Why a healthy gut is more important than you think: 6 ways to improve your gut health today
The term ‘gut health’ refers to the overall health and balance of good and bad bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tract. The human gut is incredibly complex, where no two human’s gut bacteria profile is the same. Stress levels, sleep, immunity, mood, diet quality and variety as well as inflammation all have a role to play in one’s gut bug profile. Due to the fact that there are so many attributing factors to the balance of good and bad bacteria and overall gut health, achieving symbiosis (balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut) can be difficult or confusing.
Why is it important?
Gut dysbiosis (imbalance of gut bacteria) and poor gut health is linked to an array of gastrointestinal symptoms or problems such as: bloating, gas/flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation, faecal urgency and abdominal pain. Our guts’ health has also been associated with diabetes, high cholesterol and heart health, autoimmune diseases and disorders, depression, anxiety and even eczema.
Easy ways to improve your gut health:
Gut health and the bacteria that live in our gut have gained increasing recognition and interest in the past decade as a result of new scientific research in the area. This also means there has been a dramatic increase in products on the market with gut boosting claims. Here are some no-fuss and easy tips that you can incorporate into your lifestyle and diet to improve your gut health.
Prebiotics & Fibre
Prebiotics get their name from the fact that they act as ‘food’ and feed the good bacteria in our gut to help them thrive and promotes their growth.
Fibre is a vital component of a healthy diet and gut health as it keeps our digestion regular, helps us form a healthy stool that is soft and easy to pass without strain and feeds our good bacteria. Great sources of fibre include fruit (as opposed to fruit juice), vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts as well as beans and legumes (e.g. peas, chickpeas, lentils). It is important to give your body time to adapt to increases in prebiotics. If you increase this too quickly you may have problems with excessive wind or bloating. Gradually increase your intake over a week as this will allow the bacteria to adapt to the increase in food sources available.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) some prebiotic foods may cause worsening of your symptoms. If this is the case for you, see a dietitian for advice on improving gut health in the context of IBS.
With any increase in fibre in the diet, it is extremely important to increase your water intake to minimise the chances of adverse/uncomfortable symptoms as the fibre is digested. This is because fibre draws water into your stool to make it softer, without sufficient water, additional fibre could cause constipation or other uncomfortable symptoms. A good trick to know if you are drinking enough water is to look at the colour of your urine - it should be a pale yellow/straw coloured all day. It can be hard to drink enough water in the winter time. You may find it easier to increase your water intake by carrying a re-usable water bottle with you everywhere you go, drinking plenty of herbal tea and pouring yourself a glass of water after every meal.
Ever heard of the term butterflies in your tummy? This term actually has scientific merit - due to the direct line of nerves/connections between our brains and our gut (also known as the gut-brain axis). Stress, feeling nervous or anxiety can stimulate the nerves in our gut which can cause hypersensitivity and symptoms in many people, especially when under chronic stress. Try to dedicate some time each day to a stress relieving activity of your choice. Don’t hesitate to reach out to family, friends or even a professional if you need help reducing your stress levels.
Being mostly sedentary can be a large contributing factor to constipation. By increasing our activity and movement levels, you are also stimulating blood flow and increasing muscle activity around your gut. Movement is also a fantastic stress reliever, so by moving more you are killing two birds with one stone. Start with an extra 5 minutes per day of an activity you enjoy (e.g. stretching while watching TV, walking with the dog or a friend or dancing). Any movement is better than none and participating in movement you enjoy is even better! And don’t forget we run group fitness classes tailored to every fitness level as well as one-on-one personal training so there is help here to if yu need it.
Probiotics are a form of live bacteria that can be found in some foods and supplements. Probiotics are considered to restore the balance of ‘good bacteria’ in the gut and increase the effectiveness of the existing good bacteria. Probiotics are recommended after a course of antibiotics to restore the number of good bacteria in the gut (as they can also accidentally kill the good bacteria while killing the bad).
Supplements = Not all probiotics are the same because not all strains (types) and doses are supported by scientific evidence to elicit benefits. When choosing a probiotic, it is recommended to choose a source of live bacteria that will also survive digestion as they pass through the body to the lower intestine (some supplements are available with ‘coatings’ to protect the bacteria). Choose a type of probiotic that is backed by evidence (research exists supporting lactobacillus or bifidobacterium strains). Probiotics need to be taken in an adequate amount; 1 billion bacteria per day (which can be written as 1x109 CFU) and can take up to 2-4 weeks to take effect.
Foods = Probiotics and live bacteria are also present within food such as probiotic yoghurt, fermented milk drinks (e.g. Yakult and Kefir), water or brine cured olives, fermented foods (such as Kimchi - fermented vegetables and spices and sauerkraut - fermented cabbage). Baking, pasteurising or filtering these foods kill the live bacteria.
See an Accredited Practicing Dietitian
Dietitian’s are experts in identifying individualised dietary strategies for clients with an array of health concerns. Improving gut health is no different! Your dietitian can collaborate with you to create a personalised plan that will cater to your lifestyle, budget, needs and your unique gut.
Gut dysbiosis is not always the cause for gastrointestinal symptoms and hence symptoms cannot always be resolved through the above strategies. The underlying cause could be due to a number of other gut disorders. Whilst the above suggestions are a great start for improving one’s diet and resultant gut health, it is important to speak to your GP and to seek support and guidance from a Dietitian in order to rule out any other possible diagnoses, diseases, allergies or intolerances that could be causing symptoms.