6 steps to good gut health

Simple ways to support the health of your gut

Did you know that our gut contains over 50 trillion bacteria? This vast collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa make up what is known as our ‘microbiome’ and it is essential for our overall health and wellbeing. However, problems arise when our ‘bad’ gut bacteria begin to outweigh the ‘good’ bacteria, so it’s important to ensure that the good guys are able to flourish! Read on for some expert tips for looking after the health of your gut.

1 Stock up on fibre

“A healthy balance of gut bacteria helps to maintain bowel regularity as well as helping to keep out harmful invaders, make vitamins and maintain digestive health,” says Jenny Bodenham, a qualified nutritionist with Higher Nature (www.highernature.co.uk). “To help the friendly bacteria flourish, eat a diet high in fibre with plenty of fruits and vegetables, particularly chicory, garlic, leeks, onions and bananas which provide prebiotic fibre, used as fuel by the gut bacteria. To assist the body’s cleansing mechanisms and maintain regularity, include plenty of fibrous wholegrains such as oats and brown rice as well as beans and lentils. Chia seeds and flax seeds are high in fibre and can be sprinkled onto cereal or yogurt to ‘keep you regular’. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water for good hydration and bowel function – at least 2 litres of filtered water/herbal teas a day.”

2 Cut back on sugar

“Excessive sugar consumption is associated with a wide variety of health issues ranging from tooth decay to obesity and diabetes,” says Jenny. “Sugar also feeds yeasts such as candida albicans. Normally present in the gut without causing any problems, an overgrowth of candida can overwhelm the ‘friendly’ gut flora, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, skin problems, thrush, fungal nails and digestive distress. Too much rich food, larger portions and excessive alcohol can play havoc with your digestive system, causing acid reflux, bloating and digestive upset. If you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn, certain foods may aggravate symptoms – common culprits include hot, spicy foods, fatty foods and caffeinated or alcoholic drinks. To support healthy digestion, eat slowly, chew thoroughly and avoid drinking large amounts of fluid with meals.”

3 Balance your gut bacteria

“The gut-brain axis, and in particular how the balance of bacteria in the gut may affect brain health, is an exciting and rapidly evolving area of research,” says Hannah Braye, senior technical advisor with ADM Protexin (www.protexin.com). “The gut-brain axis is a bi-directional communication system between the gut and the brain. It consists of a number of neuronal, immune and hormonal pathways, all of which may be influenced by our gut bacteria. For example, 80 per cent of signals sent along the vagus nerve, connecting the brain to the gut, originate from the gut, and only 20 per cent from the brain. These signals are influenced by neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is created in the gut by certain species of bacteria. Changes to the gut microbiota resulting from factors such as poor diet and lifestyle have been implicated in a variety of conditions such as anxiety, autism, depression and dementia. This has led to research into ‘psychobiotics’, the name given to supplemental bacteria thought to have a positive effect on brain function. Whilst still in their infancy, the hope is that in the future we will be able to tailor psychobiotic treatments to a range of psychological and mental health issues. In the meantime, taking a multi-strain live bacteria supplement is thought to encourage a healthy microbial balance.”

4 Address your stress

“Chronic stress and anxiety can have a damaging effect on your gut and it can be hard to get out of a vicious stress circle,” says Sara Chadwick, author of Tummy Revolution 21: Gut health made simple. “Avoid using alcohol as a way of reducing stress as it can kill good gut bacteria and damage your gut wall. Avoid caffeine too as it increases stress and stimulates stomach acid, which can act as an irritant to people with sensitive guts. Prioritise getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night as getting the right amount of sleep is important in recovering from stress. Take up yoga as it has been proven to be one of the most effective tools for alleviating digestive symptoms. It focuses on deep breathing and restoring balance to the entire body. Try meditation, which can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and can help to rebuild your energy reserves. Lastly, try some exercise. Adapt your regime according to your symptoms and how they feel. If your symptoms worsen, try something lighter like a brisk walk.”

5 Try some bone broth

“Raw bone broths are making a comeback as a superfood for gut health,” says medical herbalist Hannah Charman (www.physichealth.uk). “Damage to the gut lining can happen following periods of stress, long-term exposure to chemicals or use of certain medications like antibiotics. Bone broths contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals such as calcium and magnesium, as well as collagen, which is perfect for healing the cells in the gut lining. Healing the skin on the inside of the intestines makes it easier to keep out larger molecules in foods. These larger molecules are not meant to enter the bloodstream, and so the immune system launches an attack reaction when it recognises them. This in turn causes inflammation and can affect the way we break down used hormones and brain chemicals, which upsets a number of body processes. There are lots of recipes available online, but I would recommend using a variety of raw bones from grass-fed animals.”

6 Rediscover fermented foods

“Fermented foods are now back in vogue, and for good reason,” says Fiona Lawson, a registered nutritional therapist and nutritionist (www.fionalawson.co.uk). “By eating them regularly, you’re supplying your gut with a steady stream of good bacteria. Over time, these will help to both crowd out the bad bacteria and lower inflammation. There are lots of fermented foods to choose from: kefir (fermented milk), kombucha (fermented tea) and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) can be found in health food stores and now in many supermarkets. Aim to drink 200ml or eat two tablespoons daily.”

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