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Why gut health is key to your overall well-being

Why gut health is key to your overall well-being

April 28th, 2023

Research and professionals often mention that gut health is essential to overall well-being. However, what exactly is meant with the term gut health? How is the gut linked to well-being, and why is this important? In this article, we will explore the gut’s role in the gastrointestinal tract, the gut health, and its role on maintaining a good overall health.

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The gut’s role in the gastrointestinal tract

The gut is not only important for the digestion and uptake of nutrients from food, but it also forms one of the most prominent barriers that protect us from many different pathogens.
Intestinal health can also affect mood and cognition through communication between the gut and the brain. The microorganisms that reside in the gut play a major role in how the health of the gut influences well-being.

The gut is also called the gastrointestinal tract or the digestive tract. It consists of the entire pathway from when food first enters the body and the remnants that leave the body again. Along the way, the food gets digested, and nutrients are absorbed to be used as energy sources and building blocks, in order to support the overall physiological functioning of the body.

The intestines are of utmost importance in this process, as this is the site where most digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place.

What is the structure of the gut?

The gut is approximately 9 meters long, with the small intestine taking up 6 meters of this length.
The lining of the gut consists of 4 distinct layers. The villi and microvilli that texture the gut epithelium, increase the surface area at which the absorption of nutrients can take place.
Underneath the outermost layer, blood vessels and lymph vessels are in close proximity to the surface of the gut. This allows for the fast absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream.

The gut contains many cells that are important for immune function. They facilitate the secretion of enzymes and mucus into the lumen, or hormones and other messaging molecules into the blood. The lymphatic system is part of this, as it is home to many immune cells that can fight pathogenic intruders.
A protective mucus layer covers the epithelium, which makes it more difficult for pathogens to pass through.

Gut microbiome

Another important component of the gut are the commensal microorganisms that reside there; the gut microbiota. These microorganisms consist of many different species of bacteria, archaea, viruses, and fungi, and the composition is unique for every person.
Bacteria make up the vast majority of the gut microbiome, with around 1000 different bacterial species that reside in your gut!

The microbes in the gut elicit many important functions. They support energy metabolism, by fermenting otherwise undigestible dietary fibres into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs can be used as an energy source for intestinal cells, and serve as anti-inflammatory signalling molecules. Read more about SCFAs and their importance to gut health here!
Due to their presence in large quantity, the gut microbiota can oppose colonization by pathogens, stimulate tolerance towards antigens, and induce the production of the protective mucus layer.

What is gut health?

Gut health refers to the overall functioning of the gut, in the absence of symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. The gut microbiome plays a central role in this; there has to be a balance between the helpful and potentially harmful microorganisms in the gut, as this can affect the integrity of the gut. Therefore, crosstalk between these microorganisms and the gut epithelium plays a pivotal role in one’s health status.

There are multiple factors that can affect the composition of the gut microbiota, influencing the function and integrity of the gut barrier. These include environmental factors, including where you live, your age, what you eat, how physically active you are, but also stress levels, and the use of antibiotics, as well as genetic factors.

Why is gut health important?

Immunology

The gut forms a protective barrier against gut microbes, pathogens, food antigens, and toxins to which the body is exposed in the gut. In fact, the intestine forms the largest internal barrier, and is therefore essential for the protections against harmful substances. Next to the physical barrier, as many as 70-80% of the immune cells reside in the gut.

The immune cells in the gut secrete antibodies and antimicrobial proteins. Together with the epithelial and mucus barrier, they protect the underlying tissues form the translocation of pathogens that might be present in the lumen of the gut.

The cells of the gut are held together by so-called tight junctions, which can loosen to become more ‘’leaky’’. On the one hand, this can be beneficial by aiding in the absorption of nutrients, or disposing of the inflammatory stimuli that did manage to cross the gut barrier (diarrhoea).

On the other hand, an excessively leaky gut allows for ‘’bad’’ bacteria and other pathogens to enter the blood stream and cause (chronic) inflammation. This can further increase gut barrier dysfunction and disease. Dysbiosis – an imbalance between the favourable and unfavourable microbes in the gut – are a major cause of a leaky gut. (1, 2)

Gut-brain axis

Gut health is also important for brain health and cognitive function. There is bidirectional communication between the central nervous system – the brain, and the nervous system that resides in the gut. Interestingly, the majority – up to 90% – of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is the so-called ‘’feel-good’’ chemical, which plays an important role in the modulation of mood, learning, and memory.

The gut microbiota play an important role in the communication between the gut and the brain. The SCFAs produced by the gut microbiota are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and directly communicate with the brain. Likewise, dysbiosis of the gut microbiome can alter the blood-brain barrier, possibly contributing to inflammation of the central nervous system, which is linked to depression and anxiety-like disorders (3).

