How your gut controls your mental and physical health

The foundation of your health and well-being is not your heart, lungs or brain. It’s your gut.

  • Chew on this: 70% of your immune system is in your stomach.

Why it matters: You are what you eat. And a healthy gut prevents your body – and mind – from getting sick.

  1. Your immune system: Healthy gut is full of immune cells and good bacteria that fight viruses, fungi and bad bacteria. And an unhealthy gut can lead to infections – and even hinder the body’s ability to fight cancer.
  2. Your mental health: Believe it or not, your gut has as many nerves as the spinal cord – and a direct connection to the brain. This means that eating poorly can cause anxiety and depression, and vice versa – deteriorating mental health can lead to unhealthy bowel movements.
  3. Your strength: Intestinal problems – and a weakened immune system – can lead to inflammation, damage to joints and muscles.

Think of the gut as another brain, say doctors.

  • Millions of gut bacteria not only extract nutrients from your food and return them to your body, but your nerve endings talk to your brain and hormones to control your mind and well-being.

So how can you treat your gut properly?

Look at what and when you eat. Keep the good bacteria in your gut healthy and active with a varied diet full of fiber, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein and spices. Avoid overpriced foods such as potato chips and soda.

  • Your gut runs at a biological clock, and eating at regular intervals each day maximizes digestion, says David Heber, MD and director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

Add probiotics to your diet. The best thing you can eat for your gut is unpasteurized yogurt, says Heber. It not only brings its own helpful bacteria into your body but also supports existing good bacteria.

  • Fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi are also valuable for the gut.

Get enough sleep. Your gut needs rest.

Get some exercise. Mobility is the key to bowel function and it comes from being active and moving.

If you are looking for supplements, Healthline delved deep into the leading nutritionist-tested probiotics that stop gas and bloating and boost immune health, assessing them by price, shelf life and efficacy.

If you can afford it, Practical medicine is a growing field and several doctors offer detailed tests on your gut and then specific steps to improve your health.

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Axios Finish Line, the new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package. Sign up here for free.

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