Did you know that you are more bacteria than you are human?
Gut health has become a huge topic of discussion in recent years – and for good reason! Hippocrates once wrote that “all disease begins in the gut” and, more and more, today’s health experts are sitting up and taking note.
In fact, from our immune systems to our mood and even our metabolism, the trillions of microscopic bacteria living inside us can have a huge say in our overall health.
Gut health is a topic which fascinates me, and I’ve read endless books and listened to countless podcasts to find out more. But just to give you an idea of how important our microbes are – did you know that they are the planet’s oldest residents, and that there are more microbes on your own hand alone than there are people on the planet?
Pretty incredible, right?
WHY GUT HEALTH MATTERS
When you consider these facts, and begin to process that we each have trillions of bacteria living inside us – many of which live in our large intestines – you can perhaps understand why having a healthy gut is so important.
Our journeys towards gut health actually begin the moment we are born, as we pass through our mother’s birth canal. Once we start to grow and expand our diets and our surroundings, our microbiomes diversify and develop.
These microbiomes are crucial to our overall health and can have a huge impact on our entire bodies. Some scientists believe we each have up to 1,000 species of different bacteria living in our tummies alone, and these all play their own important roles when it comes to health.
Interestingly, by giving your gut some loving, it is thought that you can lower your risk of developing certain allergies and diseases – including cancer and heart disease – and ease symptoms of depression. Some studies suggest that our microbiome may even impact our weight and could control blood sugars, therefore lowering or increasing our risk of developing type II diabetes, depending on our tummy’s health.
Our inner bacteria also help our bodies to digest food more effectively, help to let us know when we are feeling full, produce certain vitamins – including vitamin K – and tell our bodies when to fight off invading infections.
Amazingly, research has also shown that 90% of the fibres in the vagus nerve carry information from the gut to the brain – so your gut feelings may well be worth listening to!
SIGNS YOUR GUT NEEDS SOME LOVE
So, now you know the importance of gut health, how do you know if you have an unhealthy gut? Well, we all have different signs and symptoms – just as our bodies all need different things, we all have varying warning signs when things aren’t quite right. That said, here are a few clues you may have if you need to give your gut some love:
Tummy and Digestive Issues: Gas, bloating, cramps, constipation, heartburn, nausea or diarrhoea are all signs you could have problems within your gut.
Moodiness, anxiety and depression
Irritated skin or acne
As always, if you suffer any of these symptoms on a recurring basis, it’s worth checking in with a GP or a professional to seek their advice first, and to rule out any underlying issues, before you work to fix your gut health.
TEN TIPS TO BOOST GUT HEALTH
Want to make some changes? Here are some simple steps you can take to give your gut some loving – and to boost your gut health.
If the list seems exhaustive or overwhelming, don’t worry – just try one or two things, and slowly add more as you go along. A little goes a long way when it comes to our health!
Vary Your Diet
A healthy tum is home to all kinds of microbes, all of which have different appetites and tastes. To support your health and to feed your bacterial friends, aim to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods – the more colour and the bigger the range, the better!
I know, I know – this one is easier said than done for many of us. However, stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on your gut and your digestive system, so it’s worth working on your stress levels if you do suffer with gut issues.
For me, taking baby steps is key when it comes to managing stress or anxiety (believe me, I know how hard it is). Why not set aside five minutes a day to meditate, try some deep breathing exercises, or do some gentle Yoga moves? You might also want to try keeping a Gratitude journal, enjoy a hot soak in the bath or set aside some time for a head-clearing walk among the autumn leaves.
3. Load Up on Probiotic Foods
Encourage a healthy, diverse microbiome with probiotic foods. These can include those famous fermented foods, such as miso, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, sourdough and kombucha. However, if you don’t fancy giving these a go, you might also like to try adding natural yoghurt to your diet (for vegans, many coconut yoghurts have added good bacteria – just check the label to find out!).
4. Get Yourself Some Prebiotics, Too!
A little different from probiotics, prebiotics are the non-digestible carbs which feed your good bacteria, helping them to go forth and multiply. Prebiotic-rich foods include asparagus, green bananas, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions and whole grains.
5. Pack In the Fibre
Most of us know by now that fibrous diets are good for us – and we also know that many of us don’t get enough of it. Yet, did you know that high-fibre diets help to feed our guts, enabling our little bacterial friends to thrive? To boost your fibre intake, pile your plates with plenty of fresh fruits and veg, ditch refined carbs (instead, opt for whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats) and try adding legumes and beans to your diet for a fibrous dose of protein.
As an aside, if you aren’t used to eating high-fibre foods, take baby steps to avoid wind and bloating – a little at a time is the key!
6. Lose the Sweeteners
Unfortunately for those of you with a sweet tooth, artificial sweeteners and diets high in sugar can cause chaos for our microscopic friends. In fact, studies have shown that diets high in processed sugars and fats can negatively impact the gut, even affecting our brain and behaviour in the process. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that the sweetener aspartame increases the growth of “bad” bacterias which have been linked to metabolic diseases.
It’s also worth noting that many processed foods can have a negative impact. On the flipside, extra-virgin olive oil contains high amounts of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
7. Spice Up Your Life
Humble herbs and spices don’t just add flavour to dishes – they also support our gut bacteria, helping to boost healthy digestion. For instance, ginger can reduce nausea and soothe tummy pains, while turmeric contains a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, known as curcumin. Meanwhile, cinnamon can also ease nausea and may even balance blood sugars, while holy basil can help the body to cope with stress.
8. Only Take Antibiotics If You Have To
Antibiotics can sometimes be essential, life-saving treatments. However, they are commonly over-used and over-prescribed, which can lead to antibiotic resistance. The use of antibiotics can also damage the gut microbiome (it can impact our tummies as long as six months later, according to some studies). Discuss with your GP about possible alternatives, or consider taking a Probiotic Supplement after your treatment has ended.
9. Check Your Cleaning Products
Similarly, antibacterial cleaning products and soaps can damage your gut flora. Wherever possible, use natural, gentle alternatives – I recommend using Microbz, if you’re based in the UK (I love their air freshener, Power Cleaner and Multi-Surface Cleaner)
10. Stay Hydrated
Drinking plenty of water is key for digestive (and overall) health. Sipping on water throughout the day can help to keep things moving in our digestive system. Better still, try sipping on hot water – this helps you to break down food quicker than drinking cold water.