While digestive issues affect people from all walks of life, women are more likely to suffer from poor gut health symptoms. These symptoms can lead to broader health issues down the line, from mental illness to chronic disease. Improving digestive health can reduce or eliminate an unhealthy microbiome’s symptoms and lead to a longer and healthier life overall.
What Is Gut Health?
The gastrointestinal tract is one of the most important parts of the human body. From transporting food to the stomach, converting it into nutrients and energy, and removing waste, it is continuously working to keep you healthy. If you don’t take care of it, you’ll run into all kinds of problems.
On top of the gastrointestinal system’s apparent activities, scientists have discovered that it plays an even more central and complex role than previously thought. Your gut health is involved in many of the body’s systems through something called the microbiome. The microbiome comprises all of the bacteria and organisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract and help your body process the foods we eat.
The microbiome can affect your immune system, susceptibility to chronic disease, and even mental health. Although research into the microbiome is still in its beginning stages, studies have already determined that we can improve (or worsen) our gut health through the choices we make about food, activity, and environment.
Why Does Gut Health Even Matter?
While no two microbiomes are alike, there are a few universal signs of a healthy gut. If the bacteria in your microbiome are diverse and well balanced, you’re likely to suffer less from disease and illness. Unhealthy people have significantly less diversity in their microbiome and tend to have more of the disease’s bacteria.
Everybody has both good and bad bacteria in their gut. When your system is healthy, they balance each other out. However, sometimes things become unbalanced, and you have more of the unhealthy kinds of bacteria. This can lead to all types of issues, both physical and mental. If you have too many inflammatory bacteria, it can spread inflammation to the rest of your body.
Your microbiome can also show indicators of other conditions. Specific bacteria have been linked to all kinds of diseases, not just those causing gastrointestinal distress. Certain bacteria in your microbiome can contribute to reduced immune system function, higher risk of asthma, and chronic illnesses like diabetes, and even some types of cancer.
A healthy gut also contributes to a healthy mental outlook. Some bacteria in the microbiome are associated with anxiety, depression, and even more severe neurological conditions like schizophrenia and dementia.
What Impacts Your Gut Health?
While the food we eat naturally impacts our gut health, you may be surprised to learn that your microbiome is affected by many factors. Even your birth affects the future bacterial health of your gut. Babies born via cesarean section tend to have less diverse microbiomes than their vaginal birth counterparts because the latter is exposed to more varied bacteria as they pass through the birth canal.
The germs and bacteria you encounter as a child (and in this case, more is better to a certain extent) can shape and strengthen the microbiome you have as an adult. That’s why it’s important to let children play outside and get a little dirty.
Your gut health is also impacted by emotional stress. Have you ever gotten a stomachache when you’re stressed out? Through the “gut-brain axis,” signals from your brain can influence your brain’s microbiome, and your gut can affect your brain’s neurotransmitters.
It’s also important to be aware of the role of medications on your microbiome. Your gastrointestinal system is highly complex. Studies have shown that your microbiome can be changed by over-the-counter medications and even medications prescribed by a doctor to treat unrelated conditions. Antibiotics are one of the most well-known culprits. Their job is to wipe out harmful bacteria, but in doing so, they also kill bacteria in your microbiome.
Is Digestive Health a Women’s Health Issue?
Women are disproportionally affected by digestive health problems. Gastrointestinal stress affects twice as many women as men, and women are more likely to have other factors that can complicate and agitate their gut health.
Because gastrointestinal stress (which can take many forms like diarrhea, bloating, and fatigue) is not considered a disease but a “functional condition,” it is often taken less seriously by the medical community. Despite that, these symptoms can make functioning normally difficult and can lead to disease down the line.
Digestive problems frequently mean our body isn’t absorbing the nutrients we need for good health the way it should. This means they can also lead to nutritional deficiencies. When you are nutritionally deficient (even if you’re eating foods with nutrients), you’re at a higher risk of suffering from a chronic disease.
As a result, taking care of your gut health, especially for women, is one of the most important things you can do for your overall wellbeing. Not only will it reduce or eliminate the unpleasant symptoms of gastrointestinal stress, but it will also support your long-term health and longevity. There are simple steps that you can take to facilitate a healthy biome and overall gut health.
Tips for Improving Digestive Health
Especially for women, improving digestive health is essential. Here are some of the easiest ways to focus on your gut and make an impact on your health overall.
Make Sure You’re Taking Basic Health Steps
Taking care of your body on a fundamental level is often enough to begin improving your gut health. You don’t necessarily need to make drastic changes. Simple things, like getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and exercise, have been shown to improve your gastrointestinal tract’s health.
Along those lines, minimizing harmful habits also preserves your microbiome. Smoking cigarettes or drinking too much alcohol, for example, are two habits we know cause harm to other parts of the body, but they also impact your gut bacteria’s health for the worse.
Switch Up Your Diet
Poor dietary choices play a huge role in causing gastrointestinal distress. Choosing foods that are high in fiber and nutrients, but low in saturated fats and processed ingredients will go a long way towards improving your gut health. Eat less dairy, red meat, and refined sugars.
You don’t need to change your diet overnight. Switching immediately to a high-fiber diet can cause bloating. A more sustainable approach is to gradually cut out problem foods and replace them with healthier options.
One great way to keep track of how the foods you eat impact your overall health is to keep a food diary. You can use it to track how much fiber you’re eating and to note down any symptoms you experience related to your food. This can help you identify the foods that make you feel good and the foods that cause you distress.
Manage Your Stress Levels
We know that stress plays a role in our gut health. Too much stress can cause diarrhea, stomach ulcers, and IBS, among other things. Constant stress puts your body in a long-term state of fight-or-flight, which tells your body not to focus on digestion and diverts blood and energy away from your digestive system.
Learning how to manage your stress has been shown to improve gut health. This can take many different forms, from meditation to yoga. The most important thing is to find the stress management tool that works best for you. As an added bonus, reducing stress will help your mental health and wellbeing, not just your gut health!
The microbiome plays a pivotal role in maintaining both physical and mental health, and women are disproportionately affected by poor gut health. There are steps you can take right now to reduce gastrointestinal distress symptoms and contribute towards living a longer, healthier life.