The gastrointestinal system or gut plays a major role in digestion and maintaining the overall functioning of the entire body. The gut regulates the entire food intake and output process. This includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, colon, and rectum. Therefore, gut health refers to not only intestinal health but the whole digestive tract and affects mental and physical health.
The gut aids in the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, and excretion of waste products of digestion. Moreover, 70-80% of immune cells are present in the gut, having a big influence on the body’s immunity. An unhealthy gut, on the other hand, can cause digestive diseases. Some of the common ones include Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD), celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s Disease.
According to an ITC survey, 56% of Indian families report digestive health problems. Most of this percentage is made up of common digestive ailments that can be prevented and managed with a bit of care and awareness. Some of the things people can start doing today to achieve a happy and healthy gut are:
1. Limiting stress-inducing factors: Stress levels can have a direct impact on gut health. Finding an outlet to relieve stress and adding healthy activities to the day, such as walking, exercising, playing, and meditating, is the first step to managing stress.
2. Eating slowly and staying hydrated: Eating slowly and chewing well helps the gut in the digestion process. Drinking plenty of water and fluids prevents constipation and can also eliminate some gastrointestinal infections.
3. Taking probiotics to boost the growth of good bacteria: Probiotic foods and supplements may restore the composition of the gut microbiome resulting in preventing gut inflammation and other intestinal diseases.
4. Limit alcohol intake: Drinking too much alcohol is also associated with intestinal inflammation, which is a sign of an unhealthy gut. Such inflammation can lead to heartburn, chronic discomfort, ulcers, and bacterial infections.
5. Understand intolerance of foods: Food intolerance is a wide range of adverse reactions to foods. Different people can get affected by various types of food and experience stomach pain, bloating, gas/flatulence, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), rashes, and more. To keep a healthy gut, people must be aware of what foods suit them.
Understanding the common causes of gut disorders can help in the prevention of many issues. Things like high-stress levels, lack of proper sleep, taking too many antibiotics, and eating an improper diet rich in processed and high-sugar foods have a negative impact on gut health. This in turn affects the immune function, weight, and hormone levels of the body increasing the risk of developing other diseases. Therefore, taking active steps to maintain a healthy gut is important and often leads to many more benefits such as a strong immune system, heart health, improved mood and focus, healthy sleep, and effective digestion.
The author is a Senior Consultant – Medical Gastroenterology, Manipal Hospitals, Patiala