How do you know if your gut is healthy ?
Gut health is very popular right now and for a good reason. The gut is linked to so many aspects of our health, including our digestion and absorption of nutrients, not to mention our immune system. So, it's exciting that new scientific research is being done all the time, and more and more people are talking about it.*
(* when we are referring to gut health, there will be talk about poo, so let's get any squeamishness out of the way now !)
When we have a healthy gut, it has a positive impact on our overall health. In contrast, when our gut is a little of whack, this can lead to not only gut specific health problems, but also health issues in other areas of our body and even disease.
What do you mean by the term 'gut' ?
Before you start adding kombucha and sauerkraut to your shopping list, let me explain what I mean when I talk about 'the gut'.
In physiological terms, your gut actually starts at the mouth as this is the beginning of your digestive processes, and it goes all the way down the oesophagus to your stomach, through your small and large intestines and our your bottom. (I told you there would be poo talk 💩!)
When you read about gut health, most people are actually referring to the large intestine (or colon) as this is where our gut microbes, that are so important to our health, live. However, it's important to think about the entire digestive process when it comes to gut health as this includes how we digest and absorb nutrients.
Why is gut health important ?
The digestive system uses enzymes, acids and hormones, as well as other organs including the pancreas and gall bladder, so it's a complex process that works its magic without you even realising.
It's only when things go out of whack that you notice a problem. Good examples of this are lactose intolerance, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's.
Not only that, if your gut isn't healthy, it can result in problems such as bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) etc. It can also negatively impact your immune system. This is because approximately 70% of our immune tissue is located in the gut !
The gut is also linked to your brain via the vagus nerve (also known as the gut-brain axis). Recent studies have suggested that this physical link can also play a part in our mental health. In other words, a healthy gut can help with a healthy mind. However, let me add a note of caution, as the research is still very much in it's early stages. That being said, there's absolutely no harm in trying to improve your gut health to see if it helps your mental health. But - don't stop taking prescribed medication or put off seeing a health professional if you are concerned about your mental health.
What is a healthy gut ?
A healthy gut has a good diversity of microbes (known as the gut microbiota); both 'good' and bad'. When there is an imbalance between the two and there's more 'bad' bacteria, this is called dysbiosis and can lead to health problems and even diseases such as colon cancer and type 2 diabetes
What constitutes a healthy gut will be different for eveyone as it's so individual that even twins don't have the same gut microbiota.
One of the easiest ways to achieve gut microbe diversity is by eating a variety of plants and fibre. Having this variety is just as, if not more important, than the amount you eat. Ideally you shoud be looking to eat 30 different plant foods per week. This probably sounds quite unattainable, right ? Don't panic, it includes all kinds of foods from veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, spices and herbs. Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming blog post on how to get your '30 a week'. Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are all rich in healthy bacteria too.
Whilst some elements of our gut micorbiota are already set. For example, whether we were born via casaerean section or a vaginal birth. There are other ways, not just through food that you can get gut healthy. These include focus on good sleep reducing stress, physical activity, having access to a furry pet and being in nature. Again, I'll be posting more about this soon.
Finally, some fun facts
Did you know......?
The 'small intestine' is actually the biggest. It's all wrapped up inside us and is actually around 7 metres in length 😮
It takes approximately 12-30 hours for foods to make it through the large intestine 🕒
There are trillions of microbes living in our large intestine 🦠
No two people have the same gut microbiota, even twins are unique 👨🤝👨
Want more help ?
If you'd like some personalised support with your gut health, such as checking if you're eating the right kind of foods for your gut. Or help to manage, or overcome gut issues such as IBS - get in touch to book a free 15 min chat with to see how I can support you.