It’s healthy gut girl summer: Why gut health is so important

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The gut is another term for the gastrointestinal tract, which is composed of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, intestines and anus.

Many of us will already know that a healthy gut helps us digest food properly, but what a lot of people might not know is that the gut also has a huge impact on our immune systems and our mental health.

We spoke to gut health specialist and founder of The Digestive Health Clinic Aoife McDonald about why treating your gut with kindness will do wonders for you. 

Gut health is central to our overall health,” McDonald says.

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Our gut is crucial in allowing us to properly digest food and break it down into the many different nutrients that we need, including proteins and fats. The gut also works to remove toxins and waste from the body, which is another reason why it is so important to keep it healthy and happy.

An unhealthy gut will struggle to rid the body of toxins and properly digest food, which can lead to a number of chronic pains and illnesses, as well as inflammation. Interestingly, poor gut health can also lead to low mood and mental energy too. In recent years, there has been a lot of research done into the connection between the mind and the gut, and the connections are pretty crazy. 

The gut is often termed as our second brain, as our gut and brain are constantly communicating with each other, so it’s no wonder that our gut health and mental health are so closely interlinked,” says McDonald.

Experts have recently discovered that issues within the brain, such as low mood, memory issues and brain fog, can often actually be a secondary effect of something happening within the gut.

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The gut holds trillions of bacteria, particularly in the intestines, and that bacteria can produce hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which the brain then uses to regulate cognitive processes like learning, memory and mood.

In fact, the gut actually produces a lot more of these hormones and neurotransmitters than the brain does. According to the American Psychological Association, the gut produces about 95 per cent of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects our mood. So, the phrase ‘gut feeling’ is a lot more scientifically accurate than we thought. 

Our mental health isn’t the only thing that’s affected by our gut health. Our immune systems are also mostly dependent on our gut as well.

Another fascinating reason why our gut health is important is because of its role in the body’s immune health – 70 per cent of our immune cells are actually located in the gut, so maintaining a healthy gut is really important for our immunity too,” McDonald explains.

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Our gut is home to a range of healthy bacteria, fungi and viruses. This might sound gross at first, but all of these help our body fight off bad bacteria and harmful viruses, strengthening our immune system and keeping us healthy. Without this balance, our immune systems would weaken dramatically, leaving us prone to many viruses and diseases. 

So, what can we do to improve and maintain a healthy gut? With the phrase ‘gut health’ being thrown around as a buzzword quite a lot on social media now, it can be tricky to know exactly what to do.

While there are a number of lifestyle factors that can affect our gut, such as sleep, exercise and stress, what we eat, in terms of nutrients,  plays a particularly big role.

“One particularly important nutrient for a healthy gut is fibre. About 80 per cent of us do not eat enough fibre, so this is normally a great place to start for anyone interested in improving their gut health” says McDonald.

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The dietician also states that we should be aiming for around 30g of fibre a day, and we can find this nutrient in many foods such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, whole grains and seeds.

Fibre can also help regulate your body’s sugar levels, so it’s a very important nutrient to include in your meals. McDonald also explains that drinking enough water every day can help improve gut health, and also recommends eating food that is rich in good live bacteria, such as yoghurt and kefir.

Spending time outside has also been shown to benefit gut health, as has managing stress and getting adequate sleep,” says McDonald. 

It’s clear that our gut is crucial to every aspect of our health, including our mental health, and so we should strive to take care of it and keep it healthy. 

Words by Aicha Chalouche 


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