Curious to know more about the gut-brain axis? Read more about it here!

How to support Gut Health?

There are plenty of ways to support gut health. First of all, probiotics can be used to maintain a healthy community of microorganisms, by supplementing directly with live microorganisms. Next to that, prebiotics derived from non-digestible carbohydrates can be used to selectively stimulate the growth of intestinal bacteria. Learn more about prebiotics here!

Another way to enhance gut health is through the use of the bacterial products or metabolites released from microbial fermentation; the so-called postbiotics. In this article, we will tell you more about the use and benefits of postbiotics.

Gut health is the foundation of good health

All in all, it is quite evident that keeping the gut healthy plays is of great importance for one’s overall well-being. This long tract, which is the home to many different microorganisms, takes care of digesting food and absorbing nutrients needed to perform all basic functions. Next to that, it plays crucial role in the defence against pathogens, and through its bidirectional communication with the brain, has a significant impact on mood and cognitive function.


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Exploring the ways blood sugar impacts your health

Exploring the ways blood sugar impacts your health

April 20th, 2023

Are you aware that your blood sugar levels can change frequently, and it is important to maintain a stable level in order to improve your overall health? In this article, you will get acquainted with the reason your blood sugar levels might fluctuate, the effects of these changes on your health, and tips to help you on maintaining a stable blood sugar level.

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Sugar and blood sugar levels

Sugars and carbohydrates are widely consumed substances across the world. They play a vital role in providing energy to the body and in regulating the blood sugar levels, or blood glucose levels, throughout the day (1).

After a meal, our metabolism works to keep our blood sugar levels steady. It does this by reducing the production of sugar (glucose) and promoting its storage as both short-term and long-term energy reserves (2).

The way your body metabolism responds after eating depends on the type of sugar you consume – simple sugars or complex sugars (1). Foods such as sugar-sweetened foods, beverages, and refined grains are a source of simple sugars, which are associated with higher increases on blood sugar levels.

Sources of complex sugars include minimally processed grains, legumes, and whole fruits. These are considered as a better option to maintain a steady blood sugar level.

When simple sugars and complex sugars are consumed in excess, or under consumed from processed food sources, acute and/or chronic conditions might arise as consequences.

What happens if your blood sugar levels are too high?

We already know that high blood sugar levels might have negative impacts on our health. Stress, some sort of medications, insulin resistance and an unhealthy lifestyle are the core of the increasing of the blood sugar levels (2,3).

Usually, people with higher blood sugar levels tend to experience an increase in feeling thirsty and they have a higher urinating frequency. Experiencing blurred vision, headaches, and fatigue are also symptoms.

On the long term, high blood sugar levels are associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other organ damages, like nerves, eyes, kidneys, and brain (3).

What happens if your blood sugar levels are too low?

On the other hand, the low blood sugar levels might also have negative impact on your health, occurring when you don’t eat enough carbohydrates according to your nutritional requirements or when the physical exercise is inappropriate in contrast to your food intake (2).

If your body is deprived of having enough fuel to sustain life, the central nervous system won’t be able to synthesize glucose, store, or concentrate glucose from the body circulation (4). As consequence, a brief decrease on the blood sugar levels might cause severe central nervous system dysfunction, and a prolonged decrease might cause cell death and coma.

Commonly, but depending on the severity and duration of the low blood sugar level, people tend to experience shakiness, confusion, irritability, sweating, and a fast heartbeat.

Strategies to maintain a stable blood sugar level

To begin with, it is important to understand what the normal blood sugar levels are. A fasting blood glucose level between 70 and 99 mg/dL is considered normal regardless of some variations caused by diet, physical exercise or medication as mentioned before (12).

When the blood sugar levels are higher or lower than this level some strategies need to be considered:

1. Implementing a healthy diet according to your nutritional needs is one of the strategies to maintain a stable blood sugar levels (5).
Specifically, consuming high in fibre foods such as foods rich in whole grains as source of arabinoxylans seems to be a good adding to a healthy diet along with fruits and vegetables (6). Curious about arabinoxylans? Read our article here.

What’s more? Lean proteins, and healthy fats and limited added sugars consuming are as well associated with better blood sugar control.

2. Physical exercise is an essential part of a comprehensive lifestyle changing (5). Studies have shown that both aerobic and resistance training have positive effects, and that combining the two types of exercise has even more positive effects. This way, combining a healthy eating with physical exercise is crucial on stabilising the blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight balance.

Why is it important to keep blood sugar stable?

Summarising, having high blood sugar levels increase the chances of developing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. On the other hand, having low blood sugar levels can cause problems with cognitive function and other complications. This way, adopting a healthy diet, being physically active, and controlling your weight might helping you on maintaining a stable blood sugar levels and lower the risk of experiencing these adverse health effects.