Gut Health For Men

gut health for men

We’re talking about an important and often overlooked topic, and that is gut health, and in the context of this blog, more specifically gut health in men.

Gut health is a fairly broad term that encompasses a lot of things so I’ll try and give you a simplified and broad, yet still thorough rundown.

And please note my standard reminder. I am providing information that is publicly available and the sources I am using are included. None of this should be taken as medical advice, and you should speak to a qualified medical professional for any specific questions around this.

Now with that out of the way, let’s look at the gut and its role in your health.

What Is The Gut?

The gut is technically more of a system than one specific organ and is more of a system.

The gut can refer to the entire gastrointestinal (GI) or digestive tract.

That starts from the pharynx, at the back of your mouth, all the way down through to your anus (not the planet!).

So, first of all, what is the gut? The gut isn’t one specific organ, but it’s more of a system in your body and generally covers the lower part of your gastrointestinal tract or GI tract or digestive tract.

The full digestive tract encompasses the oesophagus, the stomach and the intestines. To give you a brief idea of what each of those parts does in absolute basic terms:

  • The oesophagus is your food pipe that leads into your stomach
  • Your stomach breaks down food with hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes
  • The small intestine absorbs nutrients from food
  • The large intestine absorbs water, and salts and expels the remaining waste.

For the sake of transparency, I took most of that information from Wikipedia, and yes, if you are listening to the podcast version, I messed up a bit of the explanation here as the gut by most definitions just focuses on the intestines.

Sorry about that.

But in short, the gut’s role is to extract nutrients and energy from what we eat and drink and expel waste.

Why Is Gut Health Important?

The gut has often been called the second brain. In fact, there is even a book called The Second Brain, which talks about the gut and digestive health (and no I haven’t read it so this isn’t an endorsement).

It played a huge role in immune function and most of the body’s mood-regulating hormones are also produced in the gut.

Plus given that most of your nutrients are extracted from food in your gut, if that isn’t working properly that can lead to a number of other health issues.

Good Bacteria And Gut Biome

I want to talk about the term good bacteria and gut biome.

We keep hearing the term good bacteria, and that comes into play here.

The gut biome is the microorganisms that are found in the intestines, and there are thought to be over 1,000 species.

It’s also estimated that there are over 40 trillion bacterial cells in the human body as a whole (not just in the gut), which is more than the number of human cells you have.

The bacteria in your gut or your gut biome break down food, supply the gut with energy, produce vitamins, fight toxins and protect against pathogens.

One article I found also suggests the gut can play a part in helping to train the immune system. It is more exposed to microbes so the immune system can start to learn which ones are beneficial and which ones aren’t.

Fibre And Gut Health

Fibre does play a role in gut health and does get talked about frequently. Fibre, in short, is a form of carbohydrate that your body doesn’t digest. It helps food pass through your system, supports gut bacteria, and has other benefits around weight management, blood sugar management, and blood pressure.

I have talked before about fibre and how diet can impact mental health.

Is Gut Health For Men Different From Gut Health For Women?

Just before I dive into this one, I would like to point out that this topic is way out of my league in terms of any notion of qualifications or expertise. I just did some reading, am sharing that information with you, and quoting my sources.

As I mentioned before – speak to a doctor for any specific questions.

In terms of the difference in gut health between men and women, I did find one article that mentions that the gut microbiome can differ between men and women and a key driver of that is the impact of different testosterone and estrogen levels.

Just to emphasise again, I can’t claim this to be a scientific fact but I have linked the source above.

I did also find another article that referred to the fact that the X chromosome is thought to carry more immune-related genes.

If you’re not familiar with genetics or biology, females have an XX chromosome and males have an XY chromosome. X and Y are the 2 human sex-determining chromosomes and if you are curious, have a look at Wikipedia.

So as females are born with an XX chromosome pair, they are likely to have more immune cells and show a stronger immune response to pathogens. This can also lead to an increased risk of auto-immune disorders (where the body attacks its own cells), such as multiple sclerosis and coeliac disease.

So while there is some research that does seem to suggest in differences between male and female gut health, it can also be something that is very specific to each individual.

ALso, a lot of the things that you can generally do for gut health apply regardless of sex or gender.

Gut Health And Weight

A 2014 article by Scientific American did refer to gut bacteria impacting weight, and the idea that it can impact how we store fat, blood glucose levels, and production of hunger and satiety hormones.

I’ve also seen references to studies that note that leaner people tend to have a greater diversity of bacteria in their gut. I didn’t find from either study confirmation on whether they were leaner because of greater diversity of bacteria or if there was greater diversity of bacteria because they were leaner though.

One study also took the gut biome from a pair of twins, one lean and one obese and transferred these to mice.

