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‘Listen to your gut’ is an age-old piece of advice, but never has it been more relevant. Your gut is one of the biggest and most important organs in your body. Until recently, doctors and scientists thought that it was just a long tube that helped to carry nutrients into your body and take waste out of it. However, exciting scientific research is showing us that your gut is central to your overall health and wellbeing.
What is your gut?
When we talk about your ‘gut’, what we mean is your intestines - the long tube that takes waste from your stomach all the way out of your body. It is split into two main sections: the small intestine and large intestine. Your small intestine is roughly 6 metres (20 feet) long, but it is relatively narrow (hence the name “small”). Your large intestine is roughly 1.5 metres (5 feet) long, but it is much wider than the small intestine.
Your gut is essential for digestion - absorbing nutrients and water whilst getting rid of your waste. Therefore, your gut is the first barrier of defence into your body as it controls whether something passes into your bloodstream or whether it is removed from your body. It does this with the help of other organs (e.g. liver, gall bladder, pancreas etc) which help by producing enzymes to help to break down nutrients or using filtration systems that filter nutrients into your blood and remove harmful products out of your body. Your gut has large connections with each of these organs which together make up the gastrointestinal system.
What is your gut microbiome?
For a long time, we have long known that bacteria, viruses and other microbes can make their way into the human body, but scientists generally thought that all of these microbes caused disease and needed to be killed or removed from the body. However, amazing scientific research has recently found that there are more microbes in the human body than we ever could have imagined. Your body is covered, inside and out, with trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes, which are collectively called your ‘microbiome’ - most of which are located in your gut (mainly in your large intestine). In fact, you have more bacterial cells in your body than human cells and even more microbial genes in your body than human genes. So, essentially you are more bacteria than human.
The gut microbiome is an ecosystem, like a rainforest or coral reef. Instead of trees, insects, animals or fish, your gut ecosystem is made up of >1000 different species of bacteria (and even more viruses, fungi etc) which interact with each other competing for food and space. Everyone has a unique gut microbiome, which is as unique as your own fingerprint. Therefore, it is tricky to say what a typical ‘healthy’ gut microbiome looks like. However, in general, the more diverse your gut microbiome (i.e. the more different types of microbes that you have), the healthier your gut.
Why is your gut and gut microbiome important?
Essentially, your gut does much more than just digest food and remove waste. And a lot of this is down to the function of your gut microbiome. Fascinating science is showing us how important your gut and its microbes are to your health and wellbeing.
Firstly, your gut is the centre of your immune system. Roughly 70% of your immune cells are located in your gut. These immune cells continuously ‘taste’ anything travelling through your gut (microbes, food and anything else) and then decide whether it is safe or whether the immune system needs to fight it and remove it from the body.
Secondly, the human body doesn’t have the enzymes necessary to digest fibre, however your gut microbes do have these important enzymes. That means that, without your gut microbiome, you wouldn’t get many of the health benefits from fruit and vegetables. When this fibre gets broken down in the large intestine, it creates important compounds that are important for your health, such as short-chain fatty acids.
As your gut and its microbes control the digestion of your food, they naturally play an important role in regulating your blood sugar and cholesterol. Your gut microbiome may even be able to predict how much your blood sugar will spike after you eat a particular food. This means that it may be possible in the future to design personalized diets for people based on their own unique gut microbiome.
Lastly, your gut is physically and biochemically connected to your brain through a complex network of nerves called the peripheral nervous system, also known as the gut-brain axis. Therefore your gut communicates with your brain meaning good health might help with good brain health.
How to improve gut health
There are a variety of ways to optimise the health of your gut. Clearly, a well-balanced diet high in fibre will provide your microbiome with enough nutrients to maintain diversity. Exercise can also significantly improve gut problems, encouraging muscles to continue working and improving symptoms of gas and bloating. One recent study found that two sessions of yoga over a 12 week period can have a positive impact on your gut health. Additionally, if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, practising mindfulness can significantly reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)..
Alongside exercise, diet and mindfulness, taking proven probiotics is another way to improve gut problems and get your gut health flourishing. LP299v™, a live bacterial supplement part of Sons’ Gut Health Supplements, is one of the most well-studied bacterial supplements in the world. Studies show that LP299v works by binding tightly to the cells lining the gut, which in turn boosts the production of mucus proteins that fortify the gut wall and improves digestive symptoms.
As the home of the immune system and a flourishing microbiome, the gut is a vital part of any well-functioning, healthy body. Whether you’re suffering from IBS or want to give your gut a boost, our Gut Health Supplements are a scientifically-proven way to improve gut health.