OPTIMISING GUT HEALTH
Digestive health is central to your overall health, and it is affected by nutritional status, immune response and state of mind.
The gastrointestinal tract – all six metres of it – is the foundation for your total immune system. The many steps in the digestion of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, water and salts depend on how well the immune cells found in the eight organs of the digestive system (the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, gallbladder, liver and pancreas) are working. These immune cells are
central to optimising hormonal, digestive and metabolic function, as well as to your body’s ability to defend itself against free radicals, bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic chemicals.
Why is good gut health important?
The gut microbiota is the primary driver orchestrating communication between the gut and all bodily functions, influencing not only digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also metabolic, brain and immune function – in fact, 70 to 80 percent of your immune cells are located in the gut, making it the ‘control room’ for immunity.
How can you keep your gut healthy?
Everything you eat affects the microbes in your gut, as do many lifestyle choices. Eating highly processed foods, living under chronic stress, and insufficient sleep are three key lifestyle factors that are detrimental to gut health and are implicated in a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Abdominal distress may be signalled with bloating, wind, indigestion or heartburn, pain, diarrhoea or constipation. Fatigue, food cravings, unintended weight changes, skin problems, allergies and mood swings may also indicate gut problems. Adopting diet and lifestyle habits that focus on nourishing your gut microbiome is the best way to support optimal gut health. Making small and easy changes to shift your dietary choices towards nutritious foods that are rich in dietary fibres is the most important first step.
Beat the Big 3
Constipation This is not just uncomfortable – it can be extremely painful. Bowel habits vary widely from one person to another, but a generally accepted definition is that if someone struggles to pass hard, dry stools and/or only passes stools infrequently, every three days or so, then they are constipated. In the majority of cases, constipation is the result of inadequate fibre and fluids in the diet. Fibre is the medium that makes up the stool, so lack of fibre results in smaller harder stools and lack of fluid leaves them dry and difficult to pass. Lack of fibre may also compromise gut health and reduce the numbers of beneficial gut microflora required for optimal gut function. Other contributing factors include a lack of exercise, medical disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, medications, including those prescribed for high blood pressure, depression and pain relief, high blood calcium levels, a sluggish thyroid and diabetes. If symptoms persist for more than two weeks, despite self-help measures such as taking a prebiotic and probiotic supplement, seek professional advice.
Indigestion The technical name for this is dyspepsia, but the term ‘indigestion’ covers a wide range of undesirable symptoms, primarily as a result of food not passing smoothly through the gut and digestive system; eating too much or too quickly, eating foods that you are sensitive to and having too much or too little acid in the stomach are also possible causes. If you regularly experience bouts of indigestion, featuring nausea and heartburn as the stomach acid flows back up into the oesophagus. You can help to prevent indigestion by including a prebiotic fibre to aid digestion, eating slowly, chewing well and allowing food to settle before engaging in exercise or going to bed. While, gentle herbal teas like ginger and chamomile can help with symptomatic relief.
Bloating A common disorder triggered by an unsettled gut, and usually appearing with burping, cramps, swelling and a lot of stomach gurgles and wind. Eat slowly, do not wolf your food! Occasional mild bloating is somewhat normal and may even reflect a healthy and balanced diet. If you are experiencing painful or frequent bloating, see your doctor before removing foods from your diet.
What are Synbiotics?
Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics, or ‘good’ gut bacteria, and prebiotics, which are the non-digestible fibres that help these bacteria to survive and grow in the gut. The two work together (synergistically) in the gut, and they are considered to help the gut – and therefore the entire body – in several ways. Scientific research indicates that synbiotics will reduce inflammation, and can have beneficial effects on a very wide range of gut health problems, including travellers’ diarrhoea, stomach pain, flatulence, constipation, indigestion and bloating, as well as improving metabolism and the immune system. Some evidence suggests that taking synbiotics are also linked to reduced obesity and improvements in glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, helping to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.
Information presented is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace advice or treatment from qualified healthcare professionals. The information is not intended to treat or diagnose. Always consult your healthcare professional before taking nutritional or herbal supplements. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have any allergies or diagnosed conditions, or are taking prescription medications, always consult your healthcare professional before taking nutritional or herbal supplements.