- The good bacteria in your gut are responsible for breaking down food so your digestive system can distribute nutrients to the rest of the body.
- The bad bacteria can make you feel sluggish, tired and just plain off.
- A healthy diet and a balance of prebiotics and probiotics can help keep your gut in balance.
- Poor gut health can often lead to painful digestive conditions like IBS or IBD.
[5 MIN READ]
Your stomach sends you all kinds of signals throughout the day. It grumbles to let you know when you’ve waited a little too long to eat. It rumbles as food makes its way through your digestive tract. It even flips, flutters and rolls when you’re feeling scared, excited and surprised.
It’s no shock, then, that this powerhouse organ system does more than let food pass through the body. In fact, your gut has trillions of bacteria working together to help keep your body running smoothly – from your mood, heart health and much more.
The gut-body connection
Science has explored the depth and breadth of the connection between the bacteria in our bellies to the impact it has on our bodies. Here’s what we know so far.
Bacteria in the gut break food into nutrients
The gut microbiome has trillions of good bacteria, which includes roughly 5,000 different strains. Those bacteria get to work as soon as food makes its way to the digestive tract, breaking it down into the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and strong.
Your gut may be a ‘second brain’
The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a complex system of more than 100 million nerve cells that line the digestive tract. Scientists believe that the ENS acts as a ‘second’ brain. While the biggest job of the ENS is to help control digestion, it also sends and receives signals from the brain. Those signals include letting you know when it’s time to stop (or start) eating and can even contribute to shifts in your mood.
Good gut health may help reduce your risk of heart disease
Your gut may also play a role in helping reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke. Some of the good bacteria in your gut may be able to prevent inflammation that contributes to the plaque build-up in your arteries.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the good bacteria in your gut can help you maintain good health. Researchers are still working to better understand how the gut microbiome can affect conditions like cancer, arthritis, and even help you keep a healthy weight or support your immune system.
Keep it all in balance
It’s clear the good bacteria in your gut puts in the good fight to keep you healthy and strong. Luckily, you can support your gut health with a few simple steps at home:
- Eat a healthy diet. A plant-based diet that delivers all the key nutrients your body needs lets your gut work more efficiently and keeps bad bacteria in check. That also includes high-fiber foods like whole grains, legumes and beans.
- Try out fermented foods. Foods like yogurt, kefir and even sauerkraut are loaded with probiotics. These are live bacteria that help keep your gut in check.
- Ask your doctor about supplements. It’s always best to get nutrients from food, but if you have certain conditions that limit your diet or are lactose intolerant and can’t have dairy products, your doctor may recommend a probiotic supplement.
- Look into ‘prebiotics.’ A prebiotic is a substance that comes from some carbs, herbs or vegetables. Good sources of prebiotics include garlic, onions, leeks, dandelion greens and Jerusalem artichokes.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water can help you keep your good gut bacteria in balance. And a bonus for your digestion: Staying hydrated helps avoid constipation and even supports the lining of the intestines.
What happens when guts get ‘unbalanced’
When there aren’t enough good bacteria in your gut to do their job to keep you feeling healthy and strong, you might start to feel a little off your game. That includes symptoms like:
- Upset stomach
- Unintentional weight changes
- Chronic fatigue or trouble sleeping
- Skin irritation
- Persistent diarrhea
You may also more be more likely to develop autoimmune disorders, food intolerance and common gastrointestinal diseases including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This common condition is estimated to affect roughly 10-15% of adults in America. It can cause a wide range of symptoms, from gas, cramping, constipation and diarrhea. Your doctor can diagnose IBS and work with you to create a plan that relieves symptoms. Your plan may include avoiding ‘trigger’ foods; taking medication to alleviate symptoms; and working with a dietitian or nutritionist to get the most from your diet.
- Crohn’s disease: A type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract – from the esophagus to the colon. There are therapies to help manage its symptoms, including prescription medication, lifestyle changes and even surgery.
- Ulcerative colitis: Another type of IBD, ulcerative colitis (UC) only affects the large intestine (colon). Its symptoms and treatments are similar to Crohn’s disease. The biggest difference is that UC only affects the inner lining of the large intestine, where Crohn’s disease can affect the deepest layers of any part of the digestive tract.
When you’re feeling a little off your game, trust your gut. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how you can keep your gut health in check using nutrition. With a healthy balance of vitamins and nutrients in your diet, you can rest assured that you’re doing something good for your body.
Find a doctor
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's
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