Haims: What’s actually good for your gut?

Research indicates that there are certain bacteria within the gut that may assist in the treatment of many common diseases. When the gut microbiome is not healthy, there may be a profound effect for a number of diseases that may arise like inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, liver dysfunctions, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders.

Our gut and our body’s interconnectedness have profound implications on so much of how we function. In addition to our stomach, colon and intestines, some gut health issues may affect many organs including our, liver, lungs, bones and cardiovascular systems.

There are over 100 trillion bacteria living inside our digestive system, which are both good and bad. These bacteria have the power to encode over 3 million genes that influence our fitness, certain physical characteristics and overall health. While there is no single combination that makes for a “healthy” gut, a more diverse mix leads to a more resilient system.

Although many people might think that the word gut is synonymous with intestines, this is not absolutely accurate. Our intestines are just one part of our gastrointestinal tract. The GI tract is made up of many organs that all play a specific role in digesting foods and liquids. 

Good bacteria in our GI tract help with the digestion process of breaking down foods and liquids so that they can be absorbed into our bloodstream, used for energy, growth and protection against disease-causing bacteria.

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The microbiome within our gut has a strong direct connection with our immune system as well. As our gut comprises about 80% of our body’s immune cells, a healthy gut helps control our immune response and safeguards against various infections. Conversely, when the gut is not healthy, it can influence chronic inflammation, a common characteristic of many diseases, including autoimmune disorders and even our central nervous system and anxiety.

Developing a healthy gut microbiome

The No. 1 way to help establish a healthier gut microbiome is eating a diverse diet that consists of healthy and nourishing foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and natural fiber. Nutrients, an academic journal, has provided data that explains that, while duration varies, differences in the composition of our gut microbiome can be observed in as little as 24 hours after making dietary changes. 

While not conclusively proven, probiotics and prebiotics are believed to assist with gut health. The Mayo Clinic provides a lot of information about gut health and offers the following explanation of the difference between the two: “Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve the “good” bacteria (normal microflora) in the body. Prebiotics are foods (typically high-fiber foods) that act as food for human microflora.”

People should be aware that there are foods to be avoided. Processed foods, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and foods high in sugar and fat should be limited or altogether avoided. Such foods have been proven to promote unhealthy bacteria and cause an increase in blood sugar.

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Antibiotics are also known to be harmful to our microbiome as they indiscriminately not only wipe out harmful bacteria but the good as well. Studies find that it can take months and even years to recover the original species of microbiome harmed by antibiotics. This is one reason medical providers are sometimes reticent when prescribing antibiotics.

While research is ongoing, addressing one’s diet and nutritional choices is important to our overall health. The connection between diet and health is being studied worldwide, and we are learning more and more that modifying food choices provides positive benefits.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. 

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