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Gut Feeling:  Why Your Intestinal Health Matters

05/03/2017, 6:00am MDT
By USA Hockey

Studies suggest changes to our microbiome can influence an array of health conditions

Your gut isn’t just your stomach and it isn't just another word use for "instinct." Your gut is also your digestive tract and a complex mix of organs, microbes, hormones, and enzymes. How this complex mix interacts dictates how well you will absorb the food you consume.  And what happens or doesn’t happen in your gut will impact your daily lifestyle.

Your digestive tract delivers all of the nutrients you eat to your body, and there are many steps you can take to make sure you’re reaping the full reward from the nutrients you consume in terms of absorption, especially if you’re prone to gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, or other distress after eating. 

For years the adage has been, “you are what you eat,” but science has now amended that narrative to “you are what you eat – and can absorb.” In recent years, there has been a focus on the trillions of microbes that make up our digestive tract – collectively known as the microbiome – and the impact they have on everything from your digestion to your immune system. Studies suggest that changes to our microbiome can influence an array of health conditions, both for good and for bad.

As we learn more about the role of the microbiome – the collection of bacteria living in the digestive tract – the more we understand the impact of our gut health on a multitude of systems in the body.

Gut flora consists of trillions of living microbes in your digestive system. Gut microbiome compositions will vary based on geographic origins, what a person eats, medications being taken, and numerous environmental factors. A healthy microbiome is important in keeping the lining of the intestines healthy, which in turn impacts our ability to digest and absorb food, as well as playing a large role in regulating our immune response.

How does your microbiome affect your daily life? Consider how a person gets “butterflies” in the stomach when they’re nervous. This is because the vagus nerve connects the brain to the stomach. Microbiome health plays a big role in regulating what messages the brain receives from the gut. This is known as the gut-brain axis and researchers are investigating its role in multiple health conditions.

The microbiome connection is also important when we consider stress. Stress has a negative impact on the microbiome. Although stress can be caused by environmental, social, and emotional factors, it also can be caused by heavy performance training. During strenuous training, the body shuttles blood from the gut to the muscles, leaving less blood flow to the digestive tract, which in turn raises core temperature. These are sources of stress to the gut and can lead to an inflammatory state. Repeated or sustained digestive inflammation can lead to what is known as a “leaky gut,” which can impact the ability to fully absorb the nutrients in food.

Adding fermented foods to your diet will improve gut health and immunity, and can help prevent and manage inflammation in the gut. Examples of fermented foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, Greek and regular yogurt, kombucha, miso, soy sauce, and tempeh.

The use of a probiotic supplement can be an effective way to promote the growth of “friendly” microorganisms within the digestive tract.

To learn more about Thorne Nutritional products and our partnership please click here

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