When the different systems of the body work like a well-oiled machine, you feel great. No pain, discomfort, or any unusual changes emerge.
Since it is where nourishment is processed first, the gut is deemed a key area of concern when it comes to maintaining a person’s overall well-being. But while most people understand the importance of a healthy gut for overall wellness, not many know that it is directly affected by the gastrointestinal microbiota or the bacteria present in the gut.
Several routines, travel experiences, and social events can affect the balance of gut microbiota, which inadvertently changes the way your body reacts. This is why it is important that you understand how it affects the other organs in the human body.
Scientists have been working hard to unearth the extent of this influence and have found a number of diseases that may be linked to the gut and the balance of bacteria present in it. To add to your understanding of the importance of your gut, it’s best to understand six ways that gastrointestinal health can affect your overall well-being.
Bacteria and the Immune System
Humans are only beginning to comprehend the many different ways both a healthy and an unhealthy gut affect their lives. However, it has become apparent in recent studies that microorganisms — called bacteria — have a major impact on the immune system.
Here are some examples of how a balanced gut microbiota influences a person’s immunity:
1. It changes how the immune system reacts
Throughout a person’s life, he is bound to encounter a lot of new things that enter the body via the mouth, nose, and skin. From birth to adulthood, microorganisms present in many different substances and particles can change the way the immune system reacts.
Take allergies, for example. When people are exposed to things like certain foods, pollen, dust mites, molds, and other microscopic particles found in the environment, the defense mechanism of the immune system may activate even if these things are considered generally harmless.
2. It fosters immunity
Exposure to germs – especially early in life – can also help a person build a certain level of tolerance or “immunity” against those particular microorganisms. This so-called necessary risk can give the immune system a chance to maintain a healthy balance between tolerating non-harmful microorganisms and fighting the ones that negatively affect your health.
3. It creates balance in the immune system
When established early on, diverse gut flora can help teach the immune system that not everything is bad for your health. It demonstrates that there are good bacteria present in the body (and in foods humans consume) that are beneficial for human health, one way or another.
There are also some instances wherein you might need to introduce more good bacteria into the gut to maintain balance. You can do this by eating yogurt or supplementing with over-the-counter probiotics. Probiotics are naturally occurring good bacteria that keep the number of bad bacteria in check.
It is worth noting, however, that not all of them are the same. Each type of probiotic works in a different way and may have varying effects on the body.
Gut and Mental Health
Over the years, several studies focused on the link between the gut and mental health. Some even discovered that maintaining a balance in the bacterial population in the gut can ease symptoms that occur in some mental disorders. So here’s another important thing to know about gut health:
4. It interacts with mental wellness
The relation between gut and mental health works like a two-way road. While the brain tells the stomach when it is time to eat, your gut sends signals to the nervous system when it has received food.
Similarly, when the intestine is troubled, it sends signals to the nervous system and vice versa. Following this premise, intestinal distress is found to have a direct effect on a person’s mental state. This is why stomachaches can cause stress, depression, or anxiety and vice versa.
People with gastrointestinal upset without any apparent physical cause may actually be experiencing emotional or mental distress. This is why doctors are now taking a person’s stress and emotion into account when diagnosing such cases.
Considering this cycle, dealing with stress or anxiety is believed to improve certain gastrointestinal conditions. And, sure enough, a review of 13 studies related to the topic revealed that the majority of patients who underwent psychological treatment reported better improvement in their digestive conditions compared to those who only received conventional treatment.
Alternatively, improving gastrointestinal distress can also help with psychological disorders. This is why your doctor might recommend taking a dose or two of a probiotic medicine for adults to help improve symptoms of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and other neurological and psychological conditions.
However, it would be best to discuss this alternative treatment with your mental health care provider first.
Other Ways Gut Health Affects Your Health
Aside from immunity and mental health, your other organs also benefit from a well-rounded gut and may be negatively affected by an unhealthy one. Here is how the gut is linked to the various parts of your body:
5. It links cholesterol to heart disease
“The fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” This old saying may be a bit more literal than you would expect.
Most people are aware that high cholesterol levels can put them at risk of heart disease, but not many understand how or why. The link lies in the gut bacteria.
When a person consumes food that is high in choline (like red meat), certain bacteria in the gut produce a chemical called trimethylamine, which is later transformed into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) in the liver. Although TMAO is not inherently bad, too much of it can lead to cholesterol buildup along the lining of the arteries.
In short, the more choline-rich foods you consume, the more meat-eating bacteria your body produces. Once this happens, the risk of cholesterol buildup increases, and it may clog the blood vessels that lead to the heart.
6. It affects your risk of developing chronic kidney disease
Too much TMAO in the body can also contribute to the emergence of chronic kidney disease. When you have this condition, your body is unable to get rid of TMAO the way it normally does. This surplus of TMAO, as you already know, can lead to heart disease.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Body
Every part of the body is important, and each one affects the others, either directly or indirectly. Understand how your gut changes the state of the other parts of your body. Use this article as a guide to understand how keeping your gut healthy can be advantageous for your overall well-being.