Listen to Your Gut

Listen to Your Gut

Publish Date February 24, 2023 4 Minute Read

The “gut” is a simplified term referring to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It’s the largest immune system organ, with about 80% of the body’s immune-producing cells living there. To support this immune functioning there are trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, living in the gut that play a key role in health. These are known as the microbiome.

The gut microbiome varies from person to person and shifts somewhat over time depending on age, genes, eating and exercise habits, environment and antibiotic use. Any one of the above factors can disrupt the gut microbiome, which in turn can promote inflammatory conditions in the gut and in other organs. Good gut health plays a role in maintaining proper functioning of many organs and systems in the body, including digestion, metabolism, and inflammation.

The Gut-lung Axis

The systems of the body rarely work alone, and instead work in close relation to one another. One example is the two-way communication between the lungs and the gut through the microbiota community. This connection is called the gut-lung axis.

More specifically, an imbalance in gut and lung microbiota (called dysbiosis) may impact immune functions and play a role in how infections, such as respiratory diseases, progress. So, a healthy gut may be one factor to fighting off an infection in the lungs….and even reduce the severity of certain respiratory illnesses.

Food Matters in Gut Health

Symptoms of an unhealthy gut microbiome are not always the same for everyone. Some common indications that gut health may be off track include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Acid reflux or heartburn

Again, the foods we choose to eat are important in determining the composition of the gut microbiome. More specifically, individuals consuming more low fat, high fiber and plant protein foods are shown to have a healthier gut. Eating enough dietary fiber, along with prebiotics and probiotics, can help improve the gut microbiome. Even small changes in someone’s diet and lifestyle can have a positive effect on gut health, and can help reduce the growth of harmful organisms, maintaining proper gut and immune function.

Fiber

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat a minimum of 25-35 grams of fiber per day from whole foods like whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa), beans, fruits and vegetables. In addition to fiber's role in digestion and satiety, fiber-rich diets may improve lung function and lower the risk of lung disorders, while also regulating the immune system. You can boost fiber intake by adding lentils or beans to soups and salads or tossing chia seeds into smoothies. Consider some simple swaps in your meals and snacks, such as substituting brown rice for white rice, or choosing a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

Probiotics

Probiotics are the live, good-for-us bacteria found in fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi and dietary supplements. Increasing probiotics introduces healthy bacteria into the gut microbiome. By doing so, this can decrease the chance of bad bacteria surviving, which may be beneficial in the treatment and reduction in symptoms of some lung diseases.

In fact, research found that a combination of 5 probiotic strains reduces symptoms of viral upper respiratory tract infections by over 27%. This probiotic combination was found to have an even greater benefit among people over age 45, particularly those who are overweight or obese.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics, found in foods like garlic, artichokes, apples and barley are a form of indigestible dietary fiber that passes through the digestive tract. In general, there’s less research on prebiotics than probiotics, and the findings on improving gut health and immunity have been mixed and limited. However, the research confirmed that prebiotics modify the bacteria in our guts in beneficial ways and feed the “friendly” bacteria in the gut. To achieve this, we recommend aiming for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, plus a minimum of 3 servings of whole grains daily.

Ready to Improve Your Gut Health?

Now that we’ve learned a little about gut health, let us support you further in your health journey with more healthy living advice. Start with one-on-one guidance and support when you meet with one of our registered dietitians for tools and recommendations on living healthier. Remember to make realistic and sustainable changes, identify the right foods, plan your meals correctly and always read food labels when planning.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider

Recipes for Gut Health

Try these dietitian-selected recipes to improve gut health.