Spoiler alert: your gut health affects everything in your body, literally.
From digestive function to your immune and nervous systems and your mental health – a healthy gut is a critical component to your overall well-being.
It’s estimated there are 70 million people in the U.S. with digestive diseases stemming from poor gut health.
“Gut health” describes the function and balance of bacteria in the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract. When everything is healthy and in balance, organs such as the esophagus, stomach, and intestines all work together to allow us to eat and digest food without discomfort. But if there’s an issue, your gut is going to tell you, and it can have significant consequences both for your fitness goals and your overall health.
Think of it like a machine. You put fuel in the tank, and if everything is in good condition, that fuel seamlessly makes its way to the engine, where it’s converted to energy. But, if there’s an issue with the tank or fuel lines, it doesn’t matter how premium the fuel is or how perfect the cylinders are in the engine. You will have issues.
That’s a high-level diagram of what we’re talking about, but it’s also important to understand it a little deeper, too.
All food is ultimately broken down in the gut to a simple form that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients throughout our bodies. This is only possible with a healthy digestive system. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria to break down the food and immune cells that ward off infectious agents like unhealthy bacteria, viruses, and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and well-being.
In other words, when your gut is happy, so is every facet of you.
And if it’s unhappy, you’ll know.
Abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, constipation, heartburn, nausea, vomiting – these are all the not-so-fun side effects of an unhealthy gut. And these aren’t even the truly worrisome ones like weight loss without a good reason, blood in the stool, fever, jaundice, or a number of other issues that could potentially indicate an underlying gastrointestinal problem with serious consequences.
So, how can you keep it happy? Balance.
Managing stress levels, eating healthy with the appropriate amounts of fiber, getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, exercising, and taking probiotics can all be important steps toward healing an unhealthy gut and maintaining it.
Basically, your gut is a foundational piece of your physiology that needs to be maintained. It’s no different from your core muscles (which not-so-ironically reside around your gut). A strong, healthy core allows the rest of your body’s muscles to perform at their peak. Same with your gut.