Gut health is a hot topic in the world of wellness. There is a growing amount of research showing that gut flora, made up of a wide variety of microorganisms, has a strong influence on nearly every system in the body.
In this article, we’ll talk about how gut flora affects various systems in the body, certain lifestyle habits that can damage the balance of gut flora, and changes you can make to restore balance.
What is gut flora?
The terms “gut flora” and “gut microbiota” refer to the community of microorganisms that reside all along the digestive system. These microorganisms include hundreds of strains of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.
Variety is important for gut flora, but balance is also key. Balancing good bacteria, called probiotics, is necessary to create a healthy environment in the gut. The ideal environment allows probiotics to fight off harmful pathogens and communicate with the rest of the body.
Why does gut flora matter?
You have bacteria all over your body, so why should you care specifically about your gut flora?
Because that gut bacteria is important for so much more than just your digestive system! In fact, the gut is often referred to as “the second brain,” meaning that the environment of the gut has a serious impact on how well many systems in the body function.
Here are some of the systems and functions most widely impacted by gut flora balance:
1. Immune Function
Your gut health has a direct connection to your immune system. The beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in your digestive system can communicate with your immune system, triggering an inflammatory response when it detects a threat or infection.
Prebiotics provide fuel to probiotics. Together, they reduce the number of harmful pathogens that colonize the gut.
2. Chronic Inflammation
Healthy gut flora signals acute inflammation as an immune response, but it also reduces long-term chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation puts you at higher risk for diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Healthy gut flora has been shown to decrease markers of chronic inflammation like C-reactive protein (CRP).
3. Joint Health
Osteoarthritis, which causes the cartilage in the joints to wear down resulting in pain and disability, may be linked to gut flora.
Recent studies have shown a connection between the gut microbiota and the progression of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Increasing healthy gut flora may improve symptoms of RA.
4. Skin Conditions
Balance in gut flora (homeostasis) has been tied to homeostasis in the skin. This optimizes skin function and reduces inflammation, which improves overall skin health, decreases signs of aging, and helps treat conditions like psoriasis.
The balance of bacteria in the gut is key for good digestion. Healthy gut flora nourish the intestinal lining, preventing harmful bacteria and fungi from entering. Beneficial bacteria in the gut also helps to balance pH and prevent inflammation.
These benefits are good for the most basic digestive issues like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, as well as managing more complicated digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
6. Brain Function
The balance of gut flora plays a role in neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
A healthy environment in the gut may also improve cognitive function, meaning it will help you think more clearly, concentrate and could even improve your mood.
7. Nutrient Absorption
Your gut health may determine how well your body absorbs nutrients.
Your body absorbs most of the nutrients from the food you eat in the small intestine. If your gut flora isn’t balanced, your cells won’t have the optimal environment to absorb the nutrients you eat.
Therefore, if you have poor gut health, it’s possible that your body isn’t getting what it needs even if you’re eating healthy foods.
Some food intolerances have also been linked to poor gut health. Studies have shown that poor quality of bacteria causes an immune response to certain foods, causing symptoms of intolerance and malabsorption.
What disrupts gut flora?
The gut is extremely complex and the gut flora is sensitive to your overall lifestyle. There are several factors that are well-known disruptors of overall health. However, it’s possible that the negative impact starts with the gut.
Some common factors that disrupt gut flora include:
Stress - Stress disrupts the entire digestive system. It increases bloating, constipation and diarrhea. When your digestive system is stressed, it’s more difficult to absorb nutrients and maintain the balance of gut microbiota.
Poor diet - Eating a diet high in sugar, fat, and processed foods can negatively alter gut flora. Eating more whole, nutritious foods that are high in fiber and antioxidants will help good bacteria flourish.
Lack of sleep - Lack of sleep actually increases stress and has been linked to poor diet and obesity. All of these things negatively affect your gut flora.
Dehydration - If you don’t drink enough water, the mucosal lining that protects your digestive tract from harmful pathogens may not work as well.
Antibiotics - Antibiotics don’t just eliminate the “bad” bacteria making you sick. They eliminate all bacteria, which can throw off the balance in your gut. If you’ve had to take antibiotics recently, check out our article on how to restore gut after antibiotics.
How to restore gut flora
Now that we know how strongly lifestyle choices influence the gut and therefore overall health, we can restore gut health by simply improving our lifestyle.
First, focus on a healthy diet. Include plenty of whole foods that are high in fiber and antioxidants. It’s also good to include probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi to boost beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotic foods like fruit, vegetables, and legumes feed that good bacteria.
Next, focus on other lifestyle habits like exercise, sleep, and stress management. All of these things will improve digestion, decrease inflammation and encourage a good balance of gut flora.
Finally, consider adding supplements to restore gut flora. Probiotic and prebiotic supplements are simple and convenient to take, and directly restore gut flora.
A super greens powder like Naked Greens actually provides both probiotics and prebiotics, as well as a super blend of vitamins and minerals to promote gut and immune health.
A collagen peptide supplement is another supplement that may help restore gut flora. Collagen may help to strengthen the protective lining in the gut, which keeps bad bacteria out.
The digestive system and gut flora are complex but extremely influential to overall health. Achieving and maintaining a good balance of gut bacteria impacts the immune system, inflammation, brain function, skin health, digestion, and absorption.
Lifestyle factors like poor diet, sleep, stress, and medications could derail the balance of gut flora. The best way to restore balance is through lifestyle change. Focus on nutrient-dense foods, stress management, and sleep.
Taking a supplement like Naked Greens or Naked Collagen is a convenient way to boost your gut flora and improve the environment in your gut so good bacteria can flourish.