What exactly is gut health?
Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Looking after the health of the gut and maintaining the right balance of these microorganisms is vital for physical and mental health, immunity, and more. (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325293#probiotics-and-fermented-foods)
The community of microbes that live in your gut are called your microbiota.
The opposite of gut health is called Gut dysbiosis and is an imbalance of these gut microbiota.
What can affect gut health?
There are thousands of articles written about the relationship between diet and gut health, and while this is a slight oversimplification there tends to be agreement that a healthy diet which does not contain processed foods or refined sugars is the way to go.
What we eat, especially foods that contain chemical additives and ultra-processed foods, affects our gut environment and increases our risk of diseases. Ultra-processed foods contain substances extracted from food (such as sugar and starch), added from food constituents (hydrogenated fats), or made in a laboratory (flavor enhancers, food colourings) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/gut-feelings-how-food-affects-your-mood-2018120715548
Managing stress is important for many aspects of health, including gut health. Animal have suggested that psychological stressors can disrupt the microorganisms in the intestines, even if the stress is only short-lived. (Galley JD, Nelson MC, Yu Z, et al. Exposure to a social stressor disrupts the community structure of the colonic mucosa-associated microbiota. BMC Microbiol. 2014;14:189. Published 2014 Jul 15. doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-189) https://bmcmicrobiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2180-14-189
Overuse of antibiotics
Although it is often necessary to take antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, overuse is a significant public health concern that can lead to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are also damaging to the gut microbiota and immunity, with some research reporting that even 6 months after their use, the gut still lacks several species of beneficial bacteria. (Palleja, A., Mikkelsen, K.H., Forslund, S.K. et al. Recovery of gut microbiota of healthy adults following antibiotic exposure. Nat Microbiol 3, 1255–1265 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-018-0257-9)
Can gut health affect anxiety or can gut heath lead to depression?
Two leading medical researchers (who happen to be Irish based in University College Cork) have done much work on the association between gut health and mental health, in fact they have come up with a new word to name the microbes that can improve your mood psychoboitoics. These microbes are major players in the gut-brain axis: the communication between your gut and your mind. If you are interested in this topic I would highly recommend a book The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection by John F. Cryan, Scott C. Anderson, and Ted Dina.https://www.ucc.ie/en/research/spotlight/thepsychobioticrevolution/
I will post future blogs with some of the insights from the book, which are fascinating. If you are interested in how a healthy gut can drive psychological well-being, improve your mood, and combat an array of diseases including depression, anxiety, obesity and heart disease this book is for you.
Are gut health tests worth it?
Patients are often told “Its all in your mind” because there is a limit to what doctors can test for. But the reality being revealed by pyschobiotic research is that many issues we think of as purely mental are actually directly related to gut dysbiosis. ( John F. Cryan, Scott C. Anderson, and Ted Dina )
Unfortunately there are still very few tools to prove the health of your microbiota, so it can be difficult to analyze the health of your microbiota, therefore it’s hard to proove that something real is at work and that it’s not just your imagination. Recent work done at the University of California, San Diego, has shown that a computer can discriminate healthy from dysbiotic guts, so help may soon be on the way. (M. Yazdani, B. C. Taylor, J. W. Debelius, W. Li, R. Knight and L. Smarr, "Using machine learning to identify major shifts in human gut microbiome protein family abundance in disease," 2016 IEEE International Conference on Big Data (Big Data), Washington, DC, 2016) https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7840731?part=1
But for now understanding the importance of a healthy gut and how it can be responsible for our physical and mental well-being is crucial.