Hippocrates was quoted as saying ‘All disease begins in the gut’, and this comes as no surprise, when we consider the major role that the gut plays in aiding various functions of the body. The gut is central to your health, and when in good shape, you feel energised, happy and strong. When your gut is unhealthy, illness and disease manifests.
What exactly is the gut?
The gut, also known as the gastrointestinal tract, is an extended tube that is approximately 30 feet in length, beginning at the mouth and ending at the anus. This intricate organ is partitioned into upper and lower sections, and consists of the stomach, intestines, and all that is in between. The enteric nervous system is located within the gut, and acts like a second ‘brain’, transmitting vital information throughout your body, from your gut to your brain, by way of neurons that reside within the intestinal wall.
These neurons play an active role in digestion, and let your brain know how your gut is doing. Stress and anxiety can interfere with the workings of the enteric nervous system, affecting your gut health. A large proportion of serotonin, (the neurotransmitter that engages in mood control), is also produced in the gut. This is one of the reasons why depression sets in, when your gut it is out of whack.
Your gut is home to masses of bacteria that assist in the processing of food. Bacteria helps to fight disease, and is essential for optimal health. A healthy gut contains around 80 to 85 percent good bacteria. The remaining 15 to 20 percent is bad bacteria. Good bacteria assists with the digestive process, manufactures hormones, vitamins and nutrients, and creates antibodies, while keeping bad bacteria under control.
Good bacteria vs bad bacteria
Maintaining the correct balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria is crucial to gut health. When this ratio is disturbed, and bad bacteria take over, illness and disease quickly manifests. Bad bacteria begin to overpopulate, overriding the good, and making your body susceptible to inflammation and a host of chronic conditions, like Candida, diabetes, depression, obesity and chronic fatigue syndrome.
The food you eat, and lifestyle are integral elements that affect the health of your gut. An unhealthy diet, excess stress, and inadequate exercise can seriously impede your gastrointestinal health. Medications and environmental toxins, can also encourage a disturbance of the healthy balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria, to create a hostile environment within your gut, and weaken your immune health.
How to keep your gut healthy
Consume whole, organic, plant based and nutrient-rich foods, and abstain from processed, and sugar laden foods. Exercises like yoga and tai chi, as well as breath-work and meditation, will help to keep stress levels down. Drinking plenty of water will flush your system out, keeping you well hydrated, to prevent constipation. Be sure to get enough sleep too, for cellular restoration and renewal.
Probiotics help to boost the level of good bacteria in your gut, so it’s a good idea to take supplements daily. Introduce plant-based, lacto-fermented, probiotic whole foods to your diet, like coconut kefir, miso, microalgae, and sauerkraut, as these contain substantial amounts of good bacteria. Prebiotic foods, like raw onions, garlic, bananas, and artichokes, also help sustain the growth of good bacteria.