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'About 70% of immune cells are in the gut': 5 reasons why you should look after your gut health

There has been a strong focus on gut health in recent years.

Image: Shutterstock/metamorworks

WE KNOW HOW important it is to look after our heart, liver and other organs for our overall health and wellbeing, but what about our gut?

Research in recent years has shown that our gut health can affect us in more ways than we’ve ever known, from our immune system to our brain. 

“Gut health has become really popular over the last 10 years or so,” says Aoife McDonald, a dietician at The Digestive Health Clinic. “That’s due to advances in scientific research, where they’re actually able to see through DNA sequencing what bacteria and other things are in the gut, when that couldn’t really be done before.”

We spoke to Aoife to find out exactly why we need to pay attention to our gut health, but first, let’s get our terms straight:

“In gut health, there are two terms which are used interchangeably, although they’re slightly different. Gut microbiome refers to all of the bacteria in your gut, plus all their genetic material. Then there’s gut microbiota, which just refers to the microbes (microorganisms) in the gut.” 

Got it? Read on.

1. Gut health can affect your energy levels

“Gut health is important for your energy levels,” says Aoife. Even if you follow a healthy diet, your gut needs to be functioning correctly in order to ensure that you are absorbing and digesting food correctly.  

“If your gastrointestinal (GI) tract isn’t working properly, then you’re not going to be able to extract energy and protein etc from your food.”

shutterstock_1105520444 Source: Shutterstock/Anna Kucher

2. Having ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut can affect your health

“We know from research that the more diverse your gut microbiota is, the better,” says Aoife. “If people have too many of the ‘bad guys’ or bad bacteria in their gut, they’re more likely to develop certain diseases or conditions.”

“Diet can have a big impact on gut bacteria, so looking after your gut through diet and other things – like sleep – can help you get the best microbiota you can.”

The more plant food you’re eating, the better. 

3. A healthy gut can stop the wrong things getting into the bloodstream 

So we know about the ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, but how do we encourage the presence of ‘good’ bacteria? “What the microbes feed on is mainly fibre, so that’s why we encourage people to have a high fibre diet, if they can tolerate it, because that’s what the microbes like,” explains Aoife.

shutterstock_326988029 Source: Shutterstock/Tatiana Bralnina

“Humans don’t have enzymes that can break down fibre, so it gets all the way through to the large intestine, and that’s where the gut bacteria are and they ferment it or eat it. That’s how you feed the ‘good guys’.”

“After fermenting the fibre, then the most common thing they produce are short chain fatty acids. These are very important and they help towards improving inflammation in the body. They kind of are a food for the cells lining the gut, so that can keep the gut barrier strong, which can prevent the wrong things getting into the bloodstream.” 

We also know that Omega 3 can contribute towards feeding the good bacteria.

4. Your gut is closely linked to your brain

Have you ever felt worried or stressed, and then gotten an upset stomach? That could be because of the link between your brain and your gut.

“Your gut and brain are connected,” says Aoife. “So if someone’s nervous and has an upset stomach before an exam, that can mean there was a communication between the gut and the brain. Your gut has its own nervous system and it is directly connected to your brain. So if your brain is feeling something, your gut can feel it and vice versa.”

shutterstock_1188695488 Source: Shutterstock/ViDI Studio

5. Your gut plays a key role in your immune system 

“About 70% of your immune tissues or cells are in the gut or lining the gut,” says Aoife. “We know that gut health is often linked to immunity. So if someone is suffering from digestive problems, they may be more likely to suffer from infections or the common cold. Their immune system can be affected in that way. That could be to do with if they’re not eating a diverse diet and therefore their gut is suffering, and their body isn’t able to produce the immune cells effectively.”

Fortunately, gut health is something people of all ages and stages of life can improve. “We’re born with DNA which you can’t change, but we know that we can change the gut microbiota,” says Aoife.

Looking to improve your gut health? Aqua Biome is an easy way to help look after your gut every day. It’s designed for a healthy microbiome and contains an optimal Omega blend to bring diversity to your microbiome which, in turn, can lead to benefits including improved energy and immunity. Find out more about Aqua Biome here

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