Gut heath is a big news these days, put it into a search engine and you will find thousands of pages on this topic. I became aware of good bacteria following the first Yakult adverts in the UK, but did you know Yakult was actually founded in 1935? The importance of the friendly bacteria that reside on our guts has been known for a long time and we keep learning more and more. The latest being the connection between the gut and the brain.
We have around 38 trillion microbes living in our large intestine.
These microbes are performing really important jobs for us
- They are making a lot of important vitamins that our bodies need including B vitamins and more than half the bodies vitamin K requirements
- They make and secrete a number of hormones including serotonin, which is really important for sleep, mental health and metabolism, and many more which are responsible for digestion and control of fat storage and appetite, sending signals to our brains when were full
- They break down toxins for us which would have the potential to create infection and disease
- They protect against pathogens by setting up camp where the harmful bacteria normally would, and by producing anti-microbial chemicals that defend us against them
- Did you know that nearly 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut? Every single day our immune system is literally saving our life, destroying any mutated cells that could become cancerous, eliminating fungal spores and viruses
That Gut Feeling
Just look at some of the language we use like having a “gut feel” and when we need to find energy to for something we talk about getting our ass in gear. We swallow our disappointment, and sometimes need time to digest things. When someone says something unkind it can leave a nasty taste, when we’re nervous we get butterflies. None of this is a coincidence, this language developed because we noticed the connection between thoughts and then feelings we experience throughout our digestive system.
Scientist are even starting to question who is in charge, is it the brain or the gut? We know that long periods of stress can cause bowel issues and stomach ulcers, but now there is a suggestion that perhaps it could be the other way around. Could dysbiosis (an imbalance of heathy microbes in the gut) be the cause of some mental health issues? Our gut is regularly communicating with our brain via the vegus nerve which would explain why we sometimes sense something which is hard to explain. Many people talk about a sense of impending doom before a serious medical event, like a heart attack or poisoning.
What are the signs your gut microbes might not be happy?
The first is having a sore tummy and bloating. This may be due to an intolerance to something you are eating or drinking. Common food intolerances are dairy, eggs, nightshade vegetables, gluten/wheat, nuts, caffeine and alcohol. If you suspect you could be sensitive to something, try keeping a food diary and recording how you feel each day. Look for any trends and if you suspect something, cut it out for a week and see if the symptoms improve.
There are many other potential symptoms including
- Problems sleeping
- Skin rashes
- Weight gain
- Lack of energy
- Aches and pains
How can we improve our gut health?
The good news is there is lots we can do to positively influence our gut health
- Limit the amount of sugar, artificial sweetener, and processed foods as these are not only damaging to good bacteria but can support the growth of bad
- Eat lots of fibre, both soluble and insoluble
- Drink at least 2 litres of water a day
- See if you can include some pro-biotic foods in your diet. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha
- Eat a diverse range of foods to improve the diversity of species of microbes
- Our microbes love foods full of polyphenols, these include green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries and broccoli
- Try to reduce stress and get plenty of sleep
- And finally – move more, your microbiome love exercise. Exercise promotes the growth of bacteria which produce the fatty acid that repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation, therefore potentially preventing diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes.
So, in summary, look after those microbes and they will take very good care of you!