If you’re like most Americans, you're probably of the belief that a high-fiber diet is just for grandma and grandpa, or even moms and dads closing in on retirement age. Guess again! We all benefit from the healing ways of fiber, probiotics, and daily vitamins. No - you don’t need a pill pack labeled with the days of the week, or to drink prune juice with your breakfast every morning (unless you really want to - then go for it!).
From an early age - like...when we’re still in the womb - our bodies are mapping out what the future of our immune systems and health issues will look like. That is the whole purpose behind prenatal vitamins, and why your parents were always on you about eating your vegetables and having morning vitamins as a kid (Flintstones Vitamins, anyone?).
But you don’t stop growing and developing once your childhood ends. Sure you’ve reached your maximum height and you don’t move up shoe sizes every year. We’re looking beneath the surface, though. We’re looking at the changes that go on at the microscopic level. Changes that happen almost daily. Changes to something that needs constant attention and daily TLC.
What’s going on in your gut microbiome?
Scientists used to think that the digestive system was a simple tube for passing food and absorbing life-sustaining nutrients. But in recent decades, the connection between gut health and other facets of health have become the object of many studies.
There is a whole world bustling about in your stomach and intestines!
Inside this microbiome, there are trillions of microorganisms that exist naturally within your gut and are affected by what you eat and your environment. The fungi and bacteria found inside of you, known as microbiota, are highly sensitive to even the slightest change and will adapt accordingly - sometimes within twenty-four hours.
Microbiota can be positively influenced by dietary fibers and other probiotic factors. When fiber makes it to the intestine, the fermentation process results in short-chain fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory effects and impact immune regulation.
Effects of Compromised Gut Health
When you eat poorly and don’t support the growth of positive gut flora, the rest of your body can suffer negative effects. Lack of diversity in your microbiota means that your body has less tools to work with regarding self- maintenance and repair. Below are just some of the ways you gut influences your overall health.
Absence of microbiota leads to major immune deficiency. Innate immunity, meaning how your immune system developed from infancy based on environmental influences, determines the development of your gut barrier and blood-brain barrier. These barriers block pathogens from entering the bloodstream and affecting other organs and systems. Deficiencies in this department are what lead to susceptibility of different inflammatory diseases including allergies and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Adaptive immunity is how your immune system combats injuries and infections. It is in charge of the synthesis and release of antibodies. But when your biodiversity is low, your immune system doesn’t have much to work with when figuring out how to deal with new situations.
THE GUT-RESPIRATORY AXIS
The mucosal immune system is a network of operations at the cellular level that protects our bodies against unwanted invaders. Essentially, any entrance into our bodies - such as our airways and digestive tract - are lined with a protective barrier. This barrier interconnects our respiratory system and our gut, known as the gut-respiratory axis. This means that the microbiota of the gut directly affects the microbiota of the respiratory tract, and quite possibly the nose and mouth.
Studies have shown that impeccable nutrition in athletes not only benefits their performance, but also helps in keeping common athlete respiratory symptoms at bay. More and more athletes are turning to pre- and probiotics for their multifaceted contributions to their overall health. Greatness begins in the gut!
THE GUT-THYROID AXIS
By now we’ve talked a lot about the importance of barriers within our bodies. They’re the club bouncers that keep out the trouble makers so that you can continue to dance it up at the party that is your amazing, bountiful life.
When you have no bouncers, anyone can join your party and suddenly, you have a buzzkill on your hands. Having a leaky gut means something surely got into your bloodstream and the thyroid gland is now susceptible to inflammation. This is why it is common for Celiac Disease or wheat sensitivities to go hand in hand with autoimmune thyroid diseases. The thyroid is responsible for regulating your metabolism.
COMMON THYROID DISEASES:
- Hashimotos Disease - chronic inflammation, hypothyroidism, destruction of the thyroid gland
- Graves Disease - hyperthyroidism, or losing too much weight
Although having a genetic predisposition for these diseases plays a factor in someone developing them, studies show that environment and immune deficiencies are also major contributing factors. Increasing evidence shows that patients report a quality of life change and thyroid function in relation to dietary changes, such as including more fiber.
