Exercise, sleep, emotions, skin and sex – 5 ways our gut influences our health and 5 ways we can take back control
Bloating, gas, heartburn and swift trips to the bathroom are all symptoms of not-so-great gut health but they’re also just the tip of the iceberg.
So, what’s happening in there?
Our ‘gut’ is our gastrointestinal tract. Stretched out, it is the length of a football field and inside are trillions of micro-organisms. In fact, there are more organisms in our gut than there are human cells in the rest of our body. Let that digest!
The variety of ‘bugs’ calling our gut home, are more formally called our MICROBIOME. Some are good, some are neutral, and some are downright nasty. They’re constantly fighting for space and so the diversity is everchanging. The dominating species are determined by our genetics, diet, environment and behaviours.
We all know our gut’s primary role is to digest food but did you know it also contains millions of neurons, forming a second nervous system, coined our second brain. Our two brains work synergistically and send each other signals such as danger, hunger and joy. Ever get butterflies when thinking about someone you fancy? These signals also have a major influence over metabolism, fat loss and overall body composition.
We can think of these bugs as mini puppet masters, pulling digestive, psychological and hormonal strings as they see fit, when they see fit!
5 ways our bugs influence our health
We’ve all felt how food can affect our mood. Chocolate = happy? Wine = relaxed? One of our microbiome’s most notable roles is creating hormones and neurotransmitters, like serotonin – ‘the happiness chemical.’ Several substances we used to think were mainly made by the brain – including those that help support our immune system and control stress hormones like cortisol – are also the work of gut bacteria. Gut Dysbiosis has been strongly linked to anxiety and depression.
Melatonin, the sleep or ‘darkness’ hormone, is made both in the brain and the gut. When serving the ideal sleep cocktail, complete with cortisol and serotonin, let’s hope our internal bartenders are getting the mix right!
While a little extra stress can help us smash out a strong workout from time to time, crappy moods generally don’t lend themselves to motivation – add a slow metabolism and that’s a double-whammy against seeing the results we desire. Better gut health could unlock serious performance improvements.
Our gut health could also be affecting our sex life – and not just because feeling bloated, gassy and tired is a surefire way to kill the mood. We already covered serotonin – that gut-made drug doesn’t just make us happy; research has found evidence that it plays a part in controlling blood-flow to our genitals, and therefore sensitivity and pleasure. Plus, for us ladies, less than perfect gut health can be a recipe for thrush – no fun.
Combined with impacting our hormones, which we know play a huge part in acne, an upset and inflamed gut can also lead to proteins leaking into our body which can cause skin conditions like eczema.
5 ways to show our bugs who’s boss
Want to see what improved gut health could do for your training, weight loss or lifestyle? Read on and give these a try:
Try something new
Back when we were hunting and gathering, humans ate whatever we found, and the change in seasons had a massive impact on food availability. With modern farming, we can now get our hands on our preferred produce all year round. This causes an imbalance because the organisms that like our favourite foods as much as we do have a chance to overpopulate.
Tip: Buy more fruit and vegetables that are in season. Not only will they be cheaper and fresher, it’ll force you to grab something outside your pantry staples.
No, not that way (…although stress relief can help our gut too)
Studies have shown that our moods and immune system actually benefit from a little dirt-born bacteria making its way into our gut.
Tip: Pat the dog, dig into the garden bed, go for a hike, dive into a river or book a camping trip – your gut will thank you for it!
Cut the crap
Processed, high sugar (or artificially sweetened), low fibre foods are a top culprit for causing inflammation and poor gut health. There’s definitely room to treat ourselves every now and then, but let’s try to make sure we nourish first.
Tip: Make sure to carry healthy snacks like nuts, apples and berries. If you’ve overindulged a little lately and need a hand knowing where to start, check out my gut-healing meal plans, available in any of my programs.
Get the right back-up
There are some great gut health supplements out there if you want to give yours a real boost, but make sure you’re choosing the right support. A lot of mainstream, commercial probiotics will feed the bad along with the good – like throwing fertilizer on weeds.
Tip: Know the diversity of your gut before implementing any probiotics to avoid over and under-populating. Many of us have an abundance of Lactobacillus and depleted, or even NIL, Bifidobacterium. When reading the label on most probiotics, you’ll see many strains of Lactobacillus. We intend on doing good for our health but unintentionally may make it worse. Also, many species won’t make it past our stomach acid and need to be consumed away from eating, which is when our acid and enzymes ramp up. You can try something like Gutright by ATP Science, a modbiotic formula which kills some of the nasties while helping the good guys grow (these legends are full of gut health knowledge – listen to their podcast here to go even deeper).
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
Antibiotics wreak havoc on our good bacteria as well as the bad. While we should absolutely take them if we’ve got a bad infection, we don’t want to blindly down them for viruses that can’t be helped with antibiotics anyway. If you do need antibiotics, consider following steps 1-4 again!
How do you feel about your microbiome diversity? See room for improvement? What have you found to be helpful in maintaining the integrity of your gut? Comment below, we’d love to hear from you!