Gut health is vital to your overall health and wellbeing. Here’s what it is, why it’s so important, and what you can do to keep your gut healthy.

Let’s talk about our bowels. It might not be a terribly glamorous topic, but it is an important one.

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month in Australia, so it’s the perfect time to check in on your gut health, and that of loved ones. Sadly, more than 100 Australians die from bowel cancer every week, despite it being one of the most treatable cancers when detected early enough.

The first step in awareness is learning a little more about your gut health, how to spot when it might not be healthy, and what you can do for a healthier gut every day.

What is gut health?

The gut is the common term for your gastrointestinal tract, which includes your stomach and intestines. The purpose of the gut is to digest the food you eat, making it an essential and fascinating part of the body.

Making things more interesting is that there are trillions of micro-organisms living within the gut – a mixture of fungi, viruses, and bacteria. Together, these are known as your microbiota, or gut flora, and they all work together like an ecosystem.

A healthy gut is one that processes food and keeps the good parts – the nutrition – to fuel your body, but also breaks down toxic compounds. This helps to keep your immune system strong, regulates digestion, and even contributes to a positive mood.

The gut is linked to everything in your body, so a healthy gut can be beneficial for everything from your heart to your brain, so it’s a great place to start if you’re looking to improve your overall wellbeing.

Signs of an unhealthy gut

An unhealthy gut is one where the delicate ecosystem within your gastrointestinal tract becomes unbalanced. It can be easy to upset this balance – a poor diet, antibiotics, stress, and sickness can all tip the scales. When this happens, unhealthy bacteria can start feeding on the gut wall, which can lead to a raft of issues.

When your gut becomes unhealthy, you’ll likely notice one or more symptoms. This could be anything from a general feeling of having an upset stomach (such as bloating, gas, or diarrhoea), to difficulty sleeping, weight changes, or food intolerances.

It can be hard to connect an unhealthy gut to these issues, as the symptoms can be hugely varied and mild in some cases. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s best to speak with your doctor for a professional opinion.

Foods for a healthy gut

There are certain foods you can include in your diet that may support a healthy gut. Fermented foods such as natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi are said to be great for gut health, as they contain naturally occurring ‘beneficial bacteria’, known as probiotics. These can counteract the ‘bad bacteria’ and ensure a healthy balance in your gastrointestinal tract.

You can also try high-fibre foods and plenty of water to help keep your gut microbiota balanced.

On the other hand, there are certain foods and drinks to avoid – or at least cut back on – that can unbalance your gut health. These include processed foods, fried foods, and alcohol.

If you feel you aren’t finding the right balance with your diet, you might even consider supplements such as probiotics or fibre supplements. As with any supplement, it’s always best to speak to a professional first.

A lifestyle for a healthy gut

It’s not just what you put in your mouth that affects your gut health – it’s what you do every day as well.

For example, sleep can be helpful for everything from improving your concentration to getting over a cold, and it’s the same for gut health; getting a good night’s sleep every night may be able to improve your microbiome.

Another factor that can affect gut health is your level of stress. High and frequent stress may negatively impact your gut flora, so it’s best to minimise stress levels as much as possible. This can mean introducing meditation to your daily routine, delegating time-consuming or stressful tasks whenever possible, and talking about your stress with a trusted friend, family member, or professional therapist.

Disclamer: This content is for informational purposes only and should not substitute advice from your healthcare professional. If symptoms persist or you require specialist advice, please consult your healthcare professional.

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