Gut Health 101: Your Guide to Understanding Gut Health and the Lingo
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
What does gut health even mean? Why should you care?
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When I first started investigating what it looked like to heal my body naturally, I kept running into people talking about gut health and using terms like microflora, microbiome, probiotic and prebiotic. I stared at my screen and my doctors with question marks floating around my head. Okay, I get it—I need to focus on my gut health but what does that mean? What even is considered the gut? Why should I care about it?
If you’re at the beginning of your journey of healing your gut here is your cheat sheet!
Overview of the Gut
What is the gut?
The gut is the gastrointestinal tract which includes all the organs involved in your digestive system. It’s your mouth, esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, large intestine (AKA colon), rectum and anus. Throughout the journey your food takes through your body, it gets dissected to send nutrients, bacteria and extras to where it needs to go.
What does the gut do?
If you think about it, how do we keep ourselves alive and functioning? We eat and drink. Where do all those things go? Into the digestive system (gut). The gut then breaks down the food to help distribute nutrients, kill pathogens, and produce hormones. All these components get delivered to the proper organs to assure healthy functions.
Gut health plays a huge role in the functioning of our digestive system, immune system, detoxification system, nervous system, endocrine system—all the systems.
What happens if things aren't functioning?
An example of this is Leaky Gut Syndrome.
When you have a leaky gut that means there is a hole in the lining of your intestinal wall. This wall normally keeps all the food, bacteria, and toxins from getting into the bloodstream. Since these substances are not supposed to be in the blood, the body’s immune system’s alarm goes off and sends its troops to go destroy the intruder causing problems. The detoxification system then has to purge out the unwanted substance (usually urine, bowels, or through the skin) but if there’s too much, there can be a back-up causing problems as it all sits in the body. The leak also means your body isn’t absorbing the nutrients it needs because its escaping which then causes collateral damage to the rest of the body.
What is the gut microbiome or gut microflora?
These two terms are used interchangeably to describe the billions of different organisms (bacteria) that live within our gut. Picture a little metropolitan city with a bunch of bacteria characters going to work, doing their daily routines to keep the city (our digestive system) running.
When we allow bad gut bacteria to live within us they start to destroy and overpower the good. As a result, the cleaning, functioning and protecting takes a down turn and we experience the negative side effects throughout the rest of the body (one example is a leaky gut).
What are good and bad bacteria's?
There are more bacteria in our bodies than there are stars in the galaxy. Wrap your head around that one! These are the three main types of bacteria that reside in the gut.
Symbiotic bacteria (good): We benefit from them; they benefit from us. They’re like our gut besties.
Commensal bacteria (good): The relationship is more one sided. We benefit from them or they benefit from us, but neither are harmed by the other. We've all had a relationship like this.
Parasitic bacteria (bad): These hooligans get a free ride in our body and take any opportunity to multiply and take over the good. We’re just the host and they’re living their best life causing trouble.
You can make sure you have plenty of good bacteria by replenishing the gut with probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics: Are the symbiotic and commensal organisms and you can get them from fermented foods or by taking a supplement (I prefer to take a supplement because I'm guaranteed my daily dose of billions of organisms).
Prebiotics: This is the food that feed the probiotics and helps them thrive. You can get it from garlic, onions, asparagus, oranges, barley, oats, apples… essentially whole-food plants. *Bad bacteria feed off of sugars, saturated fats, and red meat (to name a few).
Why You Should Care About Your Gut
In summary, the gut’s microbiome is in charge of our digestion and nutrition absorption, protects against pathogens, supports the immune system, and hosts thousands of neurons that send messages to the rest of the body (it’s considered the second brain!)—and this is just some of it.
When we throw off the good gut bacteria’s operations with an unhealthy diet, exposure to chemicals, antibiotics, or other medications, we open the door to a large variety of health problems.
Some symptoms of an unhealthy gut are:
poor immune system
This is because everything in the body is connected! Whenever someone complains about having some sort of body ailment, my first focus point is their gut health.
You can follow my journey with healing my gut and clearing my skin on my Instagram at @brittbehealthy