As we said before, short-chain fatty acids produced when fiber ferments within the gut help with inflammation. They also help strengthen the intercellular bonds with thyroid hormones.
To top it all off, microbiota in the gut has a huge influence over neurotransmitters such as dopamine which regulates the production of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
THE GUT'S INFLUENCE ON SKIN HEALTH
The knowledge that poor gut health causes inflammatory diseases leads researchers to believe that our skin health is affected by our stomachs as well. While research is limited, studies suggest that the gut microbiome has influence in patients with inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema. Although seborrheic dermatitis is a rash that can affect generally healthy people, it is especially prevalent in patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and HIV - both associated with compromised immune systems. Folliculitis is linked with excessive yeast, namely Candida, which is a result of an imbalance in the body’s microbiome.
(Interested in getting your Candida in check? Consider our Yeast Buster herbal remedy to promote the health of your skin and much more.)
The use of pre- and probiotics for the treatment of eczema in youth showed limited but favorable results. Prenatal and postnatal probiotic supplements lowered the risk of developing eczema a significant amount. More in-depth research is needed to better understand the connection between the gut and skin, but these small discoveries are certainly promising for larger discoveries on the horizon.
MENTAL HEALTH- THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS
It’s no shock to us that mental disorders are becoming more of a medical burden, and at an alarming rate. The industrialization of our world has put us out of touch with friendly bacteria that come from the natural earth. Modern life has wildly transformed our environment, diet, lifestyle, medical practices, and farming techniques (read more about how harmful farming techniques negatively impact your gut).
As you grow through life, your microbiota and brain develop almost symbiotically. Naturally, disturbances in the microbiota can result in brain disorders and follow an age-related pattern. All of the following conditions can be a direct result of bacterial imbalances that inhibit neurotransmitters found in the gut.
- Neurodevelopmental - ADHD, Autism, Tourette's Syndrome
- Anxiety disorders - OCD, PTSD and panic attacks
- Depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Behavior disorders - drug addiction and abuse
- Neurodegenerative - Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
- Neurobiological - Multiple Sclerosis, migraines, Epilepsy
Gut health can affect your mood as well, since a majority of your hormone production resides in your gut. Happy guts lead to happy people when it’s your gut controlling your serotonin and dopamine production by signaling your brain through bacteria. Getting a good night’s sleep and even keeping good reproductive health is in the hands of your gut and its ability to properly signal hormone production.
Promoting stellar gut health
So, how do we improve our gut health naturally? We need to look at how to get rid of bad bacteria in the gut, along with how to promote the growth of good bacteria.
Probiotic fiber is a fantastic starting place. This increases gut microbiota diversity, improves the gut barrier, and improves glucose control and insulin sensitivity. All leading to less inflammation, and less risk of chronic diseases.
WHAT TO AVOID
A diet that is high in fat and refined carbs results in high levels of sucrose and fructose which disturb the gut microbiota. Processed sugar promotes the overgrowth of yeast and the growth of bad bacteria.
WHAT TO EAT
A diet rich in fermented food, unsaturated fatty acids, Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrates, such as whole grains, and natural sweeteners. Here is a list of foods that fit this profile.
- Bone broth
- Whole grains
- Ancient grains - think quinoa
- Fresh produce
- Coconut oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Pure honey
- Organic maple syrup
- Agave nectar
Listen to your gut
At the end of the day, all you really need to do is listen to your gut and listen to your body. Discomfort after eating and unexplained pain are not things you “just have to deal with.” If you suspect something is off, don’t ignore that feeling, and definitely don’t let someone tell you that it’s all in your head. You should make a big deal out of your own health. And if it turns out to be a simple fix, at least you’ll have peace of mind and a higher quality of life.