Author and doctor Sherry A. Rogers said it best: “The road to health is paved with good intestines.”
The condition of your gut has a direct correlation with your overall health, so if you want to be on the path to complete wellness, you better start by making sure your gastrointestinal tract is in good shape.
Your intestines do not only serve as a thoroughfare for food, nutrients and wastes; they also house a complex ecosystem where good and bad bacteria coexist. This community of organisms in your digestive tract is called the gut microbiome, and it is closely connected to all the other parts of your body. As it were, the key to your body’s overall health resides in the pit of your stomach.
Since your digestive system is where the gut microbiome is located, it is also the site where immediate effects of your microbiota’s condition can be felt.
Difficulty in digesting certain foods owing to food intolerance and other stomach disorders and symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and abdominal pain can be traced back to an unhealthy gut. Proper food digestion and waste elimination, on the other hand, are signs of a balanced gut microbiota.
Medical research continually presents new discoveries pointing to the gut’s extensive impact on your immune system. This comes as no surprise because 80% of your immune cells are found in your gastrointestinal tract. Scientists speculate that an impaired gut may cause systemic inflammation and lower your body’s ability to defend itself against pathogens that may compromise your health. This can result in autoimmune diseases where your immune system cannot differentiate between your own cells and harmful invaders, eventually releasing antibodies to attack your healthy cells. Conversely, a gut in good condition supports your immune system’s function and helps in protecting your body from diseases.
Skin, hair and nails comprise your integumentary system. There are a number of symptoms manifested by this outermost layer of your body and its appendages that can be derived from the state of your gut microbiome.
Some studies have shown that unbalanced gut flora may influence the condition of your skin, hair and nails. For example, shifts in the bacterial composition in your gut microbiome could impede the production of anti-inflammatory metabolites causing your immune system to react negatively to this change. Your body’s reaction can manifest on your skin as allergy or sometimes scalp irritation, which may lead to hair loss if it becomes too persistent.
Skin problems like acne, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea have also been linked to gut dysbiosis. Reports have shown that the microbiomes of patients with some of these skin conditions are less varied—lacking beneficial bacteria and having more of the harmful ones. Studies suggest that probiotics have been instrumental in the treatment of these skin diseases in that they help restore the balance of our gut microbiota.
Similarly, an unbalanced gut flora may hinder certain processes that are vital to hair regeneration such as supplying nutrients to hair follicles, production of essential vitamins, and regulating functions of the immune system.
Take note that these observations are part of ongoing researches that have not yet been concluded. There are many other factors you need to consider when evaluating the state of your integumentary system, but it may as well be worth your while to examine your gut health in relation to this.
Your nervous system is a collection of nerves that gathers information from all over your body and processes it in the brain. The special network of connections and communication shared by your gastrointestinal tract and your brain is known as the gut-brain axis. Scientists who have been studying this relationship have discovered that some diseases contracted in your developmental years have a potentially adverse effect on the epithelial cells lining your intestines. This may result in the disruption of the gut-brain axis thereby interfering with normal brain development.
Recent studies in the field of neuropsychology have formed theories around the connection between certain mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia among others, and modifications in your gut microbiome. Researchers infer that alterations to the healthy equilibrium of bacteria in your gut can trigger an overreaction from your immune system causing the inflammation of your gastrointestinal tract. This, in turn, could induce symptoms of diseases that may affect your entire body, including your brain.
Having an impaired gut could also contribute to sleep disorders like insomnia and poor sleep quality that can bring about chronic fatigue. Disturbances in your gastrointestinal tract may prevent you from sleeping well because much of your serotonin—the hormone responsible for regulating mood, memory and sleep—is produced in the gut.
Lack of sleep along with fatigue, memory loss and mood swings could be signs of a more serious condition called fibromyalgia. This disease is characterised by pain radiating across the musculoskeletal system, accompanied by the symptoms previously mentioned, and is associated with poor gut health.
One of the ways a healthy gut can influence your musculoskeletal system is by producing enzymes and nutrients that improve bone strength and reduce the effects of oxidation that can weaken your bones and joints. A healthy gut also allows proper absorption of nutrients that aid in muscle growth and development.
The Road to Overall Health
Your gut microbiome holds sway over a lot of your bodily functions. Apart from those already mentioned above, your gut also influences your ability to reproduce, supports the production of molecules that flow into your circulatory system to reduce blood pressure, and improves other mucosal sites like those in your lungs. It also helps regulate metabolism and inhibit obesity, thereby lowering your risk of having cardiovascular diseases.
While there’s a saying that goes “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” the same may as well be said about the road to his overall health.
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