How healthy is your gut?
We have a complex ecosystem living in our digestive tract. Known as the microbiome, it’s made up of trillions of microscopic living cells, including beneficial bacteria that help us absorb nutrients from the food we eat. This good bacteria, or probiotics, also help the body handle stress and supports our ability to fight off illness and infection (up to two thirds of our immune system is based in the gut). But good bacteria can be reduced, and even eliminated completely, by taking antibiotics, steroids, the Pill and HRT. Stress, sugar, artificial sweeteners and alcohol can also diminish these so-called friendly bacteria, but there are steps you can take to support the good guys.
How can I tell if my gut is healthy?
Although stomach troubles could be the first thing to alert us to a problem in our guts, there are a lot more factors that come into play. Dr Megan Rossi, aka @TheGutHealthDoctor says, “It’s important to look at how often you’re unwell, whether you’re eating a varied diet or avoiding certain foods, taking medication, as well as your stress and exercise levels.” It’s also worth taking stock of what your stool looks like, next time your gut is out of sorts. It can be quite indicative of how your lifestyle choices and environment are affecting your gut and, by proxy, your mood.
Why is gut health so important?
Our guts have a huge impact on the way our body functions, with everything from mental health to acne, organ health to weight all affected. Dr Megan says, “Seventy per cent of our immune cells lay along our digestive tract, so for fewer sick days, lower risk of allergies and autoimmune conditions, we need to have good gut health. Our bodies also contain trillions of microbes, including bacteria, within our digestive tract that are incredibly powerful and perform thousands of functions to look after us on a daily basis.”
Understanding the gut-brain connection
Those in the know often refer to the gut as the second brain, because it has its own nervous system and, just like the brain, it’s also filled with chemical messengers – or neurotransmitters. Experts have now discovered that when the gut is off-kilter, we’re more likely to suffer mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, opening up the possibility of new therapies and even prevention by treating the second brain as well as the one on top of the shoulders. Professor Green, co-founder of Aguulp explains “There’s a direct link between the gut and the brain, a symbiotic link: the vagus nerve. It’s the longest nerve in the body and it used to be thought that it was the brain’s way of communicating with the stomach. Turns out it’s a two-way street, with 80-90 per cent of information travelling from the gut to the brain informing it on the happenings of the body’s organs.”
What foods can improve my gut health?
Vanessa Kimbell is the founder of The Sourdough School. She focuses on nutrition, the digestibility of bread and the microbiome – associated with good stomach health. “The wider the variety of foods in your diet, the more diverse your microbiome becomes. Make sure you’re eating enough high-fibre foods, as it feeds the microbes in the gut. Fermented foods are key too, as the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of key nutrients that the microbes in your gut need.” Vanessa’s ideal feast for both you and your microbes would be a hunk of multigrain seeded sourdough served alongside a mixed vegetable salad with pulses, pickles and unpasteurised cheese. Other foods that can also boost good gut bacteria include sauerkraut, gherkins, miso and natural / kefir yogurt.
How can I improve my gut health other than through nutrition?
Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and reducing stress can all have a positive impact on gut health.
5 ways to give your gut a break…
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Read more about homeopathic remedies for gut health…