Recent research suggests that the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the gut, plays a much larger role in maintaining overall health than previously thought. For example, researchers have found new indicators that connect the gut and immune health in recent years.
Now that the medical community knows more about the function of the gut microbiome, you may want to learn more about this internal environment and how it impacts your health.
The gastrointestinal tract (“GI tract” or “gut”) starts at the mouth and ends at the rectum. This system is responsible for breaking down all the food and beverages a person consumes, then discarding the remains, absorbing the necessary nutrients along the way.
Various organs compose the GI tract, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum. At a basic level, food passes through the gut as follows:
- Food enters through the mouth then passes through the esophagus
- The food enters the stomach, which uses acidic juices to break down the food into chyme.
- The chyme drops down into the small intestine, which is composed of three sections. Nutrients are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream with the help of the pancreas and liver.
- As the food is further broken down and digested, it passes through the large intestine.
- Finally, it’s disposed of through the rectum.
Microbes and the Gut’s Microbiome
Now that you recall how the GI tract works, it’s time to dig in deep to understand its internal microbiome. Trillions of microbes (microscopic living organisms like viruses, fungus, and bacteria) live inside the gut, primarily within the large intestine. Essentially, this collective environment acts like another organ within the body.
The Essential Role of the Microbiome
The gut microbiome has a diverse array of uses. Some microbiome functions include: supporting heart health, managing blood sugar, regulating metabolism, and even improve brain health, according to some research. However, the two most predominant functions are:
- Digestion– When it comes to assisting digestion, the microbes within the GI help break down fiber. It also helps prevent digestive diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Immune System Regulation– The microbiome controls what many people refer to as “the immune system in your gut.” This system sends messages to immune cells to help the body respond to infections.
The Dangers of an Unhealthy Gut
What does it mean to have an “unhealthy gut?” This term refers to a microbiome that allows unhealthy bacteria to grow in excess or limits the growth of healthy bacteria.
Paying close attention to the food you eat is an integral part of maintaining a balanced gut microbiome. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may indicate that your gut health needs some attention. If the symptoms appear severe, see your doctor right away.
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Gas, bloating, or poor digestion
- Mood swings
- Irritated skin
- Inability to concentrate
- Unexpected weight fluctuation
A System of Balance
When it comes to gut health, balance is key. There are many foods that help promote a healthy microbiome, and others you should try your best to avoid or limit (for example, sugar). Focusing on gut-healthy food is a great way to maintain balance within your GI tract. Look for food items rich in:
- Prebiotics– Garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, chocolate, apples, and leeks
- Collagen– Bone broth, eggs whites, chicken, beans, berries, and greens
- Probiotics– Yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombatcha
If you have a difficult time working these foods into your diet regularly, you can always take daily supplements.
Give Your Gut the Support it Needs
Taking care of your gut is an essential part of maintaining overall health. Taking steps to eat healthily and focus on proper nutrition and supplements will help to ensure your body can produce the bacteria your gut needs. Before making any dietary changes, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor. With their OK, you’ll be all set to begin a new lifestyle that’s gut-health friendly.