By Meredith Rosenbluth, Navitas Organics Content Specialist
As we grow up, we learn about certain aspects of nutrition through associations between food and our bodies: Oats for a healthy heart! Oranges for immunity! Milk for strong bones! But how often do you hear people say, “fermented foods for a healthy gut!”?
Maybe you have heard this recently; if so, that’s GREAT! Because, as it turns out, the gut is one of the body’s most important collections of organs, helping regulate systems from digestion to mental health. In celebration of the release of our new Essential Superfood Blends, which contain probiotics and digestive enzymes to support gut health, I’ll be taking you on a three-part journey to learn about what the gut is, how to support its optimal functioning, and how it directly influences our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Considering that the gut is such a multifaceted system, a concrete definition seems like a good place to start. Let’s dive in!
Gut—It’s Some Kind of Stomach Slang…Right?
When people talk about gut health, they are referring to our gastrointestinal (GI) tract (also referred to as our digestive system), which includes a substantial number of internal organs: the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon and excretory organs. Because the gut deals with breaking down food and eliminating waste from our bodies—not to mention is also the word used to describe that extra little belly pouch that we all try so hard to avoid—it has, until recently, garnered relatively little attention in medical research (and has been a similarly unsexy topic in more mainstream conversations about wellness). But this is rapidly changing, as research continues to reveal how important the gut is in maintaining overall health.
So what goes on in our gut that makes it so critical to our bodies, within and beyond digestion? To find out, we need to take a microscopically close look at the inside of our insides.
The Gut: An Entire Ecosystem
Our digestive tracts are lined with trillions of microbes (including thousands of species of bacteria), which are collectively referred to as our microbiome. It’s hard to imagine, but the bacteria in our guts outnumber the cells in our bodies by a factor of 10! What we eat, the medicines or supplements we take, the body products we use, how we feel (i.e., if we’re stressed or anxious) and how we think all impact our microbiome and, by extension, how well our gut is able to do its job.
The bacteria in our guts are essential to our daily functioning. They release digestive juices and enzymes that break down our food, prepare nutrients for absorption, produce vitamins and generate chemicals that regulate appetite and feelings of fullness, among other things.
Our gut ecosystem is also directly related to our immune health. Our GI tract is lined with a thin wall of mucus that keeps bad bacteria, yeast and other pathogens out of our bloodstream. Good bacteria, like that found in probiotic and fermented foods (think yogurt or kimchi) supports the growth of these mucus membranes. Bad bacteria in the gut (like that produced by processed, refined and sugary foods), on the other hand, attacks the mucosal layer and causes it to become permeable (also referred to as “leaky gut”). When this happens, toxins can more easily escape and be reabsorbed in our blood streams; our bodies enter a state of inflammation; and our immunity becomes compromised. But when our guts are healthy, the mucosal layer and our immune systems stay strong.
To Try and Put It Simply…
Our microbiomes are an entire ecosystem that contain both good and bad bacteria. When these quantities are out of balance, we encounter digestive issues, weakened immunity, heightened susceptibility to sickness and disease, and often mental and mood imbalances, ranging from stress to depression.
The good news is that it is within our power to support the health of our guts. Check back for part two of “What the Gut?!” to find out how.
1. Douglas Lord, M.D., Nava Center, “Your Body’s Second Brain – The Importance of Gut Health.”
2. Kris Carr, “How to Improve Your Gut Health.”
3. Williams, David, M.D. “9 Ways Good Gut Bacteria Support Your Overall Health (That Have Nothing to Do With Digestion).”