5 simple steps to improve your gut health

Gut and Bowel Health

Gut health plays a major role in maintaining our overall health and well being. Read our 5 tips for keeping your gut healthy.

16/05/2019


Emily Condon
BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

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The intricacy and complexity of the gut and its importance to our overall health and wellbeing is a topic of increasing research in the medical community. The human gut is home to over 100 trillion bacteria, known as the gut flora. Like a fingerprint, the mix of bacteria in your body is different from everyone else's mix. The good bacteria in the gut microbiota help the body to create all sorts of compounds essential for optimal functioning, like neurotransmitters, short-chain fatty acids and certain vitamins such as vitamin K. They aid in the digestion of certain foods and play an important role in the immune system, performing a barrier effect, but they can only do their job if they are given the proper fuel.

It is important to have good gut health as an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria in the gut can affect not only your gut health, but also a range of other chronic health conditions, from inflammatory conditions like inflammatory bowel disease IBD), to metabolic conditions like obesity and diabetes. Many diet, lifestyle and other environmental factors can negatively affect your gut bacteria.

Here are our 5 simple steps to keep your gut healthy:

Eating plenty of fibre

Dietary fibre is a term used for plant-based carbohydrates that, unlike other carbohydrates, are not digested in the small intestine and reach the large intestine or colon. Fibre helps to keep gut cells healthy and ensures the digestive system is able to clear out waste properly. Fibre rich foods not only limit the growth of harmful bacteria but also feed healthy gut bacteria such as bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and bacteroidetes [1]. It's important to eat a variety of different fibre sources. High-fibre foods include wholegrain pasta and bread, oats, apples, pears, broccoli, carrots, and nuts.

Cut down on sugar

Most bacteria in the gut help support the body, but there are bacteria present that can have some negative impacts on your overall health. For the majority of the time the bad bacteria do not cause problems as the good bacteria outweigh the bad. However, if the balance of bacteria shifts and there is a reduction in gut flora diversity, this may increase the risk of insulin resistance, weight gain and inflammatory bowel disease [2] [3]. What does this have to do with sugar? Well, just like us, bacteria that reside in the gut have to eat. While plenty of us has a sweet tooth, our gut certainly doesn’t. Foods high in sugar feed yeasts such as candida albicans [4]. Normally present in the gut without causing any problems, an overgrowth of candida can overwhelm the “friendly” gut flora. Avoid highly processed foods as they often contain ingredients that either suppress 'good' bacteria or increase 'bad' bacteria.

Drinking enough water

Drinking plenty of water and keeping hydrated is important for good gut health, as water supports the digestive system helping the body to absorb important minerals and nutrients. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.

Manage stress

During stressful times, the body releases hormones that increase breathing and heart rate and prepare the muscles to respond to a threat. When faced with a perceived threat, the body’s fight or flight system triggers in a well-choreographed sequence that has evolved over millions of years. One of the major areas where blood flow becomes restricted during times of stress is the digestive system. Changes to blood flow and secretions into the gut reduces microbial diversity and lowers the number of friendly flora, thereby creating conditions that encourage undesirable bacterial strains to thrive [6]. Between the gut and the rest of the body it’s a two-way street where stress impacts gut health and gut health impacts how the body manages stress. The brain and gut communicate constantly through the gut-brain axis, which is a complex bidirectional system of neural connections involving the central nervous system and the enteric (digestive) nervous system. 

Find out more about how to manage stress

Up your intake of fermented products

Fermentation is a process that involves the breakdown of sugars by bacteria and yeast. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that help restore a healthy gut microbiota and intestinal barrier. Fermented foods such as natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh and kombucha have been shown to promote the abundance of healthy gut bacteria [5] and reduce the levels of enterobacteriaceae, a family of bacteria linked to a number of chronic diseases. 


References

1. Zou, J., Chassaing, B., Singh, V., Pellizzon, M., Ricci, M., Fythe, M., Kumar, M. and Gewirtz, A. (2019). Fiber-Mediated Nourishment of Gut Microbiota Protects against Diet-Induced Obesity by Restoring IL-22-Mediated Colonic Health.

2. Turnbaugh, P., Hamady, M., Yatsunenko, T., Cantarel, B., Duncan, A., Ley, R., Sogin, M., Jones, W., Roe, B., Affourtit, J., Egholm, M., Henrissat, B., Heath, A., Knight, R. and Gordon, J. (2008). A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins. Nature, 457(7228), pp.480-484.

3. Ott, S. (2004). Reduction in diversity of the colonic mucosa associated bacterial microflora in patients with active inflammatory bowel disease. Gut, 53(5), pp.685-693.

4. Laurian, R., Dementhon, K., Doumèche, B., Soulard, A., Noel, T., Lemaire, M. and Cotton, P. (2019). Hexokinase and Glucokinases Are Essential for Fitness and Virulence in the Pathogenic Yeast Candida albicans. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10.

5. Marco, M., Heeney, D., Binda, S., Cifelli, C., Cotter, P., Foligné, B., Gänzle, M., Kort, R., Pasin, G., Pihlanto, A., Smid, E. and Hutkins, R. (2017). Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 44, pp.94-102.

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