When it comes to maintaining good health, there’s nothing more important than a healthy gut. In fact, experts now believe the gut is so important to our overall wellbeing they’re referring to it as our “second brain.”
With the latest research showing that our gut influences everything from our weight to our mood, health experts agree that looking after our second brain is the most important action we can take to keep our health on track.
The key to unlocking good gut health, however, is in understanding our microbiome — the more than 100 trillion bacteria that live inside our gut. “Together they add up to roughly the same number of cells as the rest of your body combined,” says Dr. Michael Mosley, author of the book The Clever Guts Diet.
“While they influence you, you can also change them. What you eat and the way you live will have a huge impact on the sort of creatures that thrive in your internal rainforest.”
Put simply, when these tiny organisms (both good and bad) are in balance, we thrive, but when they’re out of whack, so is our health.
Here, our experts break down the many ways your gut affects your health and how you can keep it in tip-top condition.
Feel like you catch every cold that’s going around? Ditch the OTC medications and take a look at what’s going on in your gut. “Between 70 and 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, and an unbalanced mix of gut bacteria can trigger chaos,” says nutritionist and author Lee Holmes, creator of superchargedfood.com.
The sticky, mucousy lining of your intestinal tract is incredibly sensitive and any imbalance in your gut flora can leave you exposed to viruses and less able to fight them off.
To boost your immunity, you need to repair your gut. Reset the imbalance of good and bad bacteria by taking a probiotic regularly, especially if you’re on antibiotics, as these destroy both the bad and good flora.
You can also eat fermented vegies like kimchi, or drizzle apple cider vinegar over your salad — both naturally contain beneficial probiotics and digestive enzymes.
If you regularly have those days when you’re on the brink of tears for no reason, the cause could be your tummy. One good reason scientists now refer to it as our second brain is because more than 90 percent of our serotonin (aka the feel-good hormone) is produced there. So those butterflies in your tummy, that dodgy stomach before a job interview, and those cravings for comfort foods when you’re feeling low all stem from your gut.
“Your mental wellbeing depends on the health of your microbiome,” says nutritionist Steph Lowe of The Natural Nutritionist. “The introduction of probiotics has been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn reduces depressive and anxious behaviors.”
It’s also vital to include loads of healthy fats — such as eggs, nuts, seeds, and salmon — in your diet to support serotonin production. “Healthy habits like getting enough sleep and regularly exercising are also key,” adds Lee.
Red, rashy, or irritated skin could be sign of poor gut health. “When the gut is unable to heal itself after exposure to negative substances like processed foods or environmental toxins, the intestinal walls — which are usually like tight junctions — become larger,” explains Lee.
This is known as “leaky gut,” which effectively allows nasties to pass through into the bloodstream, leading to inflammation which can cause your skin to flare up.
Eating a diet high in whole foods is a good start. “Remove trigger foods,” suggests Steph. “Quit gluten, cut out refined sugars and refined seed oils, and go trans-fat free.”
Sipping on celeb-fave bone broth is also a great way to repair your gut. “It’s packed full of calcium and magnesium, as well as containing gelatin and collagen to heal and boost cells,” explains Steph.
Feeling sluggish after wolfing down a big bowl of food is simply your body’s way of saying it’s struggling to break it down. “When the gut’s in balance, it’s able to help you break down the food you eat and turn it into energy,” says Lee. “It also defends you from energy-sapping bacteria and viruses that promote illness and slow you down.”‘
Maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut isn’t just down to good nutrition — the stresses of modern life can play a role too. “We’re stressed, busy, and chronically tired,” says Steph. “We’re constantly exposed to environmental toxins and our gut health sometimes just can’t compete.”
Beat it by incorporating relaxation practices such as yoga and meditation — which will help support the production of good bacteria — into your daily routine.
So if you’re ready to start taking good care of your gut health, check out this research on the diet experts say is best for a happy belly.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.