Why Healing Your Gut Can Change Your Life
As you forge through all of life’s challenges big and small (all the while taking control of your work, your health, your family, and your relationships), consider this: You may be neglecting to take charge of one of the most important facets of your overall well-being and happiness—your microbiome.
Sure, by now you’ve likely heard of the microbiome, the living ecosystem of bacteria (Trillions of them!) living in and on your body, and maybe you’re even aware of some of the myriad benefits mighty microbes can have on your health. But did you know that a thriving microbiome teeming with beneficial bacteria is one of the most important keys to a balanced and fulfilled life?
Your gut health is about way more than just digestion.
Indeed, the friendly flora that reside in your gut, in your mouth, on your skin, and in various other niches throughout your body can put you on the fast track to your most productive, accomplished, and satisfied life ever. Intrigued? The probiotics in your microbiome make you unstoppable from head to toe by:
1. Supporting a healthy immune system.
A massive 80 percent of your immune system is situated in your gut, right where the bulk of your beneficial bacteria—aka probiotics—also live. Interestingly, their choice of home isn’t coincidental; these mighty microbes are key players in your immune development and function. By protecting your gut barrier (the nightclub bouncer of your gut that selectively lets the good stuff in while keeping the bad out), crowding out and killing harmful bacteria, and teaching your immune system how to respond to various stimuli (as in no to allergic reactions, yes to fighting infections), the good bacteria in your gut work hard to make sure your immune function is in tiptop shape.
What does this mean for you? Well, when your immune system is cranking along, protecting you from foes and welcoming friends in, you can really put the pedal to the metal and go after your dreams. Fewer sick days and more time to enjoy life and be productive. What’s better than that?
2. Giving you a natural energy boost.
There’s no doubt that to be able to consistently work toward your professional and personal life goals, you need to have ample energy. But with jam-packed schedules, endless deadlines, and little time to relax in today’s on-the-go culture, many people rely on caffeine and energy drinks to stay ahead of the game. Fortunately, your good gut bacteria can help you maintain your day-to-day energy levels naturally—sans chemicals and synthetic boosters that inevitably lead to an energy crash and burn.
How do they work? First and foremost, your probiotics help to break down and digest all the food you eat so you can assimilate the nutrients you need to feel great. In fact, without enough of the good guys to fully digest your food, that healthy salad you had for lunch may be nothing more than a beautiful digestive cleanser. What’s more, some probiotics even produce their own energy-boosting B vitamins! Your friendly flora also work with your own body’s cells to help keep your blood sugar balanced, so you don’t experience the roller coaster of energy levels that can make you feel like you’re either bouncing off the walls or swimming through molasses.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention sleep, because we all know how a lack of sleep can negatively affect our energy levels and well-being. Fortunately, beneficial bacteria produce and regulate important neurotransmitters and amino acids (like serotonin and tryptophan) that help you get the quality sleep you need to recharge and feel your best.
3. Helping you find (and maintain) your ideal weight.
If you’re above the age of 13, chances are you’ve struggled with your weight at some point in your life. Maybe you’re underweight and strive to put on a few pounds, or perhaps you feel like you’re always trying to lose that "freshman 15" from 20 years ago! Either way, not being at your ideal weight (which is different for each and every person) can affect your energy levels, your mood, your hormones, your cognitive function, and even your immunity.
Where does your microbiome fit in? Remarkably, your friendly flora support your metabolism and a healthy weight by producing enzymes that help you digest food and absorb nutrients (so you don’t overeat and aren’t malnourished), regulating your blood sugar levels so you aren’t constantly searching for that next sugar fix and increasing the hormones that tell your brain when you’re full.
If you can get to that weight that is perfect for your unique frame, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying all the benefits of a performance-ready body and mind that are primed to tackle whatever comes your way.
4. Sharpening your focus.
Goodbye, brain fog; hello, clarity! If you’re wondering how the bacteria in your digestive tract could possibly be connected to your mind, it’s time to meet your "second brain," the gut. You see, the probiotics in your gut communicate with your brain via the vagus nerve, which runs from your noggin all the way into your abdomen. The good news is that a lot of this communication flows up—beneficial bacteria send mind-boosting chemicals and messages to the brain that improve your memory and cognitive function.
