Understanding and Boosting Gut Health: Importance and Tips

We hear so much about gut health these days, but do we really know what it’s all about? And how can we understand more about it when the terminology used to describe this complex area of our body can be so confusing, for instance gut microbiota, gut microbiome and gut flora to name but a few. Let’s drill down into this subject in a bit more detail and find out why the gut’s so important and what we can do to improve our gut health.

What is the gut microbiome?

A microbiome is defined as ‘a collection of microbes (the microbiota) plus their functions and genes, found in a particular environment’. This includes yeasts, viruses and various other types of microorganisms as well as bacteria, which can reside in or on the body. There are many different microbiomes found throughout the human body but we’re going to focus on the gut microbiome, which incidentally is the largest of the microbiomes, and has many important roles.  

What does it do? 

The microbes in our gut are involved in regulating bowel movements, food digestion as well as the production of beneficial compounds such as certain vitamins. However, that’s not all they do, far from it… 

Approximately 70% of all our active immune cells are in our gut. Our beneficial bacteria interact with these immune cells and play a vital role in supporting our immune system and protecting us from disease-causing microbes. Our gut bacteria also help to keep our gut wall healthy. This is important especially when our gut is ‘leaky’ as it can allow allergens and toxins into the bloodstream, and this can lead to inflammation and potentially disease. 

Our gut bacteria also interact with our brain, with an astonishing 80% of signals going from the gut to the brain and only 20% from the brain to the gut. Research is showing that if our gut isn’t healthy, for instance if there’s an imbalance in the number or type of microbes in the gut, it can contribute to brain-related conditions such as anxiety and depression.  

As if that wasn’t enough, studies suggest that having an unhealthy gut can also impact other areas of the body such as our lungs, skin, and intimate health. What’s more if we’re pregnant the state of our gut microbiome can influence the development of our baby’s gut microbiome, and not just whilst they’re young but potentially throughout their whole life!  

So, it’s clear to see that looking after our gut health can really pay dividends in so many areas of our health. The most obvious question now is… 

How do we improve our gut health? 

Firstly, we should try to avoid: 

  • Processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and foods low in fibre.  
  • Pollutants such as pesticides, artificial food additives, heavy metals and chlorinated tap water. 
  • Some medications, particularly broad-spectrum antibiotics, which indiscriminately kill both good and bad bacteria. 
  • Alcohol, which can not only have an impact on our gut microbiota but our gut wall too. 
  • Stress and disrupted sleep.

Whilst having more of the foods which are good for gut health, such as:

  • Fermented foods e.g. live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso and tempeh. These all contain live bacteria (also known as probiotics) so can help to increase the number of beneficial microbes in your gut.
  • A diversity of plant foods. A study looking at over 15,000 stool samples found that those who ate over 30 different plant foods a week had a healthier gut microbiome.
  • Fermentable foods such as onion, garlic, leek, under-ripe bananas, Jerusalem artichoke and asparagus, which help to feed beneficial bacteria.
  • Foods high in polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) such as extra virgin olive oil, berries, cacao, green tea and herbs and spices.

What else can you do to improve your gut health:

  • Eating in a relaxed state and environment and chewing food slowly can help us to digest food more efficiently, which is ultimately better for our gut health.
  • Consuming organic food, filtering water and using natural cleaning and skincare products where possible.
  • Taking part in daily relaxation activities such as breath work, yoga, meditation or even just reading a book you enjoy or having a bath with calming essential oils.
  • Spending time in the great outdoors, particularly with or near animals.
  • Having a regular bedtime routine and trying to go to bed early so your body, including your gut, can have lots of time through the night to repair and rejuvenate.

As you can see, gut health is key to our overall health, and spending time looking after our gut doesn’t have to be difficult. Nurturing it and looking after those wonderful beneficial bacteria doing all that hard work in there, will help our gut to nurture us too!

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