Nearly 2500 years ago, the Ancient Greek Physician, Hippocrates said: ‘All disease starts in the gut.’
Fast forward to 2022, and his findings were not far from the truth!
The health of our gut plays a very important and critical role when it comes to our overall health and wellbeing. It impacts our digestion, mood, energy, hormones, weight, our body’s ability to fight infections, and even our skin. It is linked to our mental and physical health and can easily be optimised through our diet and lifestyle. In this blog, I explore what gut health is, and some tips on how to start looking after one of the most important parts of our bodies (and overall health!).
What is Gut Health?
The Gut is made up of the gastrointestinal system which includes the stomach, small intestines and colon.
It is responsible for metabolising hormones, making neurotransmitters and neutralising pathogens. It is no wonder the health of our digestive systems can contribute to how we are feeling! When we talk about and refer to Gut Health, it includes what we are putting INTO our bodies, through the means of diet, and ONTO our bodies. It also includes HOW stress affects our gut, and how much sleep we are getting. It’s a complex system which is impacted by many things.
Have you ever heard of the saying, Gut Feeling?
This feeling is directly related to our Gut Health and plays a large role with brain-gut connection. Gut Health refers to the physical state and the physiologic function of the gastrointestinal tract and, as you have probably realised by now, it is made up of many factors that largely consist of our daily lifestyle and environment.
Why is Gut Health important?
The gut is responsible for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients, digestive processes, excreting toxins, and is also full of trillions of bacteria that assist with bodily functions and help us keep our bodies and minds balanced.
What happens when our Gut Health is NOT in check?
Well, it has the ability to impact almost EVERY aspect of health such as our stress response, sleep, metabolism, mood, behaviour and immunity. When the immune system is impacted in this way, you are more likely to suffer from recurring colds, allergies, joint pains, brain fog, acne, skin issues and potentially this may lead to more serious chronic health problems further down the track.
Microbiome is found in the gut and is the collection of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and other microbes and is very important when it comes to Gut Health. Basically, you want to be keeping your microbiome and the environment they live in happy, so you can thrive. There are thousands of species of bacteria found in the gut microbiome of humans and each and every one of them play different roles in the body. It is also important to prioritise your Gut Health in order to be healthy and keep the body in homeostasis—the body’s self-regulating process that keeps everything in equilibrium, as well as to avoid illness and poor quality of life.
Your Skin Health
When it comes to skin, a glowing and beautiful complex starts in the gut. Many people can relate to breakouts, which may be the result of imbalanced Gut Health. It all starts with what you are eating, and what happens on the inside of the body reflects on the outside of the body.
If we think about how breakouts occur when our hormones are out of balance, Gut Health contributes to this. If we are not consuming enough nutrients in our diet, or digesting our food properly due to poor Gut Health, our skin is directly impacted by this. The skin, being the largest elimination organ in the body, will not be able detox properly. Skin elasticity and collagen production suffers, leaving skin dull and with poor tone.
Supporting the good bacteria in your body is going to improve your skin health. When the microbiome is off, everything is impacted. By looking after your precious digestive system through diet, it will in turn assist with your skin and help you achieve more balance, as well as a smoother complexion. We really do glow from the inside out!
Top tips for Gut Health
As a Clinical Nutritionist, my top five recommendations for anyone starting out on their Gut Health journey include:
1. Eat fibre-rich foods
Not only does fibre provide the nutrients your body needs and is great for digestion, it also helps encourage the growth of friendly microbiome in the gut, specifically Bifidobacteria. Aim to eat 25 grams of fibre per day. Great sources include oats, barley, legumes (think chickpeas, beans and lentils), bananas, apples and raspberries.
2. Drink plenty of water
Water is critical for healthy digestion & Gut Health. Fibre absorbs water in the gut and this is how it does its job to keep you regular and to keep the intestinal contents moving along. Without enough water, your body is required to pull water from other areas of the body into the gut, which can leave you dehydrated. You need to drink 8 glasses or 2 litres of water per day for optimal health and extra if you are exercising, sweating or in air conditioning all day.
Include a diverse range of wholefoods in your diet – as there are hundreds of different species of bacteria in the gut, they require different nutrients for growth. By including a diverse range of wholefoods in your diet such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, it can lead to a more diverse microbiome.
Different coloured fruits and vegetables also ensure phytochemicals such as antioxidants and, in particular, polyphenols are being included in your diet. Polyphenols are considered prebiotics which feed the good bacteria in the gut and therefore increase their numbers.
Try to limit excessive amounts of alcohol and refined sugar as this contributes to ill Gut Health by disrupting the gut lining and promoting inflammation.
4. Regulate your Central Nervous system
Stress impacts our health and bodies, and when it comes to Gut Health the central nervous system in the brain and spinal cord is in control of our gut. If you have ever found yourself making a ‘gut wrenching’ decision or running to the toilet when under a great amount of pressure, it’s gut health that’s the culprit. When stress activates the ‘flight or fight’ response in the body by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, it consequently increases stomach acid, leading to bowel changes such as diarrhea or constipation and nausea. This jeopardises microbiome and can increase gut barrier permeability which can lead to a ‘leaky gut’, meaning stress can make the intestinal barrier weaker and allow gut bacteria to enter the body resulting in inflammation.
5. Rest is best
Getting enough sleep (around 6-8 hours per night), practicing Yoga, meditation, massage, walking, journaling, deep breathing and being kind to yourself in the form of self-care, all helps to regulate the central nervous system by activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System and by releasing endorphins which act as natural painkillers and help keep your Gut Health in check and in balance. After all, it said that the stomach is the second brain in the body!
6. Include fermented foods in your diet
Fermented foods such as plain yoghurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and kimchi have all undergone fermentations, a process in which sugars are broken down by yeast or bacteria and are beneficial to Gut Health. Many of these foods are rich in probiotics, live microorganisms which enhance the function and composition of the microbiome by improving or restoring gut flora.
7. Exposure to chemicals and toxins
In our daily environments, we are exposed to chemicals and toxins we may not even be aware of in the food we eat, the air we breathe, what we put on skin or the cleaning products we are using in our kitchen.
Toxins found in these products can influence our risk of diseases and also alter the composition of bacteria in the gut. Although safe levels of exposure have been tested and established, it is important to be conscious to reduce toxins as much as possible, this may require switching products with a lower chemical load to contribute to your gut health and overall wellbeing, and your body will thank you.
To achieve all this, we need to support and main lifestyle factors. As we’ve explored, there are so many factors that contribute to Gut Health such as diet, stress, sleep, chemicals and our environment. The great news is we can help keep our Gut Health balanced and optimal, as well as help our skin glow from inside-out. A healthy gut microbiome means having the right balance of beneficial bacteria to balance out the not-so friendly bacteria, and this requires modifications in nutrition and health.
Gut Health is a journey and it is constantly changing, by becoming more in tune with our bodies and conscious of our health decisions, we are able to become closer to being more in balance and shining radiantly!