Gut Health - All You Need To Know

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

From Bake Off to Bill Gates, the gut microbiome really is the topic everyone is talking about.

Get started on your journey to good gut health here - knowing what your gut needs to stay healthy may help to support not only your digestion, but also your skin, immunity and even your mood!

Why the gut microbiome matters

Gut health, probiotics and the microbiome have become more and more important in the world of wellness for a few years, but 2020 will see the gut microbiome’s big moment turn into a cultural movement.

So, why 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 it’s never been more important to understand the role of your gut in maintaining your overall 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

Good digestion has a profound effect on your overall health, and is done with the help of your gut’s microbiome. A healthy microbiome contains lots of good bacteria, also known as probiotics.

Good gut bacteria are fundamental to our health, helping to break down and digest food, supporting the  absorption of nutrients and discouraging ‘bad’ bacteria, yeasts, and other nasties known as pathogens that can take over and stop the gut from functioning correctly.

When bad bacteria gets in: Signs of an unhealthy gut

We should point out, 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. Be warned: some of these symptoms could surprise you!

  • Gas, wind or bloating
  • Acid reflux
  • Upset stomachs
  • Sugar cravings
  • Bad breath
  • Food allergies or intolerance
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Eczema or dry skin
  • Trouble sleeping
  • ... and many others

gut health lifestyle factors

So, if you suffer from one or more of the above symptoms, it’s probably time to join the *millions* prioritising a happy gut full of good bacteria this year.

Don’t forget that over 70%6 of your immune system residing in the gut, so it’s worth supporting your gut in small, easy ways to keep you and yours well on an ongoing basis.

Finding good bacteria for your gut

Most people think of yoghurt drinks for getting a probiotic boost, however, there are many ways to get your daily dose of good bacteria.

Let’s start with fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut which are high in probiotics. Also, there’s kitchen staples such as onions, bananas, blueberries, beans, and lots of greens (think broccoli, kale and cabbage) which contain prebiotics; a type of fibre your good gut bacteria feeds on to stay strong.

These are all great for our gut health, however with such busy schedules to manage modern life’s demands, it’s pretty difficult to make such a varied, colourful diet a daily habit. Enter: probiotic supplements …

Supplementing your gut health

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

The strains are important to know as research shows different strains are good for 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. Therefore, it’s advised you choose the best strains of bacteria for your individual health needs - this information isn’t easy to find for fermented foods, though it’s still great to include these in your diet for general gut support.

Your daily gut health checklist

Now you’re clued up on gut health, nurture yours with these easy lifestyle hacks:

Gut Health Check List

1. Keep the gut (and the rest of your body) well-nourished and hydrated by drinking plenty of water. This will help to improve and maintain the heath of your gut, by flushing out any unwanted toxins, undigested food etc.

2. Eat foods that are rich in fibre. Beans, nuts, seeds, whole-grains, fruits and vegetables. These all help to feed the good bacteria in your gut.

3. Try and limit sugar intake, as well as processed foods, animal fats, and animal protein - these can act as food for unhealthy bacteria that can harm your gut.

4. Improve your levels of good bacteria by introducing daily probiotics into your diet. Having healthy, friendly, good bacteria can improve your digestive health and reduce inflammation and allergies.

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.