The Ultimate Guide to Gut Health
Feeling tired, moody, or bloated? The answer may lie within your gut. Yes, you heard it right — your gut health is not only the key to a happy tummy but also a gateway to overall well-being.
What is Gut Health?
Your gut, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is the largest part of your digestive system. It runs from your mouth to your anus and includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. ¹ In addition to the organs that make up your gut, your GI health relies on different types of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses to keep your digestive system running. These microorganisms are known as the gut microbiome. ²
Why Is Gut Health Important?
You may not realize it, but your gut health has a massive impact on your entire body. Gut health plays a vital role in maintaining your overall health. ² The key roles of the gut include:
Digestion and Nutrient Absorption: Your gut is responsible for breaking down foods and liquids, and turning those items into nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, etc.) as they travel through your digestive tract. ¹ A healthy gut ensures the body can extract the necessary nutrients from the food we eat to support our overall health and well-being. However, an unhealthy gut, such as one with imbalanced gut bacteria, can hinder proper nutrient absorption—leading to the risk of undernutrition. ³
Immune Function: “Seventy percent of the immune system is located in the gut,” says David Heber, MD, PhD, professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA Health. ⁴ Your immune cells in the gut interact with the microbiome and are directly influenced by your diet and lifestyle. ⁴
Mental Health and Brain Function: Your gut and brain communicate through what’s known as the “gut-brain axis.” ⁵ For example, when you eat something, your gut sends signals to your brain to let it know that food is on the way. In return, your brain sends signals back to your gut to help with digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Signs of a Healthy Gut:
Regular and Comfortable Digestion: Regular bowel movements without discomfort or excessive bloating is a sign of a healthy gut. In general, “moving your bowels between three times a day and three times a week is considered healthy.” ⁶
Healthy Gut Transit Time: “Gut transit time refers to how long it takes for the food you eat to be digested and travel through your gut.” ⁶ Gut transit time varies per person, but the ideal gut transit time is around 28 hours. Too short or too long gut transit times can indicate a problem, such as food intolerance or constipation. ⁶
Healthy Stool: As uncomfortable as it may be, monitoring the color and consistency of your stool can help you determine the status of your gut health. “You know your gut is healthy when your stool has a smooth texture, sausage-like shape in a large stool or a few smaller pieces and sinks in the bowl.” ⁶
Little to No Bloating or Gas: Passing gas is a normal part of digestion, and those with a healthy gut can pass gas from 10-20 times a day. ⁶ Although, bloating and gas become a concern when persistent, painful, or causing other health issues. ⁶
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut:
1. Frequent Digestive Issues:
Unintended Weight Change
These symptoms may indicate an underlying digestive issue and an unhealthy gut. ⁶
2. Food Intolerances or Sensitivities:
Food intolerances may be caused by poor quality of bacteria in the gut which can lead to trouble digesting trigger foods and symptoms such as:
3. Chronic Fatigue or Low Energy Levels: Having an unbalanced microbiome can result in poor sleep or short sleep duration. In turn, this can lead to chronic fatigue.⁷ Getting the recommended amount of sleep (7-8 hours for most adults) is an important step in protecting and improving your gut health. ²
4. Mood Disorders: According to Harvard Medical School, “A person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.” ⁸
There are many other symptoms, such as skin irritation or brain fog, that may signify an unhealthy gut. We recommend consulting with your primary care doctor or gastroenterologist if you are consistently experiencing health issues to determine if you may have an underlying GI problem.
How to Improve Your Gut Health
We make choices every day that influence our gut health, from managing stress to choosing the food we eat. Each decision we make is an opportunity to positively impact our gut health. Even if your gut is healthy now, it’s important to maintain balance with a diverse gut microbiome to avoid issues down the road. Depending on your situation, here are some tips on how to maintain or improve your gut health:
A Gut-Friendly Diet:
Increase fiber intake through food such as:
Legumes: black beans, chickpeas ⁷
Whole grains: oats, quinoa ⁷
Vegetables: broccoli, asparagus ⁷
Fruits: apples, peaches ⁷
Consume fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, which contain beneficial bacteria (probiotics). ⁷
Limit processed foods, refined sugars, and artificial additives that can disrupt gut health.
Check for any food intolerances and eliminate trigger foods.
Harvard Medical School states, “Stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contraction of the GI tract and can make existing pain seem even worse.” ⁸ Try meditating, going for a walk, practicing yoga, or even watching a funny movie or TV show to help lower your stress levels.
Probiotics and Prebiotics:
Adding prebiotics and probiotics to your diet is a great way to balance your gut’s microbiome and introduce good bacteria to your GI tract. First, let’s define the difference between the two:
Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts that can be found in certain foods or taken as supplements. They help replenish and maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Prebiotics are dietary fibers that serve as food for beneficial bacteria in the gut. They can be found in foods like onions, garlic, bananas, and asparagus.
Consuming a combination of prebiotics and probiotics is necessary to effectively improve your microbiota. ⁹
From digestion, to immunity, to mental health, your gut holds the power to transform your life. Have any questions? Talk to our pharmacy team and stop in to browse our probiotic supplement selection.