If you think gut health is only linked to how you feel after you eat or only influences your “regularity” (or lack thereof!), I think you’ll have some “aha” moments as you read about why is gut health important.
It’s easy to compartmentalize the different parts of our body and what they do.
For example, you might assume that the role of the heart is to simply control blood flow, or that the lungs only deal with breathing. And you might think the gut is only responsible for digesting food.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth!
The individual systems and organs of our bodies are responsible for unique tasks. They are also connected and rely on each other to keep our bodies running in tip top shape.
Pretty cool, right?
Let’s get into some details as to why gut health is important so that you can understand why it’s essential to prioritize your gut health!
What is the gut?
Before we get into why is gut health important, here’s a quick recap about what we mean when we are referring to the gut. If you want to dive deeper into the topic of “what is gut health”, check out this post.
The “gut” is another name for the digestive system. This is the system of the body that is responsible for breaking down food into energy and nutrients, allowing for the energy and nutrients to get absorbed and used by the body, and getting rid of all the rest through bowel movements.
The gut, or digestive system, includes the GI tract (the hollow tube that runs from the mouth to the anus) and the organs of the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
If you think that sounds like a lot of work and a lot of moving pieces for one system of the body, you’re right!
Now that we’ve done a quick recap what the gut is, let’s talk about the different tasks of the gut and how the gut influences other systems and organs of the body.
This will help tie it all together in terms of why is gut health important!
What does the gut do?
The gut is a hard-working system of the body and while it is best known for digesting our food, I’m going to outline 3 main functions the gut does for the body.
Our digestive system is like a factory line that processes the foods we eat into smaller parts that can be used by the body.
The cells of our body, which are the actual users of the calories and nutrients that we get from the foods we eat, are so small! They need the food we eat to be broken down into very small particles and that’s exactly what our digestive system does.
All along the GI tract (which starts in the mouth and ends at the anus) food continues to be broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. Once the pieces are so small, they are absorbed into the bloodstream (which happens in the intestines) and then they travel to the cells of the body to be used.
Our food contains calories and nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and all of that goodness has to get broken down and absorbed in the GI tract in order for the cells of our body to use them.
As food moves along the GI tract, the pancreas and liver help supply helpful enzymes and fluids that assist in the breakdown of food.
Our digestive system is one of the main parts of the body responsible for protecting the body from outside invaders, those harmful microorganisms that want to set up a residence in your body.
These outside invaders (or pathogens) can be parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi and if they get in and take hold, they can cause infection and illness.
The best part about this function of the digestive system is that you don’t even know it’s happening most of the time. It takes place behind the scenes, and you often don’t feel a thing!
Wait, isn’t the immune system responsible for all of this? Why are we talking about the gut here?
Yes, the immune system is responsible for targeting and eliminating the harmful organisms that can lead to illness.
But, there’s more to the story…
- The largest concentration of immune cells is in the small intestine.
- The gut microbiome (remember, the collection of microorganisms that lives in the gut) supports the immune system by helping to identify potentially harmful invaders.
- One of the first lines of defense is in the stomach (part of the digestive system), where powerful stomach acid plays a role in killing any harmful organisms that come in when we eat.
Why is gut health important in the case of immunity and protecting the body from illness?
When the environment in your gut is healthy, your immune cells that reside there will be able to thrive and do their job more effectively.
Plus, having an optimal balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome will allow for the best support and communication between the gut and the immune system.
One final role of the gut, which has become quite a buzz word in the dieting world, is the process of detoxification, which is another way in which the digestive system helps protect the body.
While the full subject of detoxing is beyond the scope of this blog post, I will talk about how the digestive system is involved in detoxification in the body.
The reason why gut health is important in relation to detoxification and elimination is that the digestive system and liver play a key role in filtering and eliminating harmful toxins and excess waste that the body doesn’t need.
A healthy gut equals effective clearing of toxins and waste, which allows all the other parts of the body to run more smoothly and efficiently.
Can you see how hard the gut works to protect the body? There’s one more main function of the gut and it’s just as important as the processing and protection functions!
As if your gut didn’t already do enough, with breaking down food, absorbing the proper calories and nutrients, and helping your immune system thrive, your gut also plays a big role in the production of key vitamins, hormones, fatty acids, and neurotransmitters.
