There is so much to talk about when it comes to gut health but, today I’m starting with a bit of rundown of what our gut does. Ultimately what I am getting at is, what we put in our mouth must go through our system and along the way is absorbed for its protein, carbohydrate, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals. I am always in awe of our bodies and we should cherish them and feed them with the nutrients they need to thrive.
What is the Gut?
The term ‘gut’ is used to describe the digestive system and relates to the entire gastrointestinal (GI) Tract which includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, the small and large intestine through to the rectum. The gut contains a large quantity of bacteria and other microbes, our gut microbiome mainly resides in the large intestines and is thought to be one of the most densely populated ecosystems in nature.
What does the gut do?
Thinking of the gut as a tube, the gut is a complex structure that with its large surface (30-40m2!!) absorbs the nutrient from our food as it travels to the lower gut. As the food travels it breaks down, mixing with acids and enzymes. Protein eventually turns into amino acids, carbohydrates into simpler sugars and fats into fatty acids. Along with vitamins and minerals these nutrients are absorbed by the small intestine. Any dietary fibre and any components that escaped digestion enters the large intestines where diverse populations of microbes break some of them down through a fermentation process providing nourishment for the microbes and helps them to multiply. It takes 24-60 hours for our food to complete its journey. Our circulatory and nervous systems are also integral to our gut function.
The importance of gut health…
The gastrointestinal tract is basically the organ of digestion and nutrient absorption and serves a physical and biochemical interface of our internal and external environments – known as the gut barrier. As we travel through life from birth, infancy, adulthood and mature age it is recognised that the macronutrients we consume play a major role in shaping our gut health and is strongly influenced by environmental factors and lifestyle choices.
Maintaining a diverse gut microbiome is positively correlated with good gut health. From birth a baby’s microbiome is colonised by the microbes from the mother. During infancy the first a child’s source is through mothers’ milk then the gradual introduction of foods promotes a shift in the gut microbiome towards that seen in ‘healthy’ adults. Other environmental factors also come into play with the exposure of antibiotics and infection determining the distinctive characteristics of the infant’s microbial community. In general, within 2 years an infant’s gut microbiome resembles that of an adult and by 2 ½ – 4 years their gut microbiome has fully matured. It is critical that a stable core of diverse gut microbiome is advantageous to maintaining long term health. As we move through life changes in diet, sickness, pollution and exercise among other things as well as genetics and other environmental factors, cause a decline of our gut microbiome.
So, look after that amazing body of yours by looking after your gut health as when our gut is not working to its best and having a healthy diverse microbiome then we are open to being unwell and not living your best healthy lifestyle.
Source: The CSIRO Gut care Guide: Dr Michael Conlon, Dr Pennie Taylor, Dr Cuong D Train, Megan Rebuli, 2021