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Your digestive system communicates to the rest of your body via the gut-brain axis, which links the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain to your intestinal functions.
An unbalanced gut can make you feel uncomfortable and it can make you more susceptible to autoimmune disorders, food intolerances and gastrointestinal diseases.
Your gut microbiome changes every day with each new food, drink and medicine you ingest — find out how you can make a healthy impact on yours in just 24 hours.
Your gut is so much more than just your stomach. It includes every part of your digestive tract — the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine, as well as the liver, gallbladder and pancreas. All of those organs work together to produce digestive enzymes that break down food.
Inside your gut is a collection of trillions of bacteria and microorganisms called the gut microbiome. Everyone’s microbiome has a unique profile that begins at conception and changes every day. How is that possible? Everything from what we were fed as babies, to our antibiotic use, diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices contribute to our microbiome. And your microbiome is essential to many aspects of your health, from your digestion and cardiovascular system to your mood and much more.
Your gut is telling you something
You’ve heard your stomach growl when you’re hungry and rumble while it digests. Sometimes it flutters and flips when you’re excited, scared or surprised. That’s because your digestive tract is a powerhouse organ system constantly at work, influencing everything from your heart to your brain functioning and more. Throughout the day, it sends out signals impacting how you think and feel. This line of communication is called the gut-brain axis, and it links the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain to your intestinal functions.
Here’s what we know about how it works.
Your gut bacteria turn food into nutrients
Your gut microbiome includes both good and bad bacteria, and the ratio between the two is directly influenced by what you eat. There are roughly 5,000 different strains of good gut bacteria, and as soon as food enters your digestive tract, they get to work, breaking everything down into the nutrients your body needs.
Your gut is home to your second brain
Your digestive tract includes a complex system of over 100 million nerve cells called the enteric nervous system (ENS). The most important thing your ENS does is control digestion. But it also sends and receives signals from the brain — like letting you know you’re hungry or that you are full and have had enough to eat. Scientists believe your ENS even contributes to your mood and acts as a “second brain.”
Good gut bacteria may be good for your heart
Good gut health may also help reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stroke. This is because some types of good gut bacteria may prevent inflammation, which contributes to plaque build-up in your arteries.
Gut microbe metabolites also influence other factors closely tied to cardiovascular risks, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation. High-fiber diets may support the growth of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids, which one study found may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar and body weight.
The effects of an unbalanced gut
When there aren’t enough good bacteria in your gut to do their job, you might start to feel it. Signs that your ratio of good-to-bad gut bacteria is off include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Persistent diarrhea
- Skin irritation
- Trouble sleeping
- Unintentional weight changes
- Upset stomach
An unbalanced gut may also make you more susceptible to developing autoimmune disorders, food intolerances and gastrointestinal diseases like:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common condition that can cause a range of symptoms including gas, cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
- Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can affect any part of your digestive tract from the esophagus to the colon.
- Ulcerative colitis, another type of IBD that is similar to Crohn’s disease, but only affects the inner lining of the large intestine (colon). Its symptoms and treatments are similar to Crohn’s disease.
How to maintain a healthy gut balance
A healthy gut microbiome will always support your efforts to stay healthy and strong. And because your microbiome changes every day, it’s never too late to incorporate healthy dietary changes that can lead to better gut bacteria. So you can make a positive change in the makeup of your microbiome in 24 hours. Some suggestions include the following:
- Eating a healthy diet, such as a high-fiber, plant-based diet that includes whole grains, legumes and beans and provides the essential nutrients your body needs so your gut can work more efficiently and keep bad bacteria in check.
- Incorporating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut, all of which contain probiotics, the live bacteria that help keep your gut in check.
- Consulting your doctor about supplements, especially if you have health conditions like lactose intolerance that limit your diet.
- Incorporating prebiotics, which support the growth of healthy bacteria and can be found in foods like garlic, onions, leeks, dandelion greens and Jerusalem artichokes.
- Staying hydrated, because drinking plenty of water supports good gut bacteria, helps you avoid constipation and supports the lining of the intestines.
Learn more and find a provider
If you are experiencing digestive issues or want to learn more about taking care of your digestive health, contact the Swedish Digestive Health Institute. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual appointments.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
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