Oct 02, 2023

What Is Gut Health and How It Relates to the Whole Body

Woman with hands over belly forming a heart

Are you concerned about your gut health? If not, you might want to reconsider. Your gut, in the medical sense, doesn’t refer to any excess baggage around your waistline but rather, to the health of your digestive tract.

Sure, digestive health is important, but you might not understand just how important it is. Your gut health is directly connected to the health of your entire body, especially your brain, skin, and immunity. 

Let’s talk about gut health and how improving the health of your digestive system and gut microbiome can ramp up your health benefits

What Is Gut Health? 

Gut health refers to the health of your gastrointestinal system. More specifically, it refers to the balance of healthy bacteria (and some bad bacteria) that make up the gut microbiome. Most of these gut microbiota reside in the small intestine and large intestine

Woman in pain on toilet

What Are the Symptoms of Poor Gut Health?

There are some signs that can give you a few clues to determine if you have poor gut health. Symptoms of poor gut health often include:

  • Digestive upset (gas, bloating, constipation)
  • Food sensitivities and allergies
  • Skin issues (like dry skin, redness, irritation, and sensitivity)
  • Brain fog or feeling like you can’t focus
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unintentional weight gain or weight loss
  • Sugar cravings

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you have several of these issues, it could be a good sign that the lining of your gut is compromised, or that your gut bacteria is unbalanced. In other words, the levels of bad bacteria are more plentiful than the levels of good bacteria

Why Is Gut Health Important?

It’s not just about digestion. Having a healthy gut translates into having a healthy body. Let’s look at the ways your gut directly interacts with other bodily functions and systems. 

Supports Mental Health

Have you ever been so stressed you get a stomach ache? Or have butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous? That’s a very basic way of looking at the connection between the brain and the gut. 

The gut and the brain communicate with one another through what’s called the gut-brain axis. In fact, the gut has its own nervous system – sometimes referred to as the “second brain” – which exerts a powerful influence over the one in your head, thanks to this sophisticated neural network transmitting messages from trillions of bacteria in the gut.

It’s theorized that when this communication is broken or experiences dysfunction, we can experience dysregulation with mood. It’s also why even mild stress can weaken your immune system.

Controls Immune Function

How does the health of your immune system relate to your gut health? Consider this: between 70 and 80% of your immune cells are located in your gut. The gut is thought to be particularly involved with systemic immunity, which can help prevent infections from spreading throughout your body. 

Woman applying skin care

Promotes Skin Health

Just like the gut and brain communicate, the gut and skin also interact. The gut-skin axis is a bidirectional communication pathway, this time involving the microbes living on your skin and the microbes in your gut. 

Trouble with your skin, like consistent irritation, redness, dryness, flaking, and even breakouts, can be a direct result of compromised gut health. If you’ve tried every skincare product around to combat your skin issues with no solid results, your gut health may be to blame. 

Supports Nutrient Absorption

The nutrients in our food are broken down in the stomach and intestines, where they are absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the parts of the body that need it. Through its involvement in nutrient metabolism, the microflora in the gut shapes the biochemical profile of our diets, determining which nutrients are correctly and properly absorbed and which ones are not. 

May Influence Hormone Levels

Because the gut regularly communicates with other parts of the body on a bidirectional axis, research is now being conducted to determine if the gut has a modulatory effect on hormone levels. The research points to yes.

In early studies, researchers were able to determine that certain sex hormones played an important role in regulating the composition of the gut microbiota, and that the gut microbiota itself also influences hormone levels.

The gut is intertwined with our total body health, which means it’s important to care for it. Here, we’ll look at ways to support gut health and promote total wellness. 

How Can You Support Gut Health?

If you feel you might have some issues with your gut health, the good news is you can usually improve your gut health simply by making a few dietary and lifestyle changes. 

Eat Plenty of Probiotics and Prebiotics

Both probiotics and prebiotics are important to the gut. Probiotics are microorganisms that are taken either in supplement form or in food to replenish the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut. 

Prebiotics are the food that feeds your gut flora. Prebiotics are soluble fibers that, when broken down, turn into a gel-like substance that the gut flora can use. 

