December 19, 2023 8 min read

In this article

    When you think about gut health, what is the first thought that comes to mind? Most people associate a healthy gut with proper digestion, and the connection with bodily processes stops there. However, the gut determines much more than just the functioning of the digestive system; it can disrupt or improve almost every aspect of our health and well-being.

    Think of the gut as a powerful, potent environment where the “bad” and the “good” bacteria wage a never-ending war. Every victory and loss can be felt significantly and impact our mood, weight, sleep, immune system, and mental clarity. Luckily, specific lifestyle alterations, supplements, and foods can tip the scale in our favor and support the proliferation of the good, beneficial bacteria in the microbiome. This is quite an important decision to make in the cold winter months when we're more susceptible to different viruses and bacteria, and we need our immune power on its A-game.

    In this comprehensive guide, we'll look at the important mechanisms of the gut, the undeniable benefits of a balanced gut microbiome, and the natural supplements, lifestyle choices, and foods that can improve your gut health.

    The Power of a Healthy Gut Microbiome During Winter

    The Importance of Gut Health

    The gut microbiome may not be the buzzing topic when it comes to our health during cold months, but it is certainly something we should prioritize. Microbiome diversity is one of the prerequisites of optimal health, as it is the microbiota that aids in the synthesis of some vitamins and amino acids, aids in breaking down toxic elements, and supports immune functions.[1]

    The microbiome hosts a vast number of microorganisms (trillions of them!), often referred to as microbes or microbiota. These microorganisms include viruses, parasites, fungi, and, most of all, bacteria. However, it isn’t as bad as it sounds, as not all these microbes are enemies to our well-being. 

    In fact, in a healthy microbiome, the microbiota lives in a harmonious environment, and each of these species is a piece of the puzzle that we know as a healthy gut. This system of co-dependent microorganisms is so important and involved in essential bodily processes that it is often recognized as an organ.[1]

    What essentially determines the landscape of our microbiome is our DNA. However, this initial composition of the microbiome starts being diversified the moment we, as infants, become exposed to the outside world. Throughout our lives, we are in the power of nurturing and multiplying the good, symbiotic microbiota, all while kicking the bad, pathogenic microorganisms to the curb.[1]

    Nutrient Synthesis

    As we mentioned, one of the primary roles of the microbiota is synthesizing certain nutrients. The bacteria found in the gut is responsible for producing vitamin B12, and these important enzymes for this production cannot be found in other sources.[1]

    Digestive enzymes found in the microbiome are responsible for breaking down complex compounds such as sugars. On the other hand, harmful pathogenic microorganisms invading our bodies will also be processed and discarded by a healthy microbiome.[1] 

    Immune System

    Gut Health and Immunity

    Speaking of protective mechanisms of the gut, certain bacteria families inhibiting the gut are very active in inhibiting the growth of the harmful bacteria. In addition, these bacteria prevent the intrusive microorganisms from attaching to the mucus membranes, which is crucial in immune function. The mucus membranes represent the main location for antimicrobial protein production and the “headquarters” of immune activity.[1]

    Needless to say, our immune power needs an extra boost in cold weather. Flus, colds, and respiratory issues seem much more frequent, when viruses are able to transmit easily from person to person. The dry winter air isn’t favorable either, as it tends to contribute to these conditions.[2]

    Mental Health

    The gut-brain axis has been researched in detail, revealing how “having a gut feeling” is more than just an expression. It’s no wonder that certain people manifest stress through nausea or digestive discomfort, as the gut is quite vulnerable when it comes to feeling and processing powerful emotions.[3]

    Everything we think and feel can directly affect the stomach. Just thinking about certain actions, such as our favorite foods, can make our stomach rumble. However, the connection between the brain and the gut isn’t unilateral, as the stomach can also send signals to the brain. If the balance of your gut microbiota is disrupted in any way, this can be the root cause of certain mood issues, including stress, anxiety, and even depressive moods.[3] Therefore, it is safe to conclude that gut health, brain functions, and emotional stability are interconnected. 

    Another factor that favors the close relationship between the gut and the brain is that approximately 95% of the serotonin in the body is produced in the gut. Therefore, gut issues could jeopardize the production of serotonin - the happy hormone.[4]

    Weight Management

    Gut Health and Weight Management

    When it comes to weight management, this is a burning topic year-round, especially around the holidays when we tend to indulge a bit more, and the colder weather makes it harder to get outside and stay active. While we already know that lifestyle changes, exercise, and a steady calorie deficit lead to weight loss, some people find it harder to lose weight than others. Is it just the genetic predisposition that determines how we’ll lose weight, or do other factors play a role in this process, as well?

    Maintaining an optimal body weight is closely related to a balance in gut hormones. Gut hormones may not directly affect the weight-loss/weight-gain process, but they will impact our eating habits, especially our appetite. Certain gut hormones may suppress the appetite, while others, such as ghrelin, may increase it. For instance, one of the objectives of vertical sleeve gastrectomy (a weight-loss procedure that removes a part of the stomach to limit food intake) is to curb the appetite - and it has been shown to do so by lowering the levels of ghrelin.[5]

    It is also important to mention that the composition and diversity of your gut microbiota may significantly affect your weight loss process. A healthy gut represents a solid foundation for weight loss, in addition to physical activity and a balanced diet.[5] 

    Beneficial Habits to Improve Gut Health

    Now that we’ve established that our gut microbiota composition influences mood levels, cognitive functions, digestion, weight, and immunity, it’s time to shift focus to gut health improvement strategies. 

