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4 Surprising Ways Your Gut Affects You

Edited By: Natalia Jones
 People that suffer from chronic digestive issues will know that having an upset tummy is not fun at all, but the long-term effects of gut problems may be even worse than you expected. In the past few years, science learned a lot about our digestive system, and one of the hottest topics in medicine today is that of the gut microbiome, meaning all the beneficial microorganisms that live in our gut and help us so much.
 
Scientists all around the world now believe that what you eat and what bacteria you promote in your gut can affect anything from allergies to heart disease and everything in-between.
a woman holding a picture of the gut in front of her belly

1. An unhealthy gut may promote heart disease.

It’s no news that heart disease is linked to high cholesterol levels, but only recently scientists at Harvard Medical School discovered the connection between an unhealthy gut and high blood cholesterol levels. It was found that certain kinds of gut bacteria make your blood vessels absorb more of the unhealthy cholesterol from the gut into your blood. The excess cholesterol then leads to the formation of plaques in your blood vessels and causes heart disease. It is unclear, however, which strains of bacteria affect cholesterol absorption. 
a doctor measuring his patient's pressure
What is clear, though, is that foods rich in fiber and fiber supplements, such as psyllium husks and flaxseeds, can lower the absorption of the cholesterol into the blood by as much as 25%. That is why it is always a good idea to pair fiber-rich foods with foods that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and eggs, or to supplement fiber if you know that your diet contains a lot of foods high in cholesterol.

2. Your mental health depends on your gut health.

Your intestines share some real-estate with a lot of nerve tissues that regulate your digestion and communicate with your spine and brain. These nerves are often referred to as the gut-brain, but the scientific term is actually the enteric nervous system.
This gut-brain is suspected to regulate your mood and anxiety levels by exchanging chemical signals called neurotransmitters with your brain. In this way, what you eat and how your intestines digest food can influence your mood.
a sad man sitting in the dark and covering his face with his hands

But it also goes further than that, as scientists now believe that an unhealthy gut and a poor diet may cause depression and anxiety disorders. In several studies, there was a marked improvement of anxiety and depressive symptoms after patients were administered probiotic supplements. 

Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety or depression, you can make use of the gut and brain connection, as a 2016 review article suggests that fermented foods (i.e. foods rich in probiotics) can increase a person’s cognitive abilities and mood. 
On more about the correlation of mental health and gut health, follow the link to our article called How Your Gut Affects Your Mind.

3. Can intestinal problems be a cause of obesity?

It is no secret that eating too much will upset your digestive system and make you gain weight, but there is another way in which a bad diet can make you overweight. 

In a recent review study, the authors sum up that our friend from the previous section, the gut-brain, can sometimes trick our brains into thinking they are hungry. The gut-brain communicates with a gland that is situated in the brain called the pituitary gland that is responsible for producing hormones regulating your appetite, among other things. 

a scale a measuring strip and a red apple

Usually, all is well and your pituitary gland will produce just enough hormones for you to feel satiated after a meal. But when something goes awry with your tummy, the pituitary gland will not do its job properly and you’ll feel hungry all the time, which can lead to obesity.

To prevent this mismatch from happening and to heal your gut, it is necessary to consume foods rich with probiotics, which can be found in fermented foods, such as yogurts, pickles, and kimchi. If you’d like to learn about more foods that contain probiotics, follow the link 7 Probiotics that Boost Your Health.

4. An unhealthy intestinal tract may cause allergies.

Did you know that more than 75% of your immune cells live in your digestive system? So, it comes as no surprise that the foods you eat will affect your body’s ability to fight off all kinds of germs. Together with your gut bacteria, immune cells help your body resist infections in all of your body, and not only in the digestive system. 

An example of this can be observed if we consider allergies. It is now widely believed that a lack of beneficial gut bacteria can make your immune cells unable to distinguish between good and bad bacteria. When that happens, your immune system will activate to harmless compounds and you will experience an allergic reaction.

a boy blowing his nose

In fact, several studies suggest that allergic symptoms can be greatly improved by promoting gut health, such as this clinical trialin which seasonal allergy sufferers were given probiotic supplements for 8 weeks, which significantly reduced their allergy symptoms.

So, to promote the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria and improve your gut health you will need to have a diet rich in a variety of different foods, including but not limited to nuts and seeds, foods rich in fiber, probiotic-rich foods, and whole grains. For more foods that will benefit your digestive health, look through our article about 11 Foods Good For the Gut.

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