Your gut is home to more than 100 trillion micro-organisms. Its a complex system and when it becomes unbalanced so can your health.
We are only just beginning to understand the role of healthy gut flora in human health.
What we do know already is that it is hugely important and impacts immunity, mental health, digestive function and metabolism.
Symptoms of poor gut health include -
recurring colds and flu
skin problems such as eczema and rosacea
digestive issues including gas, bloating and diarrhoea
irritability and mood swings
5 steps to gut health
Step 1 - Fibre
Including plant foods that contain inulin and oligofructose in your diet will increase beneficial bacteria in your gut. These fibres are food for good bacteria and are known as “pre-biotics". Sources of fermentable fibre include bananas, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, leek, sweet potato and garlic. Increasing good bacteria will overpower bad bacteria. Its like a car park, if all of the spaces are taken up with good bacteria, there’s no room left for the bad.
Step 2 - Fermented foods
Fermented foods are packed full of beneficial bacteria or “probiotics”. They might seem like the latest fad but in fact they were a big feature in our ancestors diets. Saurekraut, kefir, yoghurt, miso, tempeh, pickled vegetables and kombucha are all probiotic rich and can often be made cheaply and easily at home. Do some research and get fermenting!
Step 3 - Remove food toxins
Certain foods are toxic to gut health by causing intestinal inflammation, killing beneficial bacteria and feeding bad bacteria. Sugar, processed foods and wheat are the main culprits. Its pretty easy, eat good food and increase good bacteria, eat bad and the bad bacteria will take over.
Step 4 - Repair your intestinal barrier
Unbalanced gut flora can lead to inflammation and damage to the intestinal barrier. You may not have considered that what is contained in your gut is actually outside your body. Yep, as food is broken down by your digestive system, small molecules of nutrients are released through the intestinal barrier into the bloodstream and everything else is passed along the intestinal tube for excretion. Most of what goes into your mouth passes along the tube that is your intestines without crossing this barrier, effectively staying outside your body. If this barrier becomes damaged, the tiny holes that allow nutrient absorption become bigger allowing larger protein molecules to enter the bloodstream. The body recognises that these large proteins shouldn't be there and mounts an immune response to deal with them. This is known as “Leaky gut” and the result can be autoimmune conditions such as Diabetes and Hashimotos.
Removing food toxins will help to ease inflammation as will an increase in Omega 3 fatty acids. Glutamine is an important nutrient for improving the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Food sources for Glutamine include bone broth, beans, legumes, parsley and spinach.
Step 5 - Manage stress
Studies show that chronic stress can make changes to the diversity, number and composition of gut microorganisms in the body. Stress is a reality of the modern lifestyle, its not going to go away but learning to manage stress can certainly reduce its impact. Find what works for you, exercise, meditation, laughter, music; it really is an individual thing.
Unfortunately in some cases these five steps may not be enough. Intestinal pathogens such as parasites can be like dropping a bomb on a healthy gut. Eliminating pathogens can be tricky so consult your practitioner for testing and treatment.