The mice which got the bacteria from the obese twin gained more weight than the mice that got the bacteria from the lean twin while following the same diet.

Of course that is in mice and they have very different biology to humans – but scientific studies of this kind seem to typically start in mice.

It’s also important to consider overall health. I mentioned already about gut health impacting mood regulating hormones.

Poor mental health and low mood can lead to poor nutrition choices, or lack of activity or wellbeing activities, which in turn can impact weight and result in weight gain.

So there may be both a direct and an indirect link between gut health and weight.

Causes Of Gut Health Issues

There can be a lot of causes of gut health issues and will vary for everyone, but these tend to be the most common ones (in no particular order):

  • High levels of stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Diet high in processed foods
  • Antibiotics as they can kill some gut bacteria
  • Genetic factors
  • Lifestyle or lack of activity
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Smoking
  • Lack of diversity in diet
  • Food sensitivities
  • Alcohol intake

One article I read (and can’t find the link to so please feel free to treat this with scepticism) also suggested that being bottle-fed instead of breast-fed when you’re a baby can give your body fewer bacteria in the crucial early development stages.

Common Issues Caused By Poor Gut Health

We’ve looked at some of the causes of poor gut health, now let’s look at some of the issues caused to your body.

We’ve talked about weight and mood-regulating hormones already.

Other issues can include fatigue, poor sleep patterns, and digestive issues.

To be fair, given the role of your gut in nutrition and overall body function, there’s not really a cap on the number of issues that could be caused here.

There are also some gut-specific conditions to be aware of:

Other examples include:

  • Leaky gut
  • Food intolerances
  • Small intestine bacterial growth
  • Yeast infections

Signs And Symptoms Of Poor Gut Health

Given the impact of your gut on overall health, not all of these signs or symptoms are going to be gut issues but it is helpful to be aware that the gut can play a part in some of them, some of the time.

It’s something to be aware of, but nothing to make any automatic assumptions about.

And like I said before and will keep saying, please do speak to a professional if you have any concerns. I can share the information I find, but nothing online is a substitute for a qualified health practitioner.

In terms of symptoms:

  • Upset stomach
  • Digestive issues such as bloating or gas
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation or on the flipside, diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of quality sleep – this could be both a cause and a symptom
  • Dry skin or skin irritation such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Food intolerances – an article in the British Medical Journal suggested lactose intolerance can be linked to poor gut health
  • Unexplained weight changes – that could be either weight loss or weight gain
  • And even just generally inexplicably feeling a bit off or low might be coming from an issue in your gut in some cases

How To Improve Gut Health

There are a few easy day-to-day things you can do to improve your gut health.

Improving sleep hygiene is a good starting point – that refers to both quality and quantity of sleep. Things like a fairly set bedtime and wake-up time, black-out blinds, no screens for 30 minutes before bed, and something to help you unwind before sleep time are all great ideas to try out.

Meditation can work, a warm beverage, reading – something to help you disconnect from the day and get you ready for bed.

Varying your diet can also help.

Increase prebiotic fibres – legumes, oats, bananas, garlic, asparagus, apples, cocoa, and flaz seeds.

Increase your probiotics – fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha can all help here.

Supplements can help as well but it is beneficial to try to get more of your nutrition from food.

Jack Gilbert, the founder of the American Gut Project, told Men’s Health magazine that he tries to eat 20 different types of plants per week – that means fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Pretty much anything that is edible and grows out of the ground.

Managing your stress can help too. This is unique to you depending on your source of stress. But ideas can include:

  • Meditation
  • Finding a hobby
  • Regular exercise
  • Less screen time
  • Less caffeine
  • Setting boundaries
  • Regular self care
  • Work-life divide
  • I have also tried using stoicism more

You can also try moderating your intake of processed foods, alcohol, and refined sugar. That doesn’t mean they have to be eliminated but moderating intake can be helpful.

You can also consider getting tested – either a food tolerance test that can be done from a hair sample, or you can get a full gut biome test that takes a stool sample.

I haven’t used either of those before so can’t make any recommendations but the option is there.

Wrapping Up Gut Health In Men

If you have any questions about gut health, here are some helpful resources.

If you do want to get tested, please do have a look at providers and be thorough in your homework. Search Google for ‘food intolerance tests’ or ‘gut biome tests’ and you will find plenty of options available.

Gut health is so important, and so specific, and covers so many parts of your health.

If a thorough test is available to you, then I think I would recommend going down that route so at least you know the state your gut health currently is in.

Gut health depends on so many things and can manifest in so many ways. Any questions? Absolutely, 100% get specific advice from a qualified medical professional.

gut health for men

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