Gut health small large intestine microbiome
5 min read
The term 'gut health' is used to describe the health of our digestive tract (stomach, small and large intestines). Our gut health can have reaching implications on our overall mental and physical health and is largely influenced by our microbiome...

What is gut health?

The gut microbiome is composed of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microscopic organisms found along the digestive tract, primarily in the large intestines. Research shows that the diversity and composition of these micro-organisms are key to our overall physical and mental health, reaching well beyond our gut and as such, our gut health influences our overall health.


Why is gut health important?

The micro-organisms in our gut are often referred to as ‘good bacteria’ and ‘bad bacteria’. The good or beneficial bacteria help our bodies absorb nutrients and prevent "bad bacteria" from growing. Every person has a unique composition of microbiota, because our microbiome is influenced by our DNA, our environment, medications we take and what we eat.


Babies passing through the birth canal are exposed to their mother's microbiota and then, if possible, continue to be exposed through breastmilk and the process of breastfeeding.


Research is still emerging about the importance of our gut microbiome, however, decreased diversity of microbiome has been shown to play key roles in various diseases - from diseases that directly affect our gut, such as chron's disease, ulcerative colitis or coeliac disease, to influencing our immunity, risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and even affecting mental health. Many aspects of our lives disrupt the natural balance of gut bacteria, such as the use of antibiotics which are needed from time to time to fight infection but are designed to kill all bacteria (not just the infection causing ones).


What influences our gut bacteria?

Among many other things, chronic stress and what we eat influences the composition of bacteria in our gut. The bacteria in our gut ferments dietary fibre from the food that we eat, and this produces beneficial chemical compounds that are transported around our body. However, research is emerging on the role other food components and food chemicals (such as polyphenols and flavanoids) play in influencing our microbiome. Changes in dietary behaviours, such as going on a strict low carbohydrate diet or other fad diets, alter our gut microbiome and this is likely to have far reaching consequences across the human body. When there is reduced diversity or an overgrowth of "bad bacteria" in the gut, this is referred to as dysbiosis and is associated with various other disease states.


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