Let’s break it down…
Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins, especially B vitamins and Vitamin K, and they also help convert certain vitamins into a form that can be used by the body.
Vitamin D is a vitamin that has significant impact on overall health. One recent study suggests a strong relationship between the make-up of the gut microbiome and the levels of active Vitamin D in the body.
While most hormone production occurs in the endocrine glands (such as the thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal glands, pineal gland, hypothalamus, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, and testes), certain hormones are produced in the gut and play a major role in regulating insulin use, glucose balance and fat storage.
The bacteria in the gut also help signal the endocrine glands to let them know how much of each hormone should be released into the body.
The gut also helps clear excess hormones after they have done their job in the body. This is an important role that can greatly impact health over the long term.
Short Chain Fatty Acids
Short chain fatty acids are produced by the bacteria in the gut and play an important role in overall health and metabolism.
There are three main types of short chain fatty acids produced in the gut. Butyrate can help lower inflammation and protect against cancer. It also has a beneficial effect on glucose and energy balance.
Acetate is the most abundant short chain fatty acid and plays an important role in the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. It’s also involved in cholesterol metabolism and appetite control.
Propionate is the third short chain fatty acid, and it provides an energy source for the cells of the gut lining. It also plays a role in appetite control and helps produce glucose in the liver.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the body and their main role is to carry signals from the nerves to specific cells in the body.
Bacteria in the gut produce a wide range of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
In order to produce and regulate these neurotransmitters effectively, your gut needs to have adequate levels of healthy bacteria. This is another reason why gut health is important.
Why is gut health important?
When you’re trying to improve one area of your health, it’s easy to focus on just that one area, but working on the health of your gut while improving other areas of your health can be the most effective solution for the long term.
Let’s look at the connection between gut health and other parts of overall health.
Obesity is a common condition that puts a person at a higher risk for many other debilitating health conditions.
While conventional treatment for obesity tends to rely on decreasing calories consumed and increasing activity level, more and more research tells us that looking at gut health can be a more effective way to get long-term results, without the need for fad diets or drastically cutting calories.
When comparing the gut microbiome make-up of obese versus lean individuals, researchers notice big differences.
The make-up of your gut microbiome can influence your metabolism (the way in which the cells of your body use and store the calories you get from food) and can impact how many of the calories you absorb from the foods you eat.
Research has shown that obese individuals are able to absorb more calories from the food they eat, while lean individuals absorb less calories from the food they eat.
Optimizing the health of your gut microbiome can make it easier for a person to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Metabolic syndrome is a condition where an individual has 3 or more of the following conditions:
- Insulin resistance
- Dyslipidemia (imbalances in your blood lipid levels – think cholesterol and triglycerides)
Having metabolic syndrome puts a person a higher risk for complications from cardiovascular disease and increases the risk for developing type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.
Research has noted that the make-up of a person’s gut microbiome can increase the risk for developing metabolic syndrome and can affect the way that metabolic syndrome progresses.
Blood sugar balance
The bacteria in your gut microbiome affects how the cells of the body use the glucose from foods you eat. This impacts blood sugar levels.
This can help maintain healthy levels of blood sugar, or it can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when the cells in your body aren’t conditioned to use the energy from the foods you eat.
High blood sugar levels and insulin resistance can increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The gut is involved in the production of hormones and the removal of hormones after they have been used by the body.
If your gut isn’t working the way it should, this removal process won’t happen as effectively as it should, leading to unpleasant symptoms.
If you have inflammation in the gut, this can also lead to imbalances of certain hormones in the body, which can also result in unwanted symptoms.
It’s not news that when you’re getting good sleep, you tend to feel better, but did you know that the health of your gut can impact how well you sleep?
The gut produces serotonin, which is essential for the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you fall sleep naturally.
If your gut health is off, guess what? You’ll produce less serotonin, which can lead to lower levels of melatonin.
The gut and brain are also linked through what’s called the “gut-brain axis”. When the gut microbiome is imbalanced, it can impact brain function and disrupt normal circadian rhythms, including your sleep-wake cycle.
Focusing on prioritizing your gut health can lead to more restful sleep, which can help you have more energy throughout the day. Who doesn’t want that?
Mood, Depression, Anxiety, Brain Fog and Low Memory
Mood fluctuations, depression, anxiety, poor memory, and brain fog (that feeling that you just can’t think straight no matter how hard you try), don’t seem like they’d be related to gut health at all, but surprisingly, there can be a connection.
