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Improving the health of your gut can have a whole host of other effects, from giving your immune system a boost to lifting your mood--not to mention improving your digestion, reliving constipation and diarrhea, and lessening bloating. At the same time, gut health is a large, complex issue, and it's often difficult to know where to start understanding the factors that contribute to your digestive tract health such as the food you consume and probiotic supplements. With that in mind, here are the top nine things you need to know regarding gut health.
1. The health of your gut--and many more key bodily systems--depends on the balance in your gut microbiome.
Understanding gut health really comes down to one thing: understanding your gut microbiome. This complex ecosystem of microorganisms that calls your digestive tract home plays a huge role in a whole host of bodily functions. Indeed, as researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School uncovered, a balanced microbiome--that is, one that has the right amount of "good" bacteria"--has a hand in a wide range of bodily functions, from the cardiovascular system to metabolic function.
2. One key system that depends on your gut microbiome is your immune system.
Outside of your digestive tract function itself, perhaps no internal system is as linked to gut health as your immune system. An emerging body of research shows that a gut microbiome that has the right balance of bacteria can promote a healthy and robust immune system that protects against a wide range of diseases. What's more, a lack of good bacteria in the gut in childhood has been demonstrated to trigger a wide range of autoimmune diseases, from allergies to asthma.
3. Poor microbial balance in your gut can lead to an increase in inflammation.
In addition, studies suggest that your gut microbiome plays a huge role in controlling the outbreak and maintenance of inflammation throughout the body. From serious vascular inflammatory conditions to diseases of the skin such as psoriasis to musculoskeletal afflictions such as rheumatoid arthritis, the health and balance in your gut--or lack thereof--can contribute significantly to the onset and extent of damaging and painful inflammation.
4. Your gut health has also been linked to conditions such as obesity and metabolic disease.
Difficulty losing weight is also connected to the state of your gut's health. Imperial College London researchers have found that disruptions to the balance of the microbiota of the gut are linked with increases in metabolic disease, and this imbalance can also lead to obesity.
5. Improving the balance of your gut's microorganisms can even treat and prevent bone loss.
Perhaps most incredibly, improving your gut health by increasing the good bacteria of your microbiome can guard against damaging bone loss. Scientists at Michigan State University have found evidence that the use of probiotics--which help introduce new strains of good bacteria into your gut--can help prevent and treat bone loss caused by diseases such as osteoprosis.
6. If you suffer from chronic constipation, your intestinal microbiota may be the cause.
Of course, the balance of microorganism in your gut--or lack thereof--doesn't just cause serious conditions such as metabolic and autoimmune diseases. For the millions of Americans who face chronic constipation, the cause and the cure likely resides in your gut. Researchers continue to investigate the link between bacterial population balance in the digestive tract and chronic constipation, with the conclusion that an imbalance in the gut's microbiome can lead to constipation and its related symptoms.
7. A low fiber diet can have a big affect on your gut health.
So what factors contribute to your gut microbiome's bacterial balance and thus the overall health of your gut? One factor could be the amount of fiber in your diet. A recent study conducted by Stanford University scientists compared and contrasted the diets of Western city-dwellers with rural hunter-gathers.8 These researchers found that the lack of fiber in modern diets compared with those of hunter-gathers--who more closely resemble previous human generations--has led to a loss of bacterial diversity, which has serious implications on gut health.
8. A single round of antibiotics can wreak havoc on your gut microbiome.
Another key factor is antibiotic use. While antibiotics have certainly played an important role in eradicating infection and preventing devastating complications, overuse of antibiotics can seriously effect the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome. Because antibiotics destroy good bacteria with the bad, studies have shown that their use can lead to insufficient populations of beneficial microorganisms in the gut--potentially causing all of the negative consequences of an imbalanced microbiome and poor gut health.
9. A daily probiotic can help bring balance to your gut's bacterial populations, boosting your overall health.
One of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do for your gut health is to add a probiotic supplement to your daily routine. Researchers have found that probiotic usage can add beneficial strains to the bacterial populations in the gut, helping balance your microbiome and improving your overall gut health.10 In turn, this boost to your gut health that probiotics provide can lead to improvements in all areas of health, from your skin to your mood.
Of course, gut health is an expansive topic, and this is just a starting point for understanding how your digestive tract interacts with the rest of your body as well as the bacterial populations within it. Increasing your knowledge of the factors that promote gut health, however, can yield huge improvements to your overall, total-body well-being.
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