Gut health affects more than just an individual’s health. Learn about its larger impact and how supporting employees’ gut health can benefit your business.
Digestive health is the largest problem in healthcare. Over 70 million Americans have a digestive disease and that number increases by 9 percent every year.
Gut health is also a leading cost for employers’ health expenses, but tools like GIThrive are changing that for companies. Read on to learn why gut health matters and how supporting your employees’ digestive health will help them as individuals and your business overall.
Gut Health and the Immune System
Our gastrointestinal (GI) system plays a major role in whole-body health and overall wellbeing. It takes in nutrients, communicates with the rest of the body, and even helps fight disease. The GI system can affect our immune system, heart health, blood sugar, weight, and mental health.
While our GI tract covers all the body parts involved in digestion, “gut health” typically focuses on the intestines—specifically, the microbiome, or the gut bacteria in the large intestine. The microbiome includes up to 1,000 different species of gut bacteria, both helpful and potentially harmful ones. We need the right balance of these bacteria in order to properly digest the foods we eat.
A healthy digestive system supports a healthy immune system. As much as 80% of our immune cells are in the gut, so the two are deeply interrelated. The gut microbiome sends messages to our immune cells, influencing the body’s response to infection or illness. It may be surprising, but some common conditions like autoimmune diseases, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are directly linked to gut health, even if their main symptoms aren’t related to digestion.
While poor gut health can have a negative impact on overall health, the good news is that the opposite is also true: improving our gut health can positively impact overall health.
The Gut as Our Second Brain
The saying “I’ve got a gut feeling” is popular for good reason. The gut and the brain are physically connected through millions of nerves. The gut is sometimes called “a second brain” because it communicates with other parts of the body, including the brain.
Because the gut is connected to the brain, it has the power to affect emotions and mood. In fact, more than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, or happiness hormone, originates in the gut. And it’s a two-way relationship: Our feelings—whether happy or stressed—also influence our digestive health. That’s why you may indulge in emotional eating or lose your appetite in times of high emotion.
This gut-brain connection is also why gut health is tied to mental health. The gut microbiome can affect what messages are communicated to the brain, and an imbalance in gut bacteria may be linked to psychological disorders like depression and anxiety. In fact, some studies have found that improving gut health with the use of probiotics has helped improve symptoms of mental health disorders.
Digestive Health and the Healthcare System
The term “GI issues” includes dozens of conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, colitis, Celiac disease, and diverticulitis. Because of the large number of people who experience digestive diseases, these conditions place a substantial strain on the healthcare system. Annual healthcare expenditures for GI diseases total $136 billion, which is more than for heart disease, trauma, or mental health.
To help reduce this cost, leading companies are offering education and resources that support employees’ digestive health. The GIThrive program provides employees with information, an action plan for managing digestive issues, and on-call support from nurses, registered dietitians, and health coaches. This type of resource empowers employees to take control of their digestive health, which in turn improves their overall health and reduces employer healthcare costs.
Gut Health’s Impact on Job Performance
It can be difficult to focus on work when we have external distractions, like talkative co-workers, too many meetings or messages, and background noises. But people who have digestive conditions often have a hard time focusing on their work because of what’s happening inside their bodies.
When they are dealing with painful and disruptive symptoms, like abdominal pain, nausea or unpredictable bowel movements, employees with digestive conditions aren’t able to be fully present and productive. They may have to call in sick frequently or show up to work feeling unwell and unable to function at their best.
Gut health problems can have a substantial impact on employees’ job performance. It’s clear that digestive conditions impact employee productivity and overall business revenue. Though people with GI issues can do their best to manage symptoms, they may need to take more bathroom breaks or skip food-related work gatherings to avoid triggering foods.
Stress can make symptoms of GI disease worse. Finding ways to reduce stress at work will help employees’ digestive health, as well as their mental health and productivity levels. Employees can work with their managers and teams to delegate tasks appropriately, manage deadlines and maintain good communication.
Gut health is directly linked to people’s overall wellbeing, happiness, and productivity. Because of this, it is important for employers to be understanding and supportive of their employees. With GIThrive, employers can easily provide resources and accommodations for their employees to manage their GI issues and symptoms.
Learn more about GIThrive, the all-in-one digital gut health program that is revolutionizing the future of healthcare for employees. By addressing gut health, employers can create a positive workplace culture and boost overall productivity.