supplement with a probiotic or fermented food.

5- Eat fermented foods-Fermented foods are foods that have been preserved with the help of bacteria. If you are buying fermented foods rather than making your own, make sure they still contain live cultures and have not been pasteurized.

6- Get a good night’s sleep- Simply put, sleep helps us maintain a heathy gut while a lack of sleep disrupts our gut bacteria.

7- Get active- Many studies have shown the benefits of exercise on the health of our gut bacteria. Aerobic exercise in particular has been shown to increase the diversity of your microbiome.

Follow these simple steps and you’re on your way to happy and healthy gut!!!