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Do you know The gut's job is to break down the food we eat, absorbing nutrients into the body and eliminating waste. The problem is that because it's between four and six feet long, it has a tendency to get all sorts of gunk stuck in there. If you're eating a diet high in processed foods and low in healthy fats, this gunk can pile up pretty quickly.

Why is gut health important?

The term ‘gut health’ generally refers to the balance of healthy ‘live bacteria and harmful ‘bad’ bacteria. We have over 100 trillion live bacteria, aka our microbiome, living in our gut which help our bodies with a number of tasks.

This microbiome actually accounts for 90% of the cells in our body. However, if our gut’s healthy natural bacteria balance gets toppled, we can start to experience some problems.

How can a Gut Health is the Key to improve overall health?

A healthy gut with the right balance of bacteria may help your body in the following ways:

  • Immunity: maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut can help to support your immune system. In the same way as taking too many antibiotics – and disturbing the balance, can weaken the immune system
  • Heart health: evidence suggests that probiotic supplements can help control total cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Digestive issues: a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut has been seen to help with bowel disorders like lactose intolerance and antibiotic-induced diarrhoea
  • Sleep and fatigue: our gut microbiome may affect the quality of our sleep. This is because our gut is responsible for producing most of our serotonin – a hormone that affects sleep

Your gut is your ‘second brain’

Our ‘gut brain’ contains millions of nerve cells and helps control digestion, sensing the food we’ve eaten and responding to it, adjusting digestive secretions, absorbing nutrients and telling our brain what’s going on.

Our brain and our gut are closely connected in order to allow digestion to happen under the right circumstances.

This is why eating a meal when we’re stressed can cause symptoms like bloating, as our body is focused on fight or flight, rather than digesting our food.

Experiencing an emotional upset while eating can also trigger digestive problems.

Your ‘gut brain’ remembers the upset and can develop symptoms around the contents of that meal – after receiving bad news in a fish restaurant, you might then react to fish, for example.

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How to improve gut health naturally

Read on for our top tips to naturally improve your gut health...

  • Follow a gut-friendly FODMAP-free diet

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are groups of carbohydrates that are not absorbed by the gut, so they ferment and bacteria feed on them, causing unpleasant gut behaviour. Food high in FODMAPs include apples, pears, milk and cabbage.

  • Try taking friendly bacteria supplements

These have been shown to be beneficial in some people with gut problems and there is some evidence they may also help with mood fluctuations associated with gut issues.

  • Reduce your fibre intake

Too much fibre can overstimulate the gut, making symptoms even worse. Ask a dietician for advice before cutting out any food groups.

  • Practice gut-focused hypnotherapy

Research shows this can reduce symptoms by at least half in 70 per cent of patients.

It’s thought it may make the gut less sensitive, decrease the strength of contractions and help with the stress and anxiety of having gut problems.

  • Exercise

Exercise raises your heart and breathing rate, which in turn stimulates the waves of muscle contractions that move stools through the gut – a process called peristalsis.26,27

This helps the gut operate more efficiently, which means food spends a shorter time in the bowel. In turn, this means less water is absorbed back into the body via the small intestine – keeping the stools soft.28

In a 2014 study published in World Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers asked inactive patients in a psychiatric hospital to exercise for 60 minutes three times a week for three months.

The results found that for the exercising patients, food spent around 30 hours in the bowel, compared to 54 hours for the control group.29

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