Your Gut Health: The Connection Between Nutrition, Immunity, and Mental Health

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Your gut has its own microbiome, a collection of bacteria that lives in your digestive tract. Both the good and bad bacteria in your gut help digest food and fight off invaders.

However, there is much more to your gut microbiome than just the quantity of good vs. bad bacteria.

Those with a balanced gut microbiome have an abundance of good bacteria while an unbalanced gut microbiome has less beneficial probiotics and more pathogenic bacteria.

The balance or lack thereof in your gut affects so many aspects of your life: immunity, digestion, nutrition, stress response, and mental health among others.

There are lots of connections between your gut and your brain and other parts of your body— here’s more information on how they work together.

What is the Gut Microbiome?

The gut microbiome refers to the bacteria and the other microbes that inhabit our gut. The gastrointestinal tract houses the largest amount of bacteria in the human body, around 100 trillion to be exact.

Some of these bacteria are helpful or probiotic while others are harmful or pathogenic. The gut microbiome is linked to immunity, energy balance, and mental health – to name a few. The bacteria in our gut do so much for us yet we don’t really think about it.

What Does a Healthy Gut Look Like?

A healthy gut microbiome is one where there is a balance between the pathogenic and probiotic bacteria. Ideally, the pathogenic bacteria should be kept at a minimum while the probiotic bacteria thrive.

A healthy gut microbiome is also referred to as a “balanced microbiome”. Your gut microbiome is essentially a measure of the health of your gut.

The best way to maintain a healthy gut is to consume a variety of plant-based foods, drink clean water, and practice good hygiene. Here are a few things to keep in mind while trying to balance your gut microbiome.

  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Seeds such as chia and hemp contain a lot of fiber and protein, which are essential in boosting the growth of probiotics.
  • Drink clean water – you need to hydrate yourself but you also need to make sure that you are not consuming fluoride as this can affect your gut microbiome as well.
  • Practice good hygiene – wash your hands regularly and avoid coming into contact with pathogens.

The Importance of Bacteria in Your Microbiome

Bacteria in your gut play a critical role in your health by aiding in digestion and producing vitamins that your body cannot produce on its own. Bacteria are also responsible for your immune system, which is why a healthy gut microbiome is extremely important.

A healthy gut works as a barrier against pathogens, preventing them from entering the bloodstream. Bacteria also produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are very important in regulating metabolic activities, such as insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

What’s more, bacteria in your gut can communicate with your brain and vice versa. The gut-brain axis refers to the connection between your gut and your central nervous system.

When there is a deficiency in probiotic bacteria in your gut, the gut-brain axis is negatively impacted. This can lead to poor mental health, such as anxiety and depression, as well as digestive issues, such as bloating and diarrhea.

How is your Gut Microbiome Connected to Your Brain?

Your gut and your brain are connected through a series of neural pathways. This means that when you have a healthy gut microbiome, these pathways are activated, allowing smooth communication between the gut and the brain.

With an unbalanced microbiome, however, these neural pathways are interrupted, leading to poor mental health.

For example, when you consume probiotic-rich foods, they help your gut microbiome thrive, which in turn helps your mental health.

The vagus nerve is one of the neural pathways that connects your gut and your brain. It is a long stretch of nerve fibers that runs from your spinal cord to your abdomen, connecting your gut and your brain.

The vagus nerve is responsible for regulating several metabolic functions, such as digestion and heart rate.

An unhealthy Gut leads to Poor Mental Health

When your gut microbiome is unbalanced, it negatively impacts your mental health. An unbalanced gut microbiome can lead to poor mental health, such as anxiety and depression.

What’s more, poor mental health can also lead to an unbalanced gut microbiome. An example of this would be when you consume too much sugar, which feeds the pathogenic bacteria in your gut and causes a disruption in your gut microbiome.

This can lead to poor mental health, such as anxiety and depression, as well as digestive issues, such as bloating and diarrhea.

An unhealthy Gut leads to Poor Immunity

An unbalanced gut microbiome can also lead to a weakened immune system, which can lead to an increased susceptibility to infections and allergies.

Your gut microbiome is responsible for producing vitamins and minerals that help boost your immunity, such as vitamin B, vitamin K2, and zinc.

What’s more, an unbalanced gut microbiome can cause a decrease in SCFAs, which is harmful to your gut and can lead to weakened immunity.

An unhealthy Gut leads to Poor Digestion and Malabsorption

A disrupted gut microbiome can also affect your digestion. When there is an imbalance in your gut, your digestion is negatively impacted. This can lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

When your gut microbiome is unbalanced, your body is not able to absorb nutrients properly. This in turn leads to deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals.

Bottom Line

Your gut is an incredibly complex system that is responsible for so much more than just digestion. The quality of your gut microbiome plays a significant role in your health.

While many health disorders can be traced back to an unbalanced microbiome, it is also important to understand that you do have some control over your health.

Eating a balanced diet rich in gut-friendly foods and fiber, as well as incorporating lifestyle habits, such as stress management, can help keep your gut healthy.