Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Gut Health But Were Too Afraid to Ask

May 4, 2022

There’s a reason they call the gut a “second brain”. The gut and the brain have a ‘co-dependent’ relationship, where the function and prosperity of one, influences the other.

Gut health has become a frequently discussed topic in the health space in recent times. As lifestyle trends and topics become increasingly saturated, it can be hard to navigate, what is really relevant and what is just a fad? Gut health really does impact every facet of your life, and here is all you need to know.

What exactly does your gut do?

The ‘gut’ refers to the gastrointestinal tract, which carries food from the mouth to the stomach, converting it into absorbable nutrients and stored energy, and removes waste from the body (AKA digestion).

However, far more is being done inside your gut, to allow you to feel good within. When you digest food, the gut breaks it down to its most basic components, and the important nutrients are absorbed through the stomach wall and delivered via circulation.

The gut employs nerves, microbes, and hormones to regulate this process. There are about 100 trillion bacteria in your gut, which are particularly important, even though they have a questionable stigma. Bacteria produce a mucosal layer that reinforces the gut wall, and excellent digestive health is the consequence of a good-bad bacteria balance.

This takes place through the gut’s own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS).

But that’s not where the role of the gut stops. Besides your digestion, it can affect your energy levels, mood, immune system, heart health, brain health, sleep and may prevent some cancers and immune deficiencies.

Even the clarity of your skin and stress levels are linked to your gut health.

So, if your gastrointestinal tract (or gut) contains too many bad bacteria or not enough good bacteria, you are likely to feel it in many facets of your life. An unbalanced lifestyle will likely be reflected by your gut.

Good Gut Health

The connection between the gut and the brain

There’s a reason they call the gut a “second brain”. The gut and the brain have a ‘co-dependent’ relationship, where the function and prosperity of one, influences the other. For example, the stress hormones produced by the brain, interrupt the health function of the gut. Similarly, bloating and constipation caused by poor diet, and thus, bad gut health, can interrupt mood regulators in the brain.

George Porter Phillips, a British scientist and physician in the early twentieth century, was responsible for exposing some of the earliest links between gut health and mental health. Phillips noticed that his patients suffering from depression, often had symptoms of constipation, brittle nails, dull hair, a sallow complexion, and other indications of a “general clogging of the metabolic processes”.

Phillips used a gut-targeting process to test the connection he suspected was there. This included kefir, a popular gut health drink.

Remarkably, eleven out of the eighteen patients tested were completely cured, and two more displayed significant improvement.

Through the progression of research, the inextricable link between mental and gut health has been well known by professionals and common practice in their work.
Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian, and founder of Nutritious Life explains, “If your gut health is out of whack, your microbes send signals that negatively influence your mood.”

Approximately 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin is produced by gut bacteria, influencing both mood and digestion. Gut health is also instrumental in influencing neural development, brain chemistry, and a variety of behavioural phenomena such as emotional behaviour, pain perception, and how the stress system responds.

Coinciding with this, stress can have an impact on digestion and the nutrients that the intestines absorb. This often leads to inflammation in the gut.

Minimising stress and increasing happy hormones also allow your digestive tract to run smoothly, and vice versa.

So, keeping your gut healthy will ensure you keep your mind happy!


What causes poor gut health?

By now you know that your gut is made up of trillions of bacteria. Most of these belong to four groups:

  1. Firmicutes
  2. Bacteroidetes
  3. Actinobacteria
  4. Proteobacteria.

Tongue twisters, arent’ they?

These destroy harmful bacteria and help your body produce all the good stuff we need to function.

If your gut has too much bad bacteria, or there isn’t enough gut flora diversity, it can throw things out of balance.

