The Integral Role of Gut Health On Your Moods, Fitness Levels, and Immunity
Your gut health plays a crucial role in your overall health and quality of life, as well as the success that you have in losing weight and keeping it off.
Have you ever actually made the connection between stress and your gut health? How about the connection between having a healthy gut and your immune system? Have you ever made the association between your gut health and your physical fitness levels and performance?
Let’s take a look at these aspects of your life and how managing the health of your gut microbiome can have an influence on everything from your weight to your moods to your ability to do an intense workout.
Your Stress Levels and Moods
Stress and your gut health are inextricably linked. Even just tiny changes in our gut health can have an impact on our emotions and well-being.
The Gut-Brain Axis
What is the gut-brain axis? It’s basically a way of describing the connection and communication (bi-directional) between the gut and the brain. They are connected through the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body.
There are literally millions of neurons in the gut communicating directly and indirectly with the brain in a complicated communication system that also involves the endocrine system, nervous system, gut hormones, and neurotransmitters. A lot of these hormones and neurotransmitters are created in the gut, for example, dopamine, serotonin, and gut bi-products of carbohydrate fermentation.
Makes sense that your gut is sometimes known as your second brain! Whatever is going on in your gut has a direct pathway to your brain function and behavior.
Your Gut Microbiome’s Role in the Gut-Brain Axis
Scientific research has discovered that the gut microbiome is also involved in the gut-brain axis theory. The gut microbiome is the trillions of microorganisms of bacteria that reside in the gut.
The gut-brain-microbiome axis is interconnected, so if an issue arises within the pathways of these communication loops, the entire system can be affected by conditions such as depression, IBS, and anxiety. Even small changes in your gut can bring about constipation, diarrhea, inflammation, and a drop in the neurotransmitters responsible for boosting your positive moods. These factors in turn affect your mental health in terms of stress, and your brain under stress continues the cycle of gastrointestinal issues. And on it goes in a vicious cycle.
Stress makes IBS worse and also alters the profile of the gut microbiome, playing a big role in the dysfunction that then occurs with the gut-brain axis. Some studies show that even just short term stress can lower the number of healthy bacteria that resides in your gut, like Lactobacillus.
Your Innate Immunity
A healthy immune system also relies on the health of your gut microbiome, more than 70% of your body’s immune system is actually found in the gut. Taking care of your gut has never been so important! As science discovers more and more about the gut microbiome, it becomes increasingly clear that the key to our overall health really lies in our guts.
GALT is gut-associated lymphoid tissue. It also has a crucial role to play when it comes to your ability to stave off infection and disease. It houses the T and B cells as well as other immune cells, that work to identify when harmful bacteria or viruses are present. A healthy system can also determine when something is not dangerous.
Housed in our guts are trillions of good bacteria microbes and other microorganisms (the gut microbiome we have discussed). Right from when we are in the womb, we are building our immunity with microbes. When we are born we come into contact with our mother’s bacteria naturally, which boosts our microbiome as newborns and stimulates the immune system right away. Babies born by C-section miss out on this important contact with the microbiome.
Any disruptions with our gut microbes can have a negative impact on our ability to recognize and resist viruses and bacteria that cause diseases.
Changes in our diets, lifestyles, and stress levels have a negative effect on our gut microbiome and in turn on our immune systems. We need a healthy gut microbiome in order to balance our immune responses, reduce inflammation and stimulate immune cells.
How your Gut impacts your Fitness Levels
Heading to your exercise class with a bloated stomach is not very nice or productive. It can be hard enough to find the incentive to work-out, let alone have to deal with your stomach issues.
Having a healthy microbiome can actually improve your athletic performance and exercise regime. Of course, a healthy gut microbiome is what’s needed for good metabolism, digestion, balanced hormone levels, and a strong immune system, all of which contribute to your physical fitness levels.
A study published in Nature Medicine discovered a bacterial strain (Veillonella atypica) in marathon runners that saw an improvement in running speed when passed onto mice. This bacteria has the ability to break down lactic acid, the acid that builds up over time in muscles used in endurance exercise.
If you have an unhealthy gut, or experience dysbiosis in the gut microbiome you start to experience low energy, lack of focus and concentration, and a feeling of lethargy that does not inspire motivation for exercise or stamina. The less you move your body, the less healthy your gut will become, the two are connected, when one suffers so does the other, and when one improves the other also benefits. Gut health is directly related to your exercise performance and the more active you get, the healthier your gut will be.
So the answer is to start small and gradually build up your daily movement, walking, yoga stretches and pilates are all ideal. You don’t have to immediately start doing intense workouts if you don’t have the energy or suffer from gut problems.
Simple Ways To Improve Your Gut Health
Many of us are suffering from some form of gut-brain dysfunction, but there are easy ways to approach this and restore the body to optimum health. This solution is a combination of whole food, nutritious diet, exercise, meditation, a balanced lifestyle that decreases stress, and includes a supplementation with a high quality probiotic.
Take a Probiotic
Incorporating a daily supplement into your regime is a great place to begin healing your gut health. Probiotics help promote an environment in your gut that favors good bacteria, helping them to flourish in the microbiome.
You can also ensure that your diet is full of fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, miso, and kombucha where probiotics are naturally found, as well as taking a supplement.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that work by changing the gut microbiota, which in turn can manage any problems you are having with digestion, gas, bloating, and even help with headaches, depression, inflammation, and yeast infections.
Daily exercise is so important to your health, be it as simple as a brisk walk or a quick 15-minute workout. The emphasis is on regular exercise and movement, to break up what is for the majority of us, a very sedentary existence. When you perform regular exercise, you strengthen your digestive tract.
Diversity in your gut is linked to more than just what you consume. A healthy gut microbiome is about everything that influences your life, from the air you breathe to the social connections you have or the diversity of foods that you try. Try to get outside as much as possible in nature. Nature boosts our moods positively and improves mental health, but it also has to do with the bacteria in the soil and in the air, even the water.
Our modern agricultural practices have caused us to become less connected to the soil and the land. The depletion of soil health reduces the diversity in our own gut microbiome. We are exposed to chemicals that degrade the organic material within our gut.
The bottom line? Walk outside and be in nature, get your hands in the dirt, swim in the oceans, lakes, and rivers, and breathe as much fresh air as possible. Start a small organic garden for yourself whether that be simply a pot of herbs or an entire vegetable patch. Reestablishing your connection to the Earth has incredible benefits for your overall health. The more time you spend in nature, the greater your appreciation for it will grow, and the more you will consider the implications of how you shop and what foods you consume.
Good Sleep and Hydration
Support your gut health by getting regular, deep sleep and by hydrating yourself properly throughout the day with plenty of water and hydrating fruits and vegetables.
The Bottom Line
The takeaway? There is an undeniable and crucial link between our health and the gut, brain, and microbiome. Diversity in your gut is linked to a healthy microbiome and your overall health. If you live a varied life, have strong social connections, eat a range of whole foods, spend time in nature, practice regular exercise, and know how to manage your stress levels, you are doing all the right things to benefit your gut microbiome.
On top of this lifestyle, incorporating targeted strains of probiotics can help balance your gut health and keep you radiant, vibrant, glowing, and at optimum health.