The gut. It’s the word of the day, and one of the most talked about subjects in health right now. In fact, the word on the street is that the gut is the new “It Girl” of health and wellness. Except unlike the “It Girl,” it’s not going to be replaced any time soon — it’s here to stay, and for good reason. Hint: It’s because it’s inextricably linked to tons of functions in our bodies.
So what is this thing we call the gut — and why does it even matter? We did some digging to find out.
Meet the Gut
Whenever someone mentions the gut, the first thing that comes to mind is the stomach. But actually, the gut is much more than that — it’s made up of your entire gastrointestinal system. Enter stage right: The stomach, mouth, esophagus, liver, small intestine, pancreas, colon, gallbladder, and rectum. Clearly, the gut is here to make a statement. And it takes up a lot of space in your body to do just that, too.
If we’re completely honest, we feel it deserves a more illustrious name than “the gut,” especially considering all it does for us (when it’s healthy, that is). Made up of thousands of tiny microorganisms, the gut protects us against pathogens and invaders, communicates messages to your brain, and regulates our immune response, hormones, moods, digestive system, and overall well-being. We’re exhausted just thinking about all that work. Look, we’re not saying that the gut is the most popular in class (we think the skin probably wins this), but it’s definitely the queen bee. Whatever shape the gut is in, the body reacts accordingly.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to disrupt your gut. In fact, many issues we seem to accept as normal — like hormonal imbalances and bloating — may actually be the result of a disruption in our microbiome. Microbiomes are communities of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more that make up part of the gut. And they’re here to show up and show out — the gut microbiomes actually outnumber the total amount of human cells in the body. Turns out, they impact almost every part of your body, so they’re a big deal when it comes to keeping things in balance. When they’re imbalanced, major problems occur in the body — like hormonal imbalance, poor immune function, digestive problems, and more. From sugary foods and antibiotics to stress and poor sleep, your gut and its microbiomes are like our sanity in a pandemic: Always in a delicate balance.
If it feels like you should be taking notes and giving the gut a lot more of your attention, you’re right. And speaking of attention spans, our gut microbiome also affects our brain. Like your first crush in the third grade, the connection is strong. Have you ever had butterflies or felt your stomach drop during a stressful situation? Yep, that’s the gut-brain connection. The gut is highly sensitive when it comes to emotion (if you’re a Pisces, you can totally relate), and emotional situations can actually trigger symptoms in the gut. For example, a person’s stomach issues could cause or be a byproduct of negative emotions and depression.
But the gut doesn’t stop there — oh no, it likes to go all in. Among other things, like affecting your immune response, it also plays a big role in regulating hormones — namely, estrogen. How does this work? Well, we have cells in our gut that produce and release hormones, and our microbiomes are what influence this release. So any change in the gut has the potential to cause an estrogen imbalance, which means a whole host of new problems, like obesity, PCOS, PMS, and more. (We know, we’re screaming and shaking our fists too.)
Help your gut help you
But there’s some good news: It’s not as hard to support your gut health as you might think. Granted, it’s going to take more than drinking a kombucha and eating a yogurt (though those are both great starts), but with a few consistent routines, your gut can be on its A-game. Studies even suggest that, in many cases, improvements in the gut can be seen in a short period of time. Here are some good steps to take to make sure your gut is happy and healthy.
There’s a reason you know exactly what Metamucil is. Because fiber is that important, and should always be a part of your wellness plan. Try to incorporate whole foods into your diet that are a source of prebiotics — like onions, garlic, and oatmeal — which feed your gut bacteria.
2. Take a Probiotic
You can’t talk about gut health without talking about probiotics. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria and yeast that live in your body and — like any good gathering — the more the merrier! Try to go for one that is at least 10 billion CFU or more, and make sure it has both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.
3. Sleep More
If you needed permission to stay in bed longer, this is it. Lack of sleep increases levels of cortisol, aka the stress hormone. And more stress? More gut imbalance. So use this as an excuse to hit the snooze button over and over.
4. Manage Stress
Sensing a common theme here? Yep, stress and negative thoughts are not your gut’s friend. While completely eradicating stress is impossible, reducing and managing stress is key when it comes to gut health — because our gut is directly affected by our emotional world. In fact, research has shown that breath work and meditating aren’t just woo-woo practices — they’re actually both shown to reduce anxiety and panic. Of course, regular meditation is a great start, but if you need to take some baby steps first, try the box breathing method instead: Just inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, wait at the very end of the exhale for a count of 4, and then repeat until you feel calm.
5. Avoid These Foods
To help the gut stay happy and inflammation-free, there are a few foods to stay clear of — or, at the very least, eat in moderation.
Highly processed foods and ingredients like preservatives, “natural” flavors, and fillers
Spicy and fried foods
Sweets and sweeteners, particularly artificial ones
No matter how you look at the gut, it’s clear that it is one of the most important (and overlooked) groups of organs in our body. But treat it well with a healthy lifestyle, and you’ll be surprised at just how good you can feel.