Having a healthy gut has been linked to stronger immunity, heart health, effective digestion and even improved mood. The gut has often been called our “second brain” because of its ability to communicate with our actual brain to maintain whole-body health. Learn why it’s crucial to maintain good gut health, the things that may hurt your gut and what natural aids you should use in your pursuit of a healthy microbiome.
What Is the Function of the Gut and Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the vast community of bacteria and fungi that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. In addition to aiding nutrient and mineral absorption, synthesizing enzymes and helping the body produce short-chain fatty acids, the gut microbiome also plays an important role in both the maintenance of health and the pathogenesis of disease.
How Does the Gut Affect Mood?
According to Dr. Jay Pasricha, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, for decades researchers and doctors believed that anxiety and depression contributed to the problems of irritable bowel syndrome and functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and upset stomach. “But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around,” Pasricha said. Researchers are now finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system, resulting in mood changes. Pasricha said that digestive-system activity may also affect thinking skills and memory, proving the link between gut and brain health is substantial.
What Can Hurt Gut Health?
Studies have shown that, although there is a heritable factor to gut microbiota, environmental components related to diet and drugs are larger determinants of microbiota composition. The gut microbiome can also be negatively affected by exposure to stress, environment, stage of lifecycle and comorbid diseases. To maintain good gut health, consider avoiding:
- sugar alternatives such as sucralose, aspartame and saccharin;
- processed foods containing food additives, including emulsifiers;
- high-fat diets;
- too much alcohol;
- stress; and
- lack of sleep.
How to Improve Gut Health Naturally
There are a number of natural methods for rebalancing the gut and improving whole-body health. Beginning with the diet, you should aim to increase fiber intake and eat plenty of fermented foods containing live microbes, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut. Stay hydrated, ensure you’re getting proper rest and avoid stress as best you can to maintain a healthy gut.
Functional mushrooms, such as Turkey Tail, contain prebiotics, which also help nourish healthy bacteria in the gut. Turkey Tail is rich in natural polysaccharides, which support a healthy and robust immune response, as well as polysaccharide peptide (PSP), which can help support an inflammatory response at the cellular level. In an eight-week study of 24 healthy people, researchers found that consuming PSPs from turkey tail mushrooms every day led to beneficial changes in gut bacteria and suppressed the growth of E. coli and Shigella bacteria. Integrate this gut-boosting powerhouse into your wellness regimen by adding Om Turkey Tail powder to your favorite foods and beverages or taking Om Turkey Tail capsules daily.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.