What does “gut health” even mean?

It feels like the topic of gut health has been everywhere lately. It has arguably become the most popular nutrition & wellness trend. You may have heard terms such as microbiota, prebiotics, probiotics…. The list goes on. So, what is all the hype about, is there any truth to it? Our registered dietitians at New Leaf are currently creating a multi-part course on popular topics related to gut health. Our goal is to present the most recent evidence to best educate & inform our participants – so they can make the best choices when it comes to their health, because feeling good is what it is all about! That being said, let’s jump into a brief introduction on defining the gut, its purpose & why you should care.  

The microbiome – that buzz word everyone is talking about because it can change our health and how our brain works – is located partially in the stomach & small intestine, but mainly in the large intestine, which is also called the colon. A microbiome is simply the home where microbes reside. What are microbes? Those are a collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi & their genes that reside in the microbiome, and there are trillions of them that do all sorts of cool & interesting things.   

It may be lesser known that the GI tract also contains a nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is in the lining of our digestive system.  While we are unable to “think,” with our ENS – if you have ever experienced “butterflies in your stomach,” or “gone with your gut,” odds are you are using the ENS. It has even been referred to as our “second brain,” with over 100 million nerve cells lining our digestive tract. While the main role of the ENS is to manage digestion, we are now learning of its capability to communicate with the brain – you may have heard it referred to as the “gut-brain connection,” and there is TONS of exciting new evidence emerging on its potential capabilities, like decreasing food cravings, significantly improving mental health, and reducing the likelihood of brain-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.  

So, why should you care about all this? The short answer is – the more we know & understand about our bodies- the better choices we can make to stay heathy & feel good! All the amazing research being conducted on the gut-brain connection can potentially help us better manage & even prevent mental illness through lifestyle choices. There is also exciting research being done on the connection of gut health and chronic disease such as Parkinson’s, heart disease, and even autism. There is so much interesting & valuable research being done on gut health that it makes it hard for us to limit our course to only six hours!  

We are so excited to explore more of this with you all in our course!! 

-Alex Grbcich, MS, RD, LD, CPT

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