Gut Health - All You Need To Know

Camilla Gray Nutritional Therapist Dip CNM - Diploma in Nutritional Therapy from the College of Naturopathic Medicine

Good health starts in the gut. In fact, 40 trillion good bacteria are working all the time to keep you well! Get started on your journey to good gut health and find out what your gut needs and why this can affect not only your gut health but also your skin, immune health and, even your mood!

If you're short on time, I've put together a quick reference checklist below, which gives you ten easy tips to help keep your gut in great shape.

Gut Health Check List | Probiotics learning lab

Ideally though, if you want to fully support your gut, you need to know a little more about how it works, why it's important, and what can upset its natural balance. Read on to find out all you need to know about gut health.

Why the gut microbiome matters

The gut microbiome is the collective ecosystem of microbes that live in our guts. Find out more about the microbiome in our article: All about the Microbiome

Gut health, good bacteria and the microbiome have become more and more important in the world of wellness for a few years. We are currently seeing the gut microbiome turn into a cultural movement!

But why all the fuss now?

Put simply, the microbiome today faces many different challenges than it would have faced just 50 years ago.

Factors in modern day living such as stress, travel and western diets are the biggest threats to the human microbiome, resulting in common conditions including:

  • IBS1
  • Candida2
  • Allergies & Intolerances3
  • Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis4 & psoriasis5

This means its more important than ever to understand the role of your gut in maintaining your overall health.

gut health

How the gut works

Every organ within the gut, from the stomach to the anus, has a unique function that helps to keep your gut (and you) going regularly.

The key functions of your gut are:

  • Taking in food
  • Moving food through the digestive system
  • Extracting and absorbing energy and nutrients
  • Expelling the remaining waste as faeces (poo)

Good digestion has a profound effect on your overall health, and the gut microbiome plays a key role in this. A healthy microbiome contains lots of good bacteria, also known as probiotics, which confer different health benefits.

Find out more about probiotics in our article: What are probiotics?

What do bacteria do in a healthy gut microbiome?

Our microbiome does a lot for us and good gut bacteria are fundamental to our health. They help to break down and digest food, support the absorption of nutrients and discourage 'bad’ bacteria, yeasts, and other nasties known as pathogens, that can take over and stop the gut from functioning correctly.

Dysbiosis: When bad bacteria gets in

We should point out that everybody has some bad bacteria in their guts and this is normal.  However, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria could result in an unhealthy gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis. Be warned: some of these symptoms could surprise you! Dysbiosis symptoms include:

  • Gas, wind or bloating
  • Acid reflux
  • Upset stomachs
  • Sugar cravings
  • Bad breath
  • Food allergies or intolerance
  • Trouble sleeping
  • ... and many others

Health practitioners can read more about acid reflux on the Professionals site.

So, if you suffer from one or more of the above symptoms, its probably time to join the millions of people prioritising a happy gut full of good bacteria.

Dont forget that over 70%6 of your immune system resides in the gut, so its worth supporting your gut in small, easy ways to keep you and yours well on an ongoing basis.

What type of bacteria is found in a healthy gut?

There are hundreds of different types of bacteria living in the gut, not to mention other microbes like viruses and yeasts. Some of these are beneficial, some at high levels can be harmful and others are commensal with no negative or positive influence. A few types of beneficial bacterial species we could expect to see in a healthy gut include:

  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus plantarum

Although, there are many more different types of ‘good’ bacterial species. Generally, the Bifidobacterium genera reside mostly in the lower intestine whereas the Lactobacillus genera live predominantly in the small intestines. 

Finding good bacteria for your gut

Most people think of yogurt drinks for getting a friendly bacteria boost.  However, there are many ways to get your daily dose of good bacteria.

Fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut are high in probiotics.

Kitchen staples such as onions, bananas, blueberries, beans, and lots of greens (think broccoli, kale and cabbage) also contain prebiotics, a type of fibre that feeds your good gut bacteria populations.

These are all great for our gut health, however, when you’ve got busy schedules to manage, it can be difficult to make such a varied, colourful diet a daily habit. This is where probiotic supplements can make life much easier…

Supplementing your gut health

Unlike foods rich in probiotics, with good bacteria supplements, you know exactly how many probiotics youre taking, and what type of strains are present. Theyre also super-easy to take, available as capsules or in a sachet you can mix into drinks.

It’s important to select supplements with the right strains for you, as research shows different strains do different things. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® has been shown to help support bloating symptoms7, whereas Lactobacillus rhamnosus Rosell 11 has been researched to support the gut during antibiotics8. Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® can be found in Optibac 'For every day EXTRA Strength'.

It’s still a great idea to include fermented foods in your diet, but a supplement delivers all the good bacteria you need in one go.

References

  1. C. Casen, H. C. Vebø, M. Sekelja, F. T. Hegge, M. K. Karlsson, E. Ciemniejewska, S. Dzankovic, C. Frøyland,R. Nestestog, L. Engstrand, P. Munkholm,O.H.Nielsen, G.Rogler, M.Simre L.€Oh. (2015). Deviations in human gut microbiota: a novel diagnostic test for determining dysbiosis in patients with IBS or IBD. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 42 (1), 71-83.
  2. Harry Sokol, Valentin Leducq, Hugues Aschard, Hang-Phuong Pham, Sarah Jegou,Cecilia Landman, David Cohen, Giuseppina Liguori, Anne Bourrier ,Isabelle Nion-Larmurier (2016). Fungal microbiota dysbiosis in IBD. Gut. 66 (6), 1-10.
  3. William Zhao BS, Hsi-en Ho MD, Supinda Bunyavanich. (2019). The gut microbiome in food allergy. Elsevier logo Journals & Books Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 122 (3), 276-282.
  4. Vaahtovuo J, Munukka E, Korkeamäki M, Luukkainen R, Toivanen P (2008). Fecal Microbiota in Early Rheumatoid Arthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology. 35 (8), 1500-1505.
  5. Linsheng Huang, Renyuan Gao Ning YuYefei, Zhu Yangfeng Ding. (2019). Dysbiosis of gut microbiota was closely associated with psoriasis. Science China Life Sciences. 62 (6), 807–815.
  6. G Vighi, F Marcucci, L Sensi, G Di Cara, and F Frati. (2008). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical & Experimental Immunology. 153 (3), 3–6
  7. Steven E. Faber. (2003). Comparison of probiotics with antibiotics to probiotics alone in treatment of diarrhea predominant IBS (D-IBS), alternating (A-IBS) and constipation (C-IBS) patients. Gastroenterology. 124 (4), A687–A688.
  8. Malkanthi Evans, Ryan P. Salewski, Mary C. Christman, Stephanie-Anne Girard and Thomas A. Tompkins . (2016). Effectiveness of Lactobacillus helveticus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus for the management of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in healthy adults: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition. 116 (1), 94-103.