What is a happy gut and why do we need one?
The role of the gut microbiota in health and disease is the topic de jour and has become the subject of intensive research. Striving for a happy, healthy gut is definitely on trend nowadays, with links to mental health, the immune system, obesity and Alzheimer’s; it’s no wonder it has risen in popularity and gained consumer interest, with many products being marketed for modifying the microbiota towards a healthy profile such as prebiotics and probiotics (Fraher M, 2012).
- Prebiotics are non-digestible foods such as dietary fibrethat beneficially affect the host by stimulating growth of one or more bacteria.
- A prebiotic must not be hydrolysed (broken down) or absorbed in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract,
- It must be selectively fermented by one or a number of potentially beneficial bacteria in the intestine
- It must be able to alter the colonic microflora towards a healthier composition.
- Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host
What do we define as a healthy gut?
The term ‘gut microbiota’ refers to the vast and diverse community of microorganisms that reside in the human gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). A healthy gut is one massive ecosystem that strives to be diverse and well balanced, coexisting with trillions of organisms such as funghi, yeasts, bacteria and viruses – apparently weighing 2kg! There are 10 times more microbial cells than the number of human cells in the body, which increase in number and diversity from the stomach, small intestine and finally the colon. Richness and diversity can be affected by the varied species present (composition) and how many of each species (number).
What has a negative effect on our microbiota?
Microbiota can change for many reasons:
- Helicobacter Pylori
- Clostridium Difficile Infection
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Colitis)
- Colorectal Cancer
- Food borne illness (Food poisoning)
Why do we need a healthy microbiome?
- Gut health plays a major role in maintaining our overall wellbeing
- 70% of our immune system is within our gut
- 90% of the happy hormone serotonin is produced in the gut
- Gut microbes produce the neurotransmitters crucial for good mental health
- An imbalance of good vs bad bacteria has been attributed to a range of chronic health conditions like IBD, arthritis obesity and diabetes
70% of our immune system is in our gut!
What should you eat for a healthy microbiome?
Fibre is the one component of our diet that directly feeds our gut microbiota. Certain carbohydrates and fibre are largely undigested and thus are fermented in the colon by the microbiota residing there. By-products of this fermentation include short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are used as energy by the cells lining your colon. This helps us to lower the pH of our gut and fight off pathogens (a bacterium, virus or microorganism that could cause disease), and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
This means eating more diverse molecules from different sources such as wholegrains, oats, nuts, legumes, pulses, vegetables and fruit. How we cook them and how much we eat will affect us all differently.
It is also worth mentioning that those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may need to modify their fibreintake , so for those who suffer, increasing fibrous foods gradually (to meet their 30g /d) which haven’t been identified as triggers will work best. Good options are Ispaghula husk and Psyllium for IBS – D (diarrhoea) or linseeds for those who suffer with IBS-C (constipation).
- The first step we can all take to good gut health is increasing our fibre This will ensure a healthy gut and ensures the digestive system is able to clear out waste properly. Aim to meet the guidelines of 30g / d
- Prebiotics- these are found naturally in certain foods and will encourage growth of ‘good bacteria’. Aim to include onions, leeks, chicory, beans, kefir and sauerkraut into your diet daily, or as much as possible.
- Probiotics – you can add these directly into your diet to ‘top up’ your good bacteria. You can find them in a range of products such as yoghurts (watch out for sugar content), specially prepared milks, Miso and supplements. If choosing to supplement it is worth getting one that includes Lactobaccilus and Bifidobacteria and take at least 10 billion bacteria daily with cold food or drink.
- Relax- Stress can have a major impact on gut health. The stress hormone cortisol can cause dysregulation in the communication pathways between the gut and the brain (known as the brain gut axis) and can create positive environments for growth of our bad bacteria
- Cut out processed foods- high intakes of sugar can halt the production of proteins that foster the growth of our beneficial gut microbes.
- 12 hour fasting or intermittent fasting (not recommended in diabetes) is said to promote long-lasting gut health, in addition to increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing inflammation (Catterson, J 2018)
- Chew your food- it is said we should chew our food 20-30 times before swallowing to aid digestion
Talking to a gut health expert may help you to optimise your health and wellbeing, get in touch for a free 15 minute discovery call to see if we can help!
Chelakkot. C, Ghim. J, et al Mechanisms regulating intestinal barrier integrity and its p
Catterson. J. Et al, (2018) Short-Term, intermittent fasting Induces Long-lasting Gut Health and TOR-Independent Lifespan Extension
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5988561/athological implications (2018) 50. Article 103
Fraher, M. H., O’Toole, P. W., Quigley, E.M, (2012) Techniques used to characterize gut microbiota: a guide for the clinican