Hippocrates wisely stated, “All Disease Begins in The Gut,” considering he was a physician circa 460 BC, his pioneering views pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Why is gut health so important?
Okay, so not all disease stems from within our gut, but it is important to understand that a significant amount do, so maintaining a healthy digestive balance does contribute to your overall well being. Recent studies have shown that having a healthy gut strengthens your immune system, preserves heart health and cognitive abilities, while drastically enhancing your quality of sleep – even your mood! So keeping your gut in tip top condition is something we all need to focus on. Let’s focus on 5 key pieces of information to start bringing balance back to our gut (and maybe some aspects of our lives too).
1. Imbalances in gut bacteria
Let’s look at what’s inside your gut. You may be shocked to know that the average human being carries in their digestive tract 2-3kgs of bacteria (yes kilograms!), along with other things such as viruses and fungi. This collectively makes up the gut microbiome – aka gut flora. This diverse and individually unique system aids in the digestion of food, fortifying the immune system and helping to develop the building blocks that make us, well, us.
An incorrect balance of these bacterial cultures can often lead to symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, skin irritations and other more serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis and Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The Solution? Aim to maintain a healthy, diverse microbiome. One way to achieve this is to incorporate a gut-microbial friendly diet. Indulge in foods that are rich in fibre like fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains, while avoiding products that are low in fibre or high in unhealthy fats or sugars.
Natural yogurt also contains good bacteria that can help close the gap between intestinal wall cells and prevent ‘leaky gut ‘also known as intestinal permeability.
Under the recommendation of a professional, taking the right probiotics is a great way to restore balance. In some more severe cases, repopulating your gut bacteria through faecal transplant could also be an option.
You can learn more about the microbiome in episode 11 of The Shift – listen here.
“You are what you eat,” is something that we have all heard, and the reality is that statement is very accurate. Your digestive system starts with your mouth, so what you put in determines what you get out in return.
Modern westernised diets can contain harmful ingredients, such as high amounts of sugars, refined carbohydrates and trans fats which have led to increased incidence of preventable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and liver disease.
The Solution? You want to incorporate foods that are high in nutrients and fibre, and low in poor-quality fats (like vegetable oils) and refined ingredients. A colourful variety of fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet by adding portions of legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and gluten free whole grains, will encourage the growth and diversity of healthy gut bacteria.
Incorporating these types of foods in your everyday diet can have a drastically positive effect on your health. It’s all about balance, and providing our bodies with the right vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) as well as fats, carbohydrates and proteins (macronutrients) can aid us in functioning at our optimum level.
3. The side effect of antibiotics
Antibiotics can be lifesaving and have revolutionised the way bacterial infections are treated. When it comes to our gut health, antibiotic drugs can reduce or even eliminate species of beneficial gut bacteria during treatment.
The Solution? If you’ve recently treated a bacterial infection, using antibiotics you may need to help your microbiome recover. Probiotics are live microorganisms containing beneficial bacteria and yeasts and can be ingested in multiple forms in order to repopulate your gut microbiome.
Fermented foods are an easy and tasty option. Incorporate foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, and sauerkraut into your diet, as they contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, the good bacteria you want in your gut.
Probiotic supplements can be highly effective and are easily accessible. Speak with a healthcare professional or one of our Shift naturopaths to find out which ones could be the most beneficial to you.
4. Anxiety and stress
We all get a little stressed from time to time, but when it becomes excessive it can have a profound effect on the way our stomach functions. Stress puts our bodies into a state of fight-or-flight mode, which has a profound impact on all our organs and internal systems. Where we tend to see the impact of being in this state for prolonged periods is in the gut. Your gastrointestinal system has its own nervous system known as the enteric nervous system, which is triggered by hormones released from your brain. These hormones are a signal to your digestive system to slow down, so more energy gets focused on your muscles, lungs and heart.
Although stress affects everyone differently, common symptoms can be lack of gut motility, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting and excessive urination, along with headaches, insomnia and fatigue.
The Solution? Consider consuming gut-friendly, endorphin-releasing foods, such as vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables, as well as probiotic options. Even a cube or two of dark chocolate can help. Reduce your caffeine intake and go for something like green tea or chamomile.
Also, incorporate stress-relieving methods, such as meditation, exercise, sleep, socialising and professional therapy into your routine.
5. Food intolerances
If you’re suffering from symptoms such as cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, skin irritations, rashes, nausea, fatigue, or even acid reflux, you may be suffering from some kind of food intolerance. Food intolerances occur due to non-allergic food reactions and are a result of having difficulty in digesting certain foods.
The Solution? It’s time to play detective, try eliminating common trigger foods that contain dairy, wheat, gluten or caffeine to see if your symptoms improve. You may also have symptoms due to a lack of essential enzymes or bacteria, so seeking the advice of a qualified naturopath or nutritionist will help you explore other options.
For more insights on the gut, microbiome and its role in human health, check out The Shift Podcast.