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The surprising impact of poor gut health

Wellness |

You can’t scroll far on social media without coming across a wellness devotee waxing lyrical about gut health. The digestive tract, something you probably didn’t think about much until recently, is suddenly getting a lot of attention. But why is gut health important, and what are the benefits of boosting your gut health?

A bed with a cup of tea and a book

“Gut health is important because it can impact every system in the body,” explains Jaime Rose Chambers, an accredited practising dietitian. “The strains of bacteria in the gut are known as the microbiota and they have many important jobs; they make up a part of our immune system, they are involved in producing and metabolising nutrients from the food we eat, and act a protective barrier to any gut infections.”

It stands to reason that poor gut health can impact on our ability to digest food effectively – heartburn, bloating and constipation, for example – but there are many other bodily functions that can also be affected.

Check out these surprising ways gut health impacts on your health.

Immunity 

Fact: a huge amount of your immune system is located in your gut. That means your digestive tract and your immune system are constantly interacting.

“The bacteria in the gut increase our tolerance to potential attackers from our environment and from antigens from food,” Chambers explains. “When our gut health is compromised, we might be more likely to get sick or have more intense immune reactions to these antigens.”

Skin

When it comes to looking after our skin we tend to focus on applying creams and lotions, but Chambers says healthy skin is an inside job – and the gut plays a part in that.

“When there is a disturbance to the intestinal barrier, gut microbes can enter into the bloodstream, accumulate in the skin and lead to some skin conditions, and increase skin sensitivity,” Chambers says.

Sleep

Want to get more sleep? Turns out, boosting your gut health could help. 

“Research has shown a link between the number of different strains of bacteria in the gut and sleep quality,” Chambers says. “It suggests that the lower the diversity of gut bacteria, the more likely you are to have problems with falling asleep and the number of hours you sleep for.”

Mood

If you’ve ever experienced stomach pain when you’re nervous about giving a presentation, you’ll know that the gut reacts to how you feel. That’s because emotions and the gut are connected.

“Research is consistently showing a link between gut health and our mood, due to the two-way communication between the gut and the brain known as the gut-brain axis,” Chambers explains. “When the balance within the gut is disrupted, it can also disrupt our mood, leading to low mood and anxiety.”

Heart health

Need another reason to love your guts? Try this: your heart and your gut are in a committed long-term relationship. 

“It is believed that the microorganisms in the gut have such a far-reaching effect on our health that they can also impact the health of our heart,” Chambers says. “This is by affecting the risk factors for heart disease, which include increases in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and blood pressure as well as directly affecting the plaques that can build up in our arteries, knows as atherosclerosis.”

Brain health 

With Australia’s ageing population, conditions that impact on our quality of life as we age – such as neurodegenerative disorders – are becoming increasingly important. One area of interest is the role of the gut.

“Microbiome dysbiosis – an imbalance of gut bacteria – may be associated with some neurodegenerative diseases, which are conditions that affect the neurons of the brain,” Chambers says. “Research has seen a link between an altered microbiome composition and conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, due to a variety of different pathways.”

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