As far as health issues go, many people are more concerned with things like cardiovascular disease and aging. Not many are aware about the importance of gut health. But creating a healthy gut can have greater implications on your overall health as the digestive system is intimately connected with other parts of your body.

Your Gut and Your Immune System

It might seem surprising but your gut and your immune system have a close-knit relationship. Keeping your gut microbiome—the bacteria in your digestive system—balanced helps the immune system prevent inflammation, which is the cause of many diseases beyond your digestive system.

In an interview about one of the gut bacteria studies of which she was an author, assistant professor of microbiology Dr. Gretchen Diehl said that a healthy microbiota “is necessary to allow for a balanced response to not only protect us from infection, but also to limit potential tissue damage as the immune system attempts to eliminate pathogens.”

Maintaining balance in your gut means making sure that you have a healthy balance of gut bacteria—enough good bacteria (called probiotics) to fight off bad bacteria that can cause a host of health issues.

What you can do: Consume probiotic foods. These are normally fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt. It’s best to make your own as commercially produced ones may have plenty of added sugar and sodium that may be detrimental to your health. If you don’t have time, make sure you get your probiotics from a reputable source and take a look at the ingredients list. Make sure that they’re labeled with “live and active microorganisms.”

Your Gut and Your Skin

In your teens, you may have been told to avoid chocolate as it may cause you to have acne. While acne depends on a lot of factors and chocolate remains unproven as an acne trigger, there are still certain foods that may trigger acne or other skin conditions. Current research pinpoints to refined carbohydrates, dairy, and fast food as some possible causes of acne.

Research published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology likewise establishes this link between your gut and your skin, stating: “Through complex immune mechanisms, the influence of the gut microbiome extends to involve distant organ systems including the skin. With the intentional modulation of the microbiome, probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics have proven beneficial in the prevention and/or treatment of inflammatory skin diseases including acne vulgaris, AD [atopic dermatitis], and psoriasis.”

What you can do: Have a fiber-rich diet (with whole grains like oats, fruits, and vegetables) and consider adding probiotics and prebiotics to your daily routine. (Read more about them here.)

Your Gut and Your Brain

Your digestive system and your brain are intimately connected. Perhaps you’ve experienced feeling nauseated right before a big job interview. Or maybe having to many deliverables at work has given you an upset stomach at some point. These instances show that the stress you have in your life, any anxieties you might have in your head, can have a detrimental effect on your gut health.

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, stress has both short- and long-term effects on your gut health, citing its links to inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and other gut disorders. But, as Harvard Health Publishing, states, this connection goes both ways—stress can trigger psychosomatic reactions in your gut, but gut issues can also cause anxiety and worry.

As scientist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel once said, “Worry is the stomach’s worst poison.” So keeping your mental health in check has a big effect on your gut health. 

What you can do: Eliminate stress from your life! Studies have shown that chronic stress gives your more than just an upset stomach and has a much bigger impact—from heart disease to cancer. If it’s not possible to quit that high-stress job or get rid of other stressors, then learn some coping mechanisms to help you manage stress. Breathing techniques, meditation, a quick walk, or a short chat with a supportive loved one can instantly bring down stress levels.

Creating a healthy gut by eating right, adding probiotics to your diet, and managing stress can do wonders for your overall health—you’ll definitely feel it in your gut, and beyond!