It’s really common to overlook the importance of a healthy digestive system. For example, did you know that a whopping 75% of our immune system is located in the gut?! A healthy gut not only contributes to a healthy immune system and helps protects us from infection, but optimal gut health can also support a healthy metabolism and promotes healthy digestion and elimination. Yes – your poor gut health could prevent you from losing weight!
Let’s look a little closer…
Our body contains around 40 trillion bacteria (most of which is in our gut) & are responsible for a whole host of bodily functions including helping to absorb the nutrients from our food, regulating mood and supporting brain health. A healthy gut microbiome (a.k.a. the collection of microorganisms including bacteria that live in your gut) is also essential for managing hormone issues such as PMS, endometriosis and even low libido.
It’s really important to maintain healthy levels of good gut bacteria and to reduce bad bacteria, as some bacteria have even been known to cause disease (1).
Signs that you gut bacteria has become compromised and could use some extra TLC can include:
Digestive problems including bloating, heartburn, constipation and/or diarrhoea, or IBS.
Food intolerances can be the result of poor quality bacteria in the gut
Hormonal imbalances such as PMS, PCOS or thyroid problems
Mood problems such as anxiety & depression – an unhealthy gut microbiome has been linked to poor mental health.
A poor immune system
Skin problems like acne and eczema
Difficulty in losing weight
Sleep problems – the majority of the body’s serotonin (the hormone that affects mood and sleep) is made in the gut. So, if you’re gut health is suffering – it’s perhaps not surprising that your sleep and mood are too!
Factors that can wreak havoc on digestive health (and therefore alter the levels of beneficial bacteria) include:
Poor diet – especially a diet that includes inflammatory foods
Overuse of medications including antibiotics, NSAID’s/painkillers such as ibuprofen and the oral contraceptive pill.
Eating too quickly
Drinking too much alcohol
Increased exposure to environmental toxins including non-organic produce, BPA and pesticides
My Top 10 Tips for Supporting Gut Health
1) Reduce any food triggers that can damage the lining gut. The big ones to watch out for include sugar, gluten, alcohol, wheat, conventional dairy and artificial sweeteners.
2) Load up on probiotic foods. Increase your intake of fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha, as well as natural yoghurt (full fat here please!) to boost levels of good bacteria.
3) CHEW your food! It might sound easy, but your body will find it so much easier (and will thank you later) to absorb the nutrients from food when it is chewed in smaller sizes.
4) Increase intake of anti-inflammatory foods such as salmon, green leafy vegetables and chia seeds can help to support a healthy digestive tract. Also eating a diverse range of plant-based foods can really work wonders for your gut health.
5) Consider a course of probiotics following any course of antibiotics to help keep bad bacteria at bay and to re-establish a healthy balance of good bacteria. Note it’s always best to consult your healthcare practitioner when choosing a supplement.
6) Get tested. If you’re suffering from symptoms such as cramping, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation or fatigue but are struggling to get to the root cause of your symptoms, consider getting some functional testing done to assess the state of your gut. In my own clinic, I recommend the GI-MAP stool test which uses cutting-edge technology to assess a patient’s microbiome and can detect parasites, pathogens, bacteria, worms, a yeast overgrowth and levels of bad bacteria. It’s one of the most comprehensive stool tests available and can really help to get to the root cause of your digestive issues. The technology used within a GI-Map will far surpass any stool test done via your GP.
7) Eat your food in a peaceful environment. Remove any distractions and try not to eat when you’re stressed out. When your body is presented with a stressor, it will direct its resources & prioritise in dealing with that current stressor - all other normal bodily functions won’t be a priority (including digestion). Are your tummy problems worse when you are stressed-out or anxious? Your body’s stress response could be messing with your gut!
8) Address your stress! Stress can play a big part in gut health and chronic stress levels can be detrimental to gut health. It’s therefore so important to find time to address any unnecessary stress in your life and manage it. Whether it’s walks in nature, spending time with friends, yoga, exercise, diffusing essential oils or mindfulness – find the stress management technique that works for you and do it daily!
9) Stay hydrated. Drinking lots of water has been shown to have a positive effect on the lining of the digestive tract, as well as on the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Aim for 8-10 glasses of clean, filtered water per day to stay hydrated.
10) Consider alternative birth control options. Recent studies suggest that oral contraceptive pill use can massively affect your gut health. Long term use of the pill has been shown to reduce immune function, increase levels of bad bacteria and impair metabolism, making it difficult to lose weight.
Hippocrates – the founder of Modern medicine once said – “all disease begins in the gut”. So, if there’s one thing you can do for your health, it’s to focus on getting your digestion working optimally!