    Simple everyday habits such as increasing your step count, staying hydrated, and choosing healthier food alternatives can make a difference in your well-being - and gut health is no exception. If you manage to stay on top of your supplement intake and optimize your lifestyle - even better! 

    Eat Fermented Foods

    Fermented Foods

    It is no myth: fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and miso have been found to diversify the bacteria range in your gut. Fermented foods contain good bacteria that aid digestion, mood regulation, and blood sugar management.[6

    Therefore, a diet rich in fermented foods and low in processed ingredients containing saturated fat, added sugars, and trans-fat is recommended for a healthy, happy gut. If you’re interested in the effects of intermittent fasting on your digestive health, you can discover more about their correlation here

    Stress Management

    Stress is a proven gut enemy, as it has been shown to increase gut permeability. This means that poor stress management can lead to injuries in the gut lining, allowing bacteria from the gut to leak into the bloodstream, leading to inflammation in the body. 

    Continuous and severe injuries to the gut lining may result in a condition known as leaky gut, which can be unpleasant and trigger many accompanying health issues.[7] 

    Physical Activity

    While on the topic of stress management, it is no secret that regular physical activity, whether it be resistance training, yoga, or simply your daily “hot girl walks”, prompts our bodies to release endorphins, significantly improving mood levels. 

    The benefits of working out go beyond improving our self-esteem, as physical activity may also promote the growth of good bacteria in the microbiome, especially the specific bacteria families related to brain functions and mental health.[8]

    Supplements for Good Gut Health

    Oftentimes, we simply cannot obtain enough nutrients from our diet, which is where supplements come to the rescue. In addition to a balanced, nutrient-dense diet and a preferred physical activity that should become a crucial part of your weekly routine, here are some all-natural supplements you can include to optimize your happy-gut routine.

    Collagen Peptides

    Collagen Peptides

    Collagen is the key structural protein in the body. Collagen also plays a vital role in the strength and structure of the gut lining. We’ve already mentioned that stress and many other factors can injure the gut lining, allowing the bacteria to escape and cause havoc in the body. Therefore, supplementing with quality collagen peptides can shield the gut lining and aid in repairing smaller structural injuries before they become an issue.[9]

    Probiotics

    It is impossible to talk about gut health without touching upon probiotics. Probiotic supplements contain live bacteria and yeast that can support the function of the good microbes in the gut while limiting the activity of the harmful ones.[10]

    Prebiotics

    Torn between a probiotic and a prebiotic supplement, or maybe you aren’t sure of the difference between the two? While probiotics are live microbes, probiotics are essentially food for the microorganisms found in the microbiome. Supplementing with prebiotics can improve the growth of these beneficial microbes, supporting the overall balance of the microbiota.[11]

    Liposomal Vitamin C

    Liposomal Vitamin C

    We already know that vitamin C is a must in the winter supplement stack, but did you know it plays a significant role in a diverse microbiome? Vitamin C positively affects the metabolic activity of the gut and its composition while also supporting the functions of the intestinal barrier and the immune system.[12

    Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to immune function, cognitive health, and mental health due to their positive impact on gut microbiota diversity. They are even considered prebiotics, as they provide the necessary nutrients for the gut microorganisms, supporting their expansion.[13]

    In Conclusion

    Poor gut health is often linked to digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. What's more, an unhealthy gut may lead to low mood levels, lack of energy, brain fog, and even obstacles in weight management. Nurturing the gut flora and curbing the growth of bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal system is an essential topic year-round, but more so in cold winter months, when we're at a higher risk of bacterial and viral infections. 

    Eating foods rich in compounds that support healthy bacteria growth instead of basing your diet on processed food packed with artificial sweeteners is one of the most important New Year's resolutions you could make. Add getting enough sleep, staying active, and managing stress to the list while remaining consistent with your supplementation, and you're bound to see improvements in your overall well-being.

    References:

    1. Harvard School of Public Health. “The Microbiome.” The Nutrition Source, 4 Sept. 2019, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/.
    2. Winter Illness Guide.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/winter-illness-guide.
    3. The Gut-Brain Connection - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 19 Apr. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.
    4. Appleton J. (2018). The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 17(4), 28–32.
    5. Anna Gora. “Is There a Link between Gut Health and Weight Loss?” Livescience.com, 20 Sept. 2022, www.livescience.com/gut-health-and-weight-loss.
    6. 8 Fermented Foods You Should Be Eating for Good Gut Health.” Health, www.health.com/fermented-foods-7970958#:~:text=Eating%20fermented%20foods%20can%20help. Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.
    7. Madison, A., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2019). Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition.Current opinion in behavioral sciences, 28, 105–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011
    8. How Are Exercise and Gut Health Related?” Www.nutritionnews.abbott, www.nutritionnews.abbott/healthy-living/active-lifestyle/how-are-exercise-and-gut-health-related-/#:~:text=Other%20research%20suggests%20moderate%20endurance. Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.
    9. Chen, Q., Chen, O., Martins, I. M., Hou, H., Zhao, X., Blumberg, J. B., & Li, B. (2017). Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions. Food & function, 8(3), 1144–1151. https://doi.org/10.1039/c6fo01347c
    10. What Are Probiotics & What Do They Do?” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/14598-probiotics.
    11. Zeratsky, Katherine. “Probiotics and Prebiotics: What You Should Know.” Mayo Clinic, 2 July 2022, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065.
    12. Li, Xinyu, et al. “Regulation of Gut Microbiota by Vitamin C, Vitamin E and β-Carotene.” Food Research International, vol. 169, 1 July 2023, pp. 112749–112749, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2023.112749. Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.
    13. Costantini, L., Molinari, R., Farinon, B., & Merendino, N. (2017). Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(12), 2645. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18122645



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