Various fermented foods in jars


There are different types of probiotics, but the two most common are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, both of which are also naturally present in our bodies. Lactobacilli are found primarily in the foods we eat, like tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. Bifidobacteria are also found in fermented foods


Prebiotics are fibers that feed your gut flora. You can find them in various foods, but finding them inside functional foods is a bonus because these foods can also help support other areas of your health.

One of the best ways to get prebiotics into your body is through functional mushrooms like lion’s mane mushrooms. These mushrooms contain carbohydrate molecules called polysaccharides, which operate as prebiotic fibers in the digestive tract. They also support neurological health, contain antioxidants, and offer immune support. 

Manage Stress Levels

When we experience high levels of stress, we’re more likely to reach for comfort foods, which are often anything but comforting to our guts. Foods high in added sugar and trans fats and devoid of nutrients may make us feel a small rush of endorphins when we eat them, but they can also spike blood sugar levels, cause inflammation and compromise gut health, leaving us feeling unwell in the longer term.

In addition, stress hormones can change the composition of the gut microflora, making it unbalanced and unhealthy. There’s also evidence that some bad bacteria may influence dysregulated eating. 

Overhead shot of all four JOYÀ Functional Chocolates

Finding ways to manage stress healthily is important to our gut and to our overall health and well-being. If you experience chronic stress, in addition to making lifestyle changes, adding an adaptogen (a substance that helps regulate the body’s stress response) can be a huge win. You can find adaptogens in all of the JOYÀ Functional Chocolates.

Rethink Your Diet

Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies. Because most of the human gut microbiome resides in the intestines, the foods we eat have a heavy hand in regulating the overall health and balance of our gut health

If your diet consists mostly of pre-packaged convenience foods and fast foods, you’re not only packing in empty calories from added sugar and trans fats — you’re also robbing your body of the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. 

Getting back on track isn’t as difficult as you may think. Here are a few steps you can take to improve your diet and, by extension, your gut health

  • Eat a balanced diet. Focus on whole foods, healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrate sources that contain fiber and resistant starch (which act as prebiotics). Avoid cutting out entire food groups unless you have a dietary issue that requires you to do so. 
  • Avoid inflammatory foods. Some foods are directly linked with inflammation in the body, which can cause health conditions in the gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as disorders throughout the body such as autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases and mental illness. These foods include some seed oils, trans fats, processed sugar, and refined carbohydrates.

Overhead images of various berries

  • Add in prebiotics and probiotics. There’s a caveat here: it’s important to address high levels of bad bacteria in the gut before adding in more bacteria or food for the bacteria. Then, begin taking these slowly to give your body time to adjust. It’s a good idea to work with a registered dietician or healthcare provider to discuss how to properly correct unbalanced gut health

The Bottom Line

Your gut health matters. The gut is directly linked to the brain, skin, and immune system. Early evidence shows it may even be linked to your hormone levels. Taking care of your gut can help you take care of your entire body. 

You can improve your gut health by making a few lifestyle changes, like managing your stress better and cleaning up your diet, and adding in probiotics and prebiotics. Making dietary changes shouldn’t feel overwhelming or unappetizing. That’s where JOYÀ comes in.

Our meticulously selected ingredients are carefully added to our chef-crafted Functional Chocolates so that making good dietary decisions is both easy and delicious. Adding in more functional foods, prebiotics, and nutrients is easy and convenient when you use our products. 

Why you crave comfort foods in times of high stress | UT Physicians 
The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems | PMC 
That Gut Feeling | APA
The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies | PMC 
Gut–Skin Axis: Current Knowledge of the Interrelationship between Microbial Dysbiosis and Skin Conditions | PMC 
Gut microbiota functions: metabolism of nutrients and other food components | PMC 
The Gut Microbiome and Sex Hormone-Related Diseases | PMC 
Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review | PMC 
Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications | PMC 
Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human–bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition | PMC 
Chronic Inflammation - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf 
Polysaccharides: bowel health and gut microbiota | PMC 
Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases | PMC
The Microbiome | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Probiotics and Prebiotics: What You Should Know | Mayo Clinic
Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health | PMC