As mentioned in the section above about sleep, the gut and brain are connected by the gut-brain axis. The two systems of the body communicate and influence each other greatly.
Bacteria in the gut produce neurochemicals that the brain then uses in many basic processes involved in learning, memory and mood.
Plus, remember the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which is mainly produced in the gut? It plays a big role in regulating our mood. People with enough serotonin are less likely to experience anxiety and depression.
While gut health is not the only piece of the puzzle that needs to be addressed if a person has mood swings, depression, anxiety, brain fog and poor memory, healing the gut can make it easier to see improvements in these conditions.
Not having enough energy to get through the day, requiring you to slug down gallons of caffeine, or take a mid-afternoon nap, is not fun.
While there are many factors involved in having enough energy, gut health is often overlooked as an underlying reason why your energy may be sluggish.
If your gut microbiome is out of balance, you may not be able to absorb adequate nutrients from foods, which might mean you don’t have the nutrients you need to produce the energy you want.
And, as mentioned above in the section about sleep, poor sleep can be related to poor gut health. If you’re not getting good quality sleep at night, the result can be lower energy throughout the day.
The health of your skin is influenced by many factors, one of which is your gut health.
If you suffer from regular rashes, eczema, acne, or rosacea, which are all signs of inflammation, looking at your gut health can help provides the clues you need to get relief from those symptoms.
Poor skin health can be linked back to problems in the gut, including an imbalance of the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability (also called leaky gut) and inflammation in the gut.
Digestive problems, including IBS, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas, are obviously tied to gut health, but just because it may be an obvious connection doesn’t mean the way to overcome these symptoms is obvious.
In fact, I often see people focusing on the wrong things when it comes to healing their gut and getting long-term relief from symptoms that can be really difficult to live with.
Let’s change that! If you want to get lasting results and feel better for good, it’s important to address the underlying causes of your symptoms rather than just treating your specific symptoms.
If you’re ready to heal your gut in a way that’s personalized for your needs, I can work with you (virtually) to help you overcome your digestive problems for good.
You can apply to work with me by clicking here.
Autoimmune conditions are linked with imbalances in the gut microbiome as well as increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which is when the openings in the lining of the gut wall become larger than they should. This allows larger particles to pass through and activate the immune system.
Bacteria in the gut microbiome help identify potentially harmful pathogens that come into the body, which then activates the immune system to attack and eliminate those pathogens.
Problems can arise if the immune system or the gut microbes identify the wrong cells as potential pathogens.
If the gut or the immune system isn’t functioning the way it should, they can mistakenly identify the cells of our body as foreign pathogens that need to be dealt with.
This can lead to the immune system attacking the cells of the body, which can lead to an autoimmune condition.
Some autoimmune conditions are…
- Type 1 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Celiac disease
Having one autoimmune condition can make it more likely for a person to develop another autoimmune condition over time.
So, whether you have an autoimmune condition or not, healing your gut is important.
Gut health influences thyroid health in a number of ways. The thyroid relies on adequate levels of certain minerals to function properly.
If the gut is not healthy and there is an imbalance in the gut microbiome, mineral absorption won’t happen effectively. A few of the minerals needed for optimal thyroid health are iodine, selenium, zinc and iron.
Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), bacterial overgrowth in the gut microbiome, and inflammation in the intestines can all influence thyroid health as well.
If you are experiencing symptoms related to poor thyroid health, it would be beneficial to also work on improving the health of your gut!
Chronic inflammation in the gut can lead to inflammatory bowel disease, two of which are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
An inflamed gut can cause digestive symptoms of pain, bloating, excess gas, diarrhea. It can also lead to unwanted symptoms in other parts of the body, such as the skin, joints, and brain.
The bottom line is that the health of your gut influences overall health in a big way. One of the best things you can do for your health is to improve your gut health.
If you are looking for more support on healing your gut, I offer personalized nutrition coaching. I’d love to help you improve your gut health and overcome your symptoms so that you can enjoy your life more fully!
Click here to apply for a free 30 minute consultation call so I can learn a bit more about your health goals. We will determine your next steps and decide if it would be a good fit to work together.
Before you go, grab the free IBS Breakthrough Guide. In this guide, you’ll discover the 3 common mistakes many people make when trying to heal their gut and what to do instead!