What is my gut’s job and why is it important to keep it healthy?
Your intestinal tract and the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit it, is known as your gut microbiome. At the most basic level your gut has the simple but vital job of digesting food and absorbing nutrients. But beyond its basic role, your gut microbiome can “influence virtually all aspects of our biology.” For example, a significant portion of our immune system resides in our gut. So, the microbes that make up our gut directly effect how well our immune system functions. Additionally, our gut microbes produce a variety of small molecules that have been shown to affect metabolism and appetite. Thus, our gut’s health is important to help combat obesity, heart disease and even some types of cancer. Perhaps most impressively, according to Dr. William Chey, a professor of gastroenterology and nutritional sciences at Michigan Medicine, “the gut also influences what’s happening in the brain.” For example, some studies have linked gut health to anxiety and depression. If our microbiome can affect all aspects of our health, from our immune system to our metabolism, to our brain, then it is critically important to ensure its health.
How do I know if my gut is healthy?
According Dr Folasade May, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A., the best sign that your gut is healthy and smooth running is if your gut acts on its own quietly and with little complaint. While this may be a rather simplified answer, it is also perhaps the most helpful. For example, if you have a smooth-running gut, eating and drinking should not cause bloating or discomfort (except on rare occasions), and you should have soft, fluffy bowel movements every 1-3 days. The opposite is also true, according to Dr. May, if you have regular discomfort or pain from symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhea or acid reflux, that could be a sign that your gut is not working optimally. There are some “red flag” symptoms that should cause you to seek care immediately. These include symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, chronic abdominal pain, infrequent or painful stools or blood in your stool. These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition and it would be imperative to seek care quickly.
 Callahan, Alice. “The Wild World Inside Your Gut.” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 22, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/02/22/well/eat/gut-microbiome-health.html.