You’ve probably noticed “gut health” is getting a lot
of attention lately as it’s become a trending topic in social and
mainstream media. This is because recent research has discovered links
between gut health and our immune system, chronic illnesses (diabetes,
heart disease, multiple sclerosis and some cancers) as well as mental
health and neurological conditions such as anxiety, depression and dementia.
Gut health is central to the trillions of microorganisms that live within
your stomach and intestines. These organisms makeup what’s known
as the gut microbiome – a delicate mix of bacteria, viruses, fungi
and other microbes. When the microbiome is healthy, it keeps a balance
of good and bad bacteria. However, this balance can get thrown off by
factors such as diet, lifestyle and medication. Everyone’s microbiome
is unique and changes continuously throughout life. Sometimes it’s
easy to tell when your gut health is out of balance because bloating,
gas, diarrhea, stomach pain and nausea are all fairly direct signs that
something in the gut isn’t working as it should.
Improving Gut Health
Diet – Nurturing the beneficial bacteria in your gut can improve the
absorption of vitamins, boost immunity and help regulate your digestive
system as well as your mood. On the contrary, a diet high in added sugars,
high in saturated fats, and low in nutrients influences the gut bacteria
negatively by allowing harmful species to overgrow. Overall, it’s
best to eat a wide variety of whole, natural foods that include plenty
of probiotic and prebiotic sources, like fruits, vegetables, and whole
grains to encourage a diverse and healthy microbiome.
Lifestyle – Many people believe that only diet effects gut health. But there
are many other lifestyle factors that can influence it too such as stress,
insomnia, exercise and smoking.
Medications – Antibiotics are the best-known gut-altering drugs. When they’re
prescribed to kill harmful bacteria, they often wipe out good bacteria
too. Antibiotic overuse is a serious problem. It’s best to take
them as prescribed and only when it’s deemed medically necessary.
Other medications can impact gut health, too, including non-prescription
painkillers and drugs used to treat acid reflux, diabetes and psychiatric
What About Supplements?
Probiotic and prebiotic supplements are a hot trend right now with many
commercial claims that they can improve gut health by introducing and
feeding good bacteria or protecting against harmful bacteria. One problem
is that the supplement industry isn’t well regulated and there’s
no guarantee that what’s in the bottle matches what’s on the label.
Instead of taking supplements, it’s best to promote gut health with
a diverse combination of naturally rich probiotic and prebiotic foods.
Probiotic foods contain good bacteria while prebiotic foods help stimulate
good bacteria’s growth and survival while also discouraging the
growth of harmful bacteria. Among the many options to consider, here are
some natural probiotic and prebiotic food sources:
Legumes, beans and peas
Garlic and onions
The Gutsy News Takeaway
Ongoing research continues to reveal how gut health plays a larger role
than previously known in overall health. It’s best to support your
gut health with improved lifestyle choices and by eating plenty of prebiotic
and probiotic foods to promote an ideal balance between good and bad gut
bacteria. Speak to your primary care provider and registered dietitian
about optimizing your diet, drug regimen and lifestyle to achieve better
Meet with one of our registered dietitians at CVHS by requesting a referral
from your primary care provider to the Outreach Nutrition Department at
the Center for Rehabilitation at Catawba Valley Medical Center. Call 828-326-2131
for more information.