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How does your gut affect the rest of your body?

Happy healthy woman on beach wearing green jacket
Good gut health supports our overall wellness. Discover what the gut is, how it can affect the rest of your body, and ways to maintain a balanced microbiome.
With help from Anojan Arulananthan, our Retail Health Lead, we’re sharing our knowledge on all things gut health, and the effects the gut has on the rest of the body.

So, let’s start off with the biggest question: what is the gut?

Your gut is your gastrointestinal system (the GI tract) and includes your stomach, intestines, and colon. It digests and absorbs nutrients from food and excretes waste.

There are around 200 different species of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your large intestine. The bacteria and other micro-organisms in your gut are known as your gut microbiome. The bacteria help to break down food, turning it into nutrients your body can use.1

Anojan says, “When people think about their gut they mostly think of small and large intestines (tummy). In reality the gut encompasses everything from your mouth to your anus. Did you know the process of digestion begins in the mouth? The gut has a number of functions:

  • breaking down food 
  • absorbing nutrients 
  • producing enzymes 
  • eliminating waste 
  • acts as a defence mechanism”

What is a healthy gut?

Most people tend to think of a healthy gut as one without symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating or cramps.

However, whilst there isn't an agreed consensus on what defines a healthy gut, most health professionals will agree that 'good gut health' refers to the positive interactions and harmony between the microorganisms that live in your gut, and your gut itself.

What are symptoms of an unhealthy gut?

When we talk about an unhealthy gut we generally mean an ‘imbalance’ (dysbiosis) in the gut microbiome.

There are many obvious and common symptoms of an unhealthy gut. These can include gastrointestinal discomfort – such as bloating, flatulence, pain, or change in bowel habit, as well as weight fluctuations, intolerances, and even autoimmune conditions.

But what are some of the lesser-known symptoms of an unhealthy gut? Well, these can be: 
  • frequent headaches 
  • constantly feeling tired 
  • skin irritation 
  • increased stress or anxiety2

What areas of the body can the gut affect and how?

It’s important to remember that the gut can affect many areas of the body. From your immune system, mind and brain function, to skin, and heart health. It can also have slightly different effects on people depending on age, gender, and whether you’re pregnant.

Skin

Changes in your gut microbiome may influence acne, dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis. In fact, one study on the ‘Impact of the impaired intestinal microflora on the course of acne vulgaris’ found that 54% of people with acne also had a bacterial imbalance in their gut.3

Joints

The gut plays a crucial role in regulating the immune system and maintaining a healthy inflammatory balance. Plenty of evidence exists to support the relationship between poor gut health, arthritis, and chronic pain.4

Mental health

“The gut-brain axis is the 2-way biochemical signalling that takes place between your gut and your brain,” Anojan explains. “Essentially what happens in your brain impacts your gut health, and what happens in your gut impacts on your brain and nervous system. The gut functions by using similar networks as your central nervous system, and this suggests why it plays a role in brain and mental health and wellbeing.”

What things can affect the gut and how?

Sleep

Sleep is an important part of overall health. Not only does it influence energy levels, but it also helps every system in the body function properly, including the immune system, heart, brain, and even digestive system. If you’re not maintaining adequate sleep, it can take a toll on your gut health in a variety of ways.

4 ways lack of sleep can affect gut health:

  1. Lack of sleep can increase stress, which affects the gut 
  2. Lack of sleep can affect dietary choices, having a negative impact on your gut 
  3. Lack of the sleep hormone, melatonin, may be related to GORD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) 
  4. If you stay up too late, you might eat too close to bedtime, which can negatively impact your digestive health5

Diet

“Reducing the amount of processed, high sugar, and high fat foods that you eat may lead to better gut health.” 

Anojan goes on to suggest that some of the best ways to improve your gut health are as follows:
  • increasing your intake of plants and fermented foods 
  • reducing your intake of ultra processed foods that have limited nutritional benefit 
  • not consuming excess sugar or sweeteners 
  • leaving gaps between meals 
Check out our article on 8 of the best foods for gut health, where with the help of our nutritionist, Isabel Tarrant, we delve into the science of digestion and reveal some of the best foods for gut health!

Medication

Medicines taken by mouth can affect the digestive system in several different ways. Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, while usually safe and effective, may create harmful effects in some people.6

“Antibiotics and prolonged use of antacids can impact on gut health,” says Anojan. Antibiotics are designed to kill the ‘bad’ bacteria, but unfortunately, they can also kill the good ones. This leads to an imbalance in the number of different types of bacteria living in our intestines, which can cause an array of digestive issues.7

Eating prebiotic and probiotic foods, taking probiotic supplements, avoiding processed foods, and getting plenty of rest and exercise are all ways you could help your gut recover after taking antibiotics.

Lifestyle and environment

“Stress and environmental toxins can have an effect on your gut,” Anojan reflects.

If you think stress could be having an impact on your gut health, then head over to our article on Stress relief: How to tackle stress.

“Smoking and alcohol consumption can impact on gut health, as can poor exercise and poor sleep.”

Dealing with your daily stressors, heading out for a walk each day, engaging in an exercise you enjoy, and making healthier choices will have a positive impact on your gut health as well as on your overall sense of wellbeing.

The final say

We hope this article has been digestible, and you feel a little more in tune with your gut! Try out some gut-loving foods, supplements, and lifestyle tweaks to see if you notice a difference.

Discover ways to support your gut health

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