Some reasons for poor gut health:

  1. Not having a diverse and nourishing diet: To have a diverse gut flora, you must have a diverse diet! This includes eating a rainbow, or a wide range of fruit and vegetables, along with grains, proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.Not having enough prebiotics or probiotics in your diet: This comes from not consuming enough nutrient dense foods, including whole food, fruit and vegetables, grains and legumes.
  2. Over-consumption of processed, sugary foods: This damages your microbiome. Chemicals, preservatives, and emulsifiers are linked to metabolic changes, and produce more ‘bad’ bacteria. These bacteria can lead you to crave more sugary and processed food.
  3. Poor sleep quality: When your body is fatigued, or sleep-deprived, your gut and your hormones are impacted. Two days of interrupted sleep can subtly influence gut flora. As previously mentioned, the gut is responsible for the production of 95% of your serotonin, which helps you sleep. Thus, when the gut is interrupted, it can further impact your sleep quality.
  4. Stress: Due to the relationship between the gut and the brain, stress can increase inflammation and sensitivity, alter gut bacteria, and reduce blood flow.
  5. Alcohol and cigarette consumption: Due to the toxic chemicals in alcohol and tobacco, it has been linked that sustained high use of the substances, inhibit healthy bacteria production.
  6. Not enough exercise: Exercise promotes the production of healthy gut bacteria, and athletes often show a presence of more diverse gut flora. Additionally, exercise is a beneficial stress reliever, aiding your gut. Thus, when there is not enough regular movement, gut health and diversity is inhibited.
  7. Using antibiotics: As you can guess from the name, antibiotics kill the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut. While these are beneficial in cases when they are needed, it may be of note that your gut may be off during the time you are taking them.
  8. Lacking dietary Fibre: Fibre is the most important tool, helping your gut digest and waste to run smoothly through your body. In Australia specifically, poor gut health is overwhelmingly common. Fifty percent of the adult population experience unpleasant gut related problems, such as bloating, gas and constipation. One in seven experience distressing symptoms. A significant factor contributing to this, is, most Australians do not consume enough fibre, which increases their risk of gastrointestinal illnesses and other health issues. Fibre diversity is also missing in the Australian diet since we eat a limited variety of plant foods. On average, Australians eat 23g of fibre a day, and only 83% reach the daily recommended fibre intake (which is 28-38g per day).

What does poor gut health look like?

There are several ways that unhealthy gut symptoms manifest and present themselves. Severity and symptoms can vary between individuals, and some may be of risk or developing chronic illness. An unhealthy gut is the main trigger of Bacteroides fragilis, and can also be the catalyst for chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis.

Common indicators of poor gut health

  1. Poor digestion (constipation, gas and bloating): As digestion is possibly the gut’s most (but not only) significant function, disturbances are a key indicator of poor gut health. This may also be a way to measure food intolerance, that throws off the gut balance.
  2. Fatigue: Due to its influence on sleep hormones, along with energy production, you may experience feelings of fatigue when faced with poor gut health.
  3. Weight fluctuations: Gaining or losing weight unintentionally may be a sign that your gut bacteria is off balance. This can impede your ability to absorb blood sugar, store fat and regulate blood sugar. In turn, insulin levels are impacted. Insulin resistance can cause overeating, leading to weight gain.
  4. Food Intolerance: A weakened immune system, and stress on the digestive system, can lead to unpleasant symptoms when consuming certain foods. This could include nausea, bloating, constipation, or gas.
  5. Skin irritation: Research has shown a link between poor gut and skin conditions including acne, eczema and psoriasis, due to inflammation.
  6. Bad moods or poor mental health: As previously discussed, gut health has an immense influence on hormones that promote a healthy mood. Additionally, poor gut health can even manifest in anxiety and depression disorders.



How to fix poor gut health

There is strong evidence to support the role of high fibre and whole foods in gut health, along with proper sleep, regular exercise, and a lifestyle that is well balanced with minimal stress.

As the gut has become a ‘trending’ topic in the health space, many products have been released claiming to supplement healthy gut functioning. Products such as kefir have shown improvement, however, there is no evidence to support the gut health benefits of kombucha. {also https://blog.csiro.au/is-kombucha-good-for-you/}

Pre-biotics and probiotics are needed to support proper gut functioning. These are often confused due to the similar names, but there are significant differences.

Probiotics are living bacteria strains that increase the population of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract.

Prebiotics are specialised plant fibres that serve as food for beneficial microorganisms. This promotes the development of the beneficial bacteria that already exist.

Some dietary suggestions to improve gut function


What to eat

What to drink

  • Water: it is imperative that we drink enough water to supplement all bodily functions, including the gut
  • Green tea
  • Ginger tea
  • Lemongrass tea
  • Beverages with prebiotics and probiotics, like SORTED.


Gut health is important and can drastically impact our everyday lives. However, we can undoubtedly help our gut by maintaining a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, and being aware of products on the market that can help.

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