Alternatively, a gut that isn’t fortified by billions of probiotics can get out of balance and overrun with yeast and bad bacteria, which produce chemicals and by-products that are directly toxic to the brain—leading to brain fog and memory problems that affect every aspect of your professional and personal life. And remember that warrior gut barrier? If you don’t have enough of the good guys standing guard, the barrier can become "leaky" and allow toxins into your bloodstream that negatively affect your brain.
Focusing on the health of your gut microbiome can help ensure that your brain is getting all the communication it needs to support you in all your endeavors.
5. Boosting your mood and enhancing your well-being.
The brain benefits of a healthy gut don’t stop at improving memory and focus; one of the most important (and probably overlooked) benefits of a healthy microbiome is a balanced mood. So many of us spend our days and nights running from activity to activity, moving from task to task, neglecting to take the time to unplug and recharge. The result? Burnout, which can quickly lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and a host of other health issues that can derail a productive, happy, joy-filled life.
Once again, enter the mighty gut. Because your gut and brain are inextricably linked, a disruption in either one has the capacity to seriously affect the other. Case in point: Your gut bacteria produce more than 90 percent of all the serotonin (the "happy" chemical that plays a role in everything from mood and appetite to sleep) in your body! And that’s not all—probiotics can also lower cortisol (the "stress" hormone) levels, quell anxiety, decrease depression, and even lower levels of inflammation that seem to be at the root of most emotional and physical health challenges.
When it comes to living your happiest life, staying positive may just be the key to realizing all your goals. A healthy population of good gut bacteria will keep your mood on the up and up!
6. Supporting a glowing complexion.
When your gut is able to both absorb nutrients—thanks to your friendly bacteria—and get rid of toxins and chemicals, your whole body is better for it, and your skin is no exception. On the other hand, when you’re lacking the numbers of good microbes in your gut that you need to effectively keep your digestion moving along, one of the first places issues will materialize is on your skin.
Fungus, yeast, and bad bacteria can all start to take over an unbalanced microbiome, leading to chronic, systemwide inflammation and showing up as acne, redness, irritation, dry patches, fine lines, and even premature aging—leaving you wanting to hide your face in a corner rather than charge forward with confidence.
But here’s the thing: It’s not all about the gut. Your skin also has its own unique microbiome that plays a huge role in a healthy complexion. Not only do good bacteria in your dermal layers discourage the growth of nasty bacteria that can cause problems, but they produce substances like hyaluronic acid (found in many fancy skin creams) that plumps and moisturizes skin, and ceramide that strengthens and firms the skin barrier. Probiotic facial, anyone?
Healthy skin and a glowing complexion really do start from the inside out!
7. Giving you a radiant smile.
Did you know that your mouth has a microbiome as well? It certainly does, and the beneficial bacteria that take up residence in your oral cavity are not only your immune system’s first line of defense, but they have enormous effects on the health of your teeth, gums, and even your breath. Harmful bacteria are often at the root (Pun intended!) of cavities, gum disease, and other dental issues that can affect one of your most beautiful assets: your smile.
You see, the friendly flora in your mouth keep everything balanced, crowding out and attacking the bad guys that can lead to plaque formation, decay, and inflamed gums. But, when your mouth is fortified with plenty of the good guys, your healthy teeth and gums will give you the confidence to project your smile to the world, which (by the way) has plenty of health benefits of its own!
Research shows that smiling can improve your mood, lower your stress response, increase your productivity, and make you more creative—and flashing those bacteria-boosted pearly whites can even make you seem more approachable and trustworthy to others. Now that’s a win-win!
Jamie Morea is a microbiome expert, gut health evangelist, and co-founder of the probiotic company, Hyperbiotics. She has been working in microbiology research and development for the past ten years and is devoted to making a difference by leveraging the latest scientific research to educate, inspire, and empower individuals on their journey toward greater health.