Gut health seems to be the latest lifestyle craze with more and more people sipping kombucha, taking probiotics and loading up on fermented foods.
But do you really need to look after your gut?
Here is a quick gut health guide to help you understand what all the fuss is about and explain how the health of your gut can have a big impact on the way you feel.
What is the gut?
The gut is your gastrointestinal tract starting at your mouth and including your stomach and intestines. It’s where your food is digested and absorbed by your body.
So then, what is gut flora?
To help do its job, the gut contains trillions of micro-organisms including more than 1000 species of bacteria, fungi and viruses. These bugs are known as the gut flora, or microbiota, and live together like an ecosystem.
We need a healthy microbiota and it needs us. The microbiota helps to keep us well by doing jobs our bodies can’t, such as breaking down fibre and producing vitamin K. While the microbiota relies on the food we eat to thrive.
How does your gut flora/microbiota keep you healthy?
Nurturing your gut can help you absorb more of the good stuff from your food, which helps to boost your immunity, regulate your digestion and even has a positive impact on your mood.
A healthy microbiota also draws more energy from the foods you eat and produces signalling molecules that may help to regulate your appetite, interact with your immune system and communicate with your brain. These clever bugs also help to break down toxic compounds.
What happens when you don’t have a healthy gut?
A gut microbiota with lots of different micro-organisms is a healthy gut, but because these bugs live together like a delicate ecosystem, it’s easy it upset the balance. Your diet, sickness and long-term use of antibiotics can all disrupt the balance.
When the bacteria in your gut microbiota are less diverse, bad bacteria can take over and feed on the lining of the gut wall. This can lead to inflammation in the gut and contribute to a whole range of health issues from allergies to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease. It has even been associated with mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia.
What about probiotics and do they help?
Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally found in your gut, supplements and some foods.
They can reduce the number of harmful bacteria, provide new live bacteria and have been linked with several health benefits. This is particularly important after a course of antibiotics to restore the balance of your gut microbiota. Fermented foods are a great source of live bacteria such as kombucha, yoghurt (with live cultures), kefir, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut.
What are three simple things you can do to improve your gut health?
- Feed the healthy bacteria by eating plenty of fibre rich foods, especially legumes, veggies and whole grains.
- Replenish good bacteria by eating or drinking foods that contain probiotics/live cultures.
- Drink less alcohol and drink more water.