The health of your gut plays a key role in your overall health and well-being. The lining of your stomach has an important job–it makes acid and enzymes that help break down food so you can extract the nutrients you need. The lining also protects itself from acid damage by secreting mucus. But sometimes the lining gets inflamed and starts making less acid, enzymes, and mucus. This type of inflammation is called gastritis, and it can cause long-term problems.
Your digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a long, muscular tube that runs from your mouth to your anus. It is about 30 feet long and works with other parts of your digestive system to break food and drink down into smaller molecules of nutrients. The blood absorbs these and carries them throughout the body for cells to use for energy, growth, and repair.
Researchers are coming to better understand the bacteria and other microbes that live in the human GI tract. Called gut flora or microbiota, these microbes help with our digestion. Evidence has been growing that gut microbes may influence our health in other ways too. Studies suggest that they may play roles in IBS, obesity, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and even depression.
IBS is a group of symptoms that includes pain in the abdomen and changes in bowel habits. People with IBS may have constipation, diarrhea, or both. Many more people have other digestive problems, like bloating and stomach pain. Gut flora might also affect how the immune system functions. This can affect how your body fights illness and disease. Recent studies have found that microbes’ effects on the immune system may impact the development of conditions such as allergy, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Therefore it is extremely important to pay attention to your gut heath. Many factors can impact gut health. How your body’s built, your family and genetic history, how you manage stress, and what you eat can all affect your gut.
There is some evidence that probiotics may be helpful in preventing diarrhea associated with antibiotics and improving symptoms of IBS, but more needs to be learned. Researchers still don’t know which probiotics are helpful and which aren’t. They also don’t know how much of the probiotics people would have to take or who would most likely benefit from them.
Probiotics are the live microbes that are similar to those found in the human gut and they can improve your gut health. These are also called good bacteria. Probiotics are available in dietary supplements and in certain foods, such as yogurt. They may ease constipation and IBS symptoms.
Certain food additives called emulsifiers are something else that may affect your gut health. Emulsifiers are added to many processed foods to improve texture and extend shelf life. But studies show they can affect our gut flora. In addition, research indicates that emulsifiers and other food additives can negatively impact the microbiota and promote inflammatory diseases.
In general, people do well when they create a more routine schedule, eat a healthy diet and smaller more frequent meals, add in some exercise, and get a good amount of sleep. Finding healthy ways to manage stress is important for GI health as well as overall health.
Try to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal. A variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts can provide a healthy mix of different fibers and nutrients to your diet.
Some lifestyle changes that are suggested to improve digestive health include eating more slowly and chewing your food well before swallowing. It is also recommended to enjoy smaller meals. Eating in moderation to avoid overfilling your stomach encourages digestion. A packed stomach may also cause reflux or your food to come back up. It is important to try to limit how much you eat after dark. Your GI tract is most active in the morning and daytime.
In addition, it is vital to manage stress. Learn healthy ways to reduce stress like relaxation breathing, mindfulness, and exercise. Stress makes it harder to digest your food well. It may also be useful to create a routine and to try to eat around the same times each day because your GI system may function best on a schedule. Research also suggests that you should eat a balanced diet and consume less processed foods.
For more information about gut health, visit our websites for diarrhea, IBS, constipation, Crohn’s disease, and ulcers and gastritis.