Gut Health – why this is something we ALL need to start to understand when it comes to our physical AND mental health. The bacteria in our gut is paramount for leading a healthy life, read on to find out why.
Not the most delightful sounding topics of conversation I know, but gut health, or more specifically the bacteria living in our gut (scientifically known as microbiome), is something which we must all pay attention to in order to maintain our mental and physical health. Yes that’s right, our gut can affect our mental health too. Not only do these microbiome break down and help us to absorb the nutrients in our food, but they also have an incredible impact on everything from weight loss and inflammation levels to even our susceptibility to depression and anxiety. To put it another way, if there is something wrong with you and the doctors aren’t sure what it is, you can pretty much bet it begins with your diet. And therefore your gut.
Like everything in our body the gut requires balance. The more diverse our gut bacteria, the greater our overall health – and the less diverse our bacteria, the more susceptible we are to health issues. We need specific levels of healthy bacteria to help regulate not only our digestion but our hormones, immune system, and brain. Intestinal bacterial overgrowth is associated with acid reflux, IBS, bloating, and many autoimmune-inflammation spectrum conditions. If our good and bad bacteria is out of balance a whole host of problems can arise; one major cause of many of our health problems is intestinal permeability, or, what is now known as ‘leaky gut’. This means that bacteria and toxins are able to “leak” through the intestinal wall and cause all sorts of internal problems.
Many facets of modern life such as high stress levels, insufficient sleep, eating processed and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics can all damage our gut microbiome and cause a leaky gut. This in turn may affect other aspects of our health, such as the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, ability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer. Poor gut health has been linked to Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), asthma, acne, skin complaints, thyroid disorders, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, diabetes, autism, neurological conditions, resistance to weight loss, as well as an inclination towards depression and anxiety.
What affects our gut health?
The major factor affecting our gut health is through our diet. Food is our fuel, if we fuel good health we are on to a winner, however, if we choose to fuel disease, well, the outcome is not going to be a good one. Processed foods, high-sugar foods, inflammatory foods such as red meat, trans-fats and oils, white bread and pasta, gluten, refined soybean and vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol, are some sinister culprits for promoting inflammation and potential causes of gut damage.
Antibiotics, aspirin, ibuprofen, non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and many other medications are quite often essential to people’s lives, however they can cause serious problems in the gut as a nasty side-effect. Frequent use and overuse of these drugs kill the bacteria in your gut regardless of whether they are actually harmful or not. This can allow for pathogenic bacteria to take over, especially if you are not making efforts to restore the balance through probiotic supplements or fermented foods. These drugs work to relieve pain by blocking the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase, which also inhibits it from doing its important job of protecting your stomach from the corrosive effects of its acid, causing an increase in intestinal inflammation and permeability. This permeability can trigger an autoimmune response, and research estimates that 65% of people who consistently use NSAIDS have intestinal inflammation and 30% have ulcers.
We all know it is a killer, but did you know that stress can cause higher levels of the cortisone hormone, and decreased levels of oxygen to be present in our gut? Both of these are ways in which chronic stress can damage our gut.
Excessive alcohol consumption is something we should all avoid for many reasons. When it comes to our gut health, alcohol can irritate our intestines and suppress the hormones that protect against inflammation and gut permeability.
Blood sugar problems
When blood sugar skyrockets, compounds known as advanced ‘Glycation End Products’ (AGEs), also become elevated and can increase the permeability of the gut.
Slow intestinal healing time has been linked with hormone imbalances of oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormones, and cortisol. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome and explain why you may not be able to heal despite your best efforts. You may need to focus on balancing your hormones before you can heal your gut.
The gut and the brain are interlinked, more and more scientific research is pointing towards the direct links between the two. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. This is due to the brain and the gastrointestinal system being intimately connected.
Since the majority of your immune system is located in your gut, leaky gut syndrome is both a cause and an effect of autoimmune problems. Autoimmune disease increases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines that destroy your gut lining.
How to know if you have gut problems
In order to determine whether you have issues with your gut health you must undergo some tests Due to the unique fragility of each individual and because there are literally trillions of bacteria in our bodies, to outline the levels of your own you would need to visit a doctor specialising in gut health. They should suggest running gut permeability labs in order to get an idea of the levels of antibodies in your system. These levels can indicate any irregularities which may point towards a leaky gut. Also a comprehensive stool analysis should be done in order to uncover everything from the presence of parasites to bacterial imbalances or conditions like candida overgrowth any of which can affect your gut health.
How to achieve a healthy gut
Yoga, meditation, a walk in the park, a hot bath… whatever gives you calm and peace of mind, do it every day!
At least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep
Inflammatory foods, processed foods, high-sugar & salt intake, excess alcohol, trans-fats, excessive amounts of meat.
Whole foods, a wide variety of plant-based foods, and get plenty of fibre.
Plenty of fluids, mainly water, but also get all your vitamins and minerals from juices and smoothies. You may want to regularly add bone broth to your diet as it contains an abundance of collagen and minerals that soothe and repair a damaged gut.
Are essential for a healthy gut as they promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Probiotic-rich fermented foods like (fresh not canned) sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi will reinoculate your microbiome with good bacteria.
If you are still suffering you may want to eliminate certain foods and reintroduce them to see which you are intolerant of, or basically what your body does and doesn’t want or like. Intermittent fasting also works for many people with gut health issues by giving your digestive system a break and giving it time to heal any issues without distraction – some choose to fast between 6pm and 12pm the following day three times per week, for example, but you must find the right timing for you and your body. There are also supplements such as L-glutamine, colostrum, slippery elm, cilium husk, turkey tail, liquorice, and marshmallow root, that can be taken to manage any irregular levels of bacteria, but this must be discussed and decided upon with a professional once your individual situation has been analysed.
As usual this information points towards all the typical things we regularly suggest in order to maintain a good healthy life – sleep, hydration, good diet, and exercise. And listen to your body! Knowledge is power when it comes to your health, especially the health of your gut. Arming yourself with understanding of what destroys, as well as heals, your gut will put you in a position of control.
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