So, what’s all the fuss about and what do you really need to know if you want to be healthy and happy now, and in the future?
It’s as simple, and as complex, as this: what you eat, as well as how you respond to stress, or even sleep, may all be linked not only to a healthy gut but to whole body and mind health.
Scientists now believe that your gut microbiome (the millions of microorganisms that live in your intestinal tract) is crucial to your immunity, heart health, brain health and mood.
It may even be important in preventing some cancers and autoimmune diseases, they say.
While it may seem like a long leap, there is a logical explanation: an unhealthy gut can lead to increased inflammation in the body, something that can play havoc with your health.
Of course, how your gut and your mind and body are linked is also more complicated, and is slowly being uncovered by researchers internationally.
Your gut microbiome
There are many factors, including genetics, that influence the type and number of bacteria in your gut, but it is considered healthy when there is a balance of good and bad bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms.
Digestive symptoms including gas and bloating as well as skin irritations or constant fatigue may all be signs your gut health is not up to par.
The good news: you can improve how your gut functions with some simple, lifestyle habits.
How your gut affects your mood
Scientists continue to be fascinated by the communication between your central nervous system and your gut microbiota, something they refer to as the gut-brain-axis.
A healthy gut is believed to be essential for normal, central nervous system function, while dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) and inflammation of the gut have been linked to mental health conditions including anxiety, depression and even memory loss.
One, 30-day study found healthy volunteers given probiotics showed reduced levels of the inflammatory hormone cortisol, and improved mental health to a similar extent to volunteers given a common anti-anxiety medication.
In Australia, The Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, is undertaking research into how what we eat influences our brain, mood and mental health.
The enemies of gut health
A lifestyle of too little vegetables and fruit, too much alcohol and not enough exercise can disrupt equilibrium, leading to metabolic and immune system issues, according to a study on Probiotics and Prebiotics in Australian Adults published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements.
Chronic stress, which promotes production of the inflammatory hormone cortisol, and a course of antibiotics can also lead to a dysbiotic state with increased intestinal permeability and leaky gut syndrome.
How to boost gut health
Stress less: Chronic stress is hard on your gut. If you find that you are not coping with stress, try a relaxation or meditation technique. Insight Timer includes thousands of free five, 10, 15 minute and more, guided meditations.
Drink more water: The mucosal lining of your intestines needs to be hydrated to function properly. Try increasing water intake with an extra glass in when you wake, or before or after you have a tea, coffee, or a meal.
Early to bed: An average of eight hours of sleep a night is recommended for gut and general health. If you have difficulty sleeping, talk to your general practitioner.
Chew well: Eating more slowly assists the health of your digestive system. Ideally, try to chew every mouthful 21 times, or put your knife and fork down between bites.
Take a daily prebiotic or probiotic: It’s excellent insurance. Buy quality supplements, and vary what you buy each time, to get a wide range of healthy bacteria.
Don’t eat junk, especially sugar: Your microbiome loves high-fibre, plant-based, natural foods. It also benefits from garlic and onion, fermented foods such as yoghurt, cheese, kefir, and kombucha and foods such as bone broth, mushrooms and salmon that boost collagen production. By contrast, bad bugs love sugar. If you need help, see a dietitian.