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Follow Your Gut for Health

May 15, 2018

Are you frequently tired or have trouble sleeping? Have a poor appetite or stomach issues including constipation or diarrhea? If you Google these symptoms, you’ll probably find a list of frightening possibilities, but search engines may overlook one reason for your myriad of symptoms: your gut.

What is the gut?

We use the term “gut” often. You may have felt a truism deep in your gut. You had the courage or guts to step forward to right a wrong. You may have seen commercials about “gut health.” But what is the gut exactly?

The gut is another term for the digestive tract, also called the alimentary tract or gastrointestinal tract, and includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, colon and rectum.

Just like our skin serves as an interface for our bodies from the outside world, the gut does the same. It is a barrier against external toxins and chemicals and produces hormones that affect hunger, sensory perception, cognition, emotion and behavior. Ghrelin, an appetite stimulating hormone, is produced in the gut in response to stress, sleep deprivation and hunger. In the pancreas, hormones aid digestion and metabolizing glucose.

A number of factors can lead to an unhealthy gut. Stress, certain foods and antibiotics can create too many unhealthy bacteria


Signs of an unhealthy gut

With 100 trillion bacteria in your gut, some are beneficial and some are not. These unhealthy bacteria can lead to stomach problems as well as illnesses that may not seem to be related to your stomach. Some of these include:

A number of factors can lead to an unhealthy gut. Stress, certain foods and antibiotics can create too many unhealthy bacteria. Sugary foods, fatty meats, and other foods high in saturated fats, tobacco, alcohol and excessive caffeine can be detrimental.

Stress can also affect the gut, as can antibiotics. Antibiotics are given to treat an illness caused by a bacteria such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections. These medicines work by killing off the illness-causing bacteria, but at the same time, the antibiotics also harm  healthy bacteria, or probiotics. When we’re sick, we often want a prescription for an antibiotic that will make us feel better fast, but unnecessary and excessive use of antibiotics can disrupt the normal gut flora, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast.

Keeping your gut healthy

A nutritious diet can go a long way to keep your gut healthy. A heart healthy diet isn’t just good for the heart, but for the gut and all parts of the body. Drinking a lot of water, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy, whole grains, nuts and legumes will aid in gut health.

The timing in which we eat can also affect the gut. The same meal eaten at lunch will impact you differently if eaten at dinner. Dinner consumed before 7 pm versus late at night can make a huge impact on your overall weight and wellbeing.

Probiotics are good bacteria that we can introduce to the gut. Although it is available in pills, foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut are also good sources.

We are still learning about gut health, such as how changes in diet and exercise can change the microbiomes in the gut, how microbiomes differ in lean versus obese individuals and what that may mean in the future for helping people maintain a healthy weight.

But we do know that a healthy gut provides a variety of health benefits, for your stomach and beyond.

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We believe that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the key to living a longer, healthier life. Orlando Health Physicians strive to build a relationship with each patient. Request an appointment with one of our primary care physicians with offices located throughout Central Florida.

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