The Importance Of Gut Health

Gut health is pivotal to overall well-being, influencing digestion, immunity, and even mental health. The gut, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is home to trillions of microbes that play crucial roles in maintaining health. Understanding how to nurture these microbes can lead to significant health benefits.

Digestion and Nutrient Absorption: The gut breaks down food, absorbs nutrients, and eliminates waste. A healthy gut ensures efficient digestion and optimal nutrient uptake.

Immune Function: About 70% of the immune system is located in the gut. A balanced gut microbiome helps defend against pathogens and supports immune responses.

Mental Health: The gut-brain axis connects the GI tract and the brain. A healthy gut can positively affect mood and cognitive functions, potentially reducing the risk of mental health disorders. According to this study here, “The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication network that links the enteric and central nervous systems. This network is not only anatomical, but it extends to include endocrine, humoral, metabolic, and immune routes of communication as well.”

Metabolism and Weight Management: Gut bacteria influence metabolism, energy production, and fat storage, affecting body weight and metabolic health.

Chronic Disease Prevention: A balanced gut microbiome can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, and heart disease.

What Tests Do You Run For Gut Health?

Stool and breath tests are typical amongst functional medicine practitioners. In my practice, I often order Genova’s GI Effects (for insight into the overall GI Tract, digestion, absorption, dysbiosis, and pathological organisms) and SIBO breath test (evaluates bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine). For more on our testing process and specific tests, check here!

What Foods Should I Eat To Improve Gut Health?

Eating for gut health is, in my opinion, just like eating for your overall health!

  • How you eat is as important as what you eat: taking your time to give thanks for your food, sit and eat, chewing your food slowly can make the biggest difference!
  • What you don’t eat is as important as what you do eat as certain foods and substances can wreck your gut like: high sugar and processed foods, alcohol, most dairy and gluten.
  • Different people thrive on different diets based on: genetics, nervous system typing, imbalances and preferences.

In terms of what to eat, I would focus on balanced meals that include protein, fat and carbs + prebiotic rich foods (including resistant starch) to feed the good bugs like cooked and cooled potatoes, bananas, and avocados, bone broth or collagen powder to restore gut integrity, and fermented foods, if you tolerate them, in moderation. Your body wants to heal, we just need to create the right conditions!

On Probiotics & Prebiotics

The gut is not just a digestive organ; it is a complex ecosystem that plays a crucial role in overall health and wellness- a pivotal aspect of maintaining gut health lies in the balance of probiotics and prebiotics. The human gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. This diverse community, known as the gut microbiome, is essential for many bodily functions including digestion, supporting the immune system, and even influencing mood and mental health through the gut-brain axis. However, many modern lifestyle factors such as poor diet, stress, antibiotics, and environmental toxins can disrupt this delicate balance, leading to dysbiosis- a state of microbial imbalance that can contribute to numerous health issues.

The Power & Role Of Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. These beneficial bacteria can be found in fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso, as well as in dietary supplements. The most well-known probiotic strains belong to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera, but there are many other strains, each with unique benefits. So, what are the benefits of probiotics?

  • Restoring Microbial Balance: Probiotics help restore the balance of the gut microbiome by outcompeting pathogenic bacteria and fostering a healthy microbial environment.
  • Boosting Immunity: A significant portion of the immune system resides in the gut. Probiotics enhance immune function by stimulating the production of antibodies and supporting the activity of immune cells.
  • Improving Digestive Health: Probiotics aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and prevent and treat diarrhea, including antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
  • Enhancing Mental Health: The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication pathway between the gut and the brain. Probiotics can positively influence mood, anxiety, depression, and cognitive function.
  • Preventing and Treating Infections: Certain probiotic strains can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and even certain skin conditions.

What Do You Look For In A Probiotic?

When selecting a probiotic, it is important to ensure the product lists specific, clinically-backed strains.

Along with strain specificity, consider appropriate CFU (colony forming unit) counts, typically ranging from 1 billion to 50 billion CFUs. CFUs are a measure used to quantify the number of viable probiotic bacteria or yeast cells in a product. In probiotics, CFUs indicate the number of live microorganisms that are capable of dividing and forming colonies. This measurement helps determine the potency and effectiveness of the probiotic supplement. Shelf stability and an expiration date that guarantees CFU potency are important as well.

In my practice, I favor reputable brands with a history of high-quality probiotics such as Garden of Life and select targeted gluten-free and dairy-free formulas for specific health concerns. Many of my favorite brands for probiotics can be found on Amazon and through our online dispensary, Fullscript, where we currently offer our whole community 15% off.

The Power & Role Of Prebiotics

Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that selectively stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They are primarily found in high-fiber foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, and chicory root. Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, creating a synergistic relationship that enhances gut health. Here are some of the benefits of prebiotics:

  • Promoting Beneficial Bacteria: Prebiotics selectively feed beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, helping them thrive and maintain a healthy balance in the gut.
  • Improving Digestive Health: By increasing the population of good bacteria, prebiotics help improve bowel regularity, reduce constipation, and enhance the overall digestive process.
  • Supporting Metabolic Health: Prebiotics have been shown to improve blood sugar control, reduce inflammation, and support healthy weight management by influencing the gut microbiota.
  • Enhancing Mineral Absorption: Prebiotics can enhance the absorption of essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium, contributing to better bone health and overall well-being.
  • Reducing Risk of Chronic Diseases: A healthy gut microbiome supported by prebiotics can lower the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

The Synergy Of Probiotics & Prebiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics work synergistically to promote a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut, while prebiotics provide the necessary nutrients for these bacteria to thrive. Together, they create a harmonious environment that supports optimal health.

Synbiotics: Products that combine both probiotics and prebiotics are known as synbiotics. These formulations aim to maximize the benefits by ensuring that the introduced beneficial bacteria have the nutrients they need to establish and proliferate. Synbiotics can be particularly effective in restoring gut health and maintaining long-term balance.

More On Probiotics & Prebiotics


Additional Holistic Resources

Resources From Dr. Brooke Stuart / Let Go & Grow®

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