Gut health matters

The gut refers to the gastrointestinal tract leading from your mouth to the anus, including all the organs along the way. When people talk about gut health though, they’re often referring to the gut microbiome, which is all the microorganisms like bacteria that live in our gut.

Gut health essentially means the health of the gut microbiome - keeping all those bacteria happy.

Why is gut health important?

A healthy gut microbiome is a huge topic recently. It goes a lot further than irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease. Research has linked a healthy gut microbiome to a number of potential benefits:

  • Improved digestion and less bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea.
  • Lower levels of depression and improved mood.
  • Better sleep.
  • More effective immune function.
  • Improved heart health.
  • Weight management.
  • Even prevention of some cancers and autoimmune diseases.

Lots of research needs to happen before definite conclusions can be made, but it’s clear that the gut microbiome is really important to our overall health.

Signs of an unhappy gut microbiome

As a healthy gut seems to have benefits all over the body, so can an unhealthy gut cause problems all over the body - not just in the gut. Signs that you might have poor gut health include:

  • Digestive issues, such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.
  • Food intolerances or allergies.
  • Unintentional weight loss or weight gain.
  • Trouble sleeping, or always feeling tired.
  • Skin problems like eczema.
  • Autoimmune diseases (potentially).

A bowl of healthy food

10 ways to improve gut health

Luckily, there are several ways in which you can improve the health of your gut microbiome without seeing a doctor. However, you should always consult your doctor with any serious issues you’re experiencing so you can check them out properly. 

1. Reduce stress

Easier said than done, but one of the main culprits of poor gut health is stress. Chronic (ongoing) stress can increase inflammation in your body, which can cause a whole range of other issues. Ideas for reducing stress include taking some me-time, going for a walk, reading, mindfulness activities, yoga, burning nice-smelling candles, having cuddles with a pet, decreasing caffeine intake or having a hot bubble bath.

2. Get more sleep

Our gut microbiome is regulated by our circadian rhythm, so sleep is really important for overall gut health. Having a consistent sleep routine, regulating your lights and having a pleasant bedroom environment can all help. The Sleep Foundation Org has all the tips for improving your sleep hygiene. 

3. Exercise

Independent of diet, regular exercise has been shown to alter the gut microbiota in a positive way. Find something you like doing, so that you want to do it - exercise doesn’t have to mean running around the park or hitting the gym if that’s not appealing to you.

Aim for some kind of movement each day, even if it’s only ten minutes. It all adds up!

4. Diet diversity

Having a range of plant-based foods high in non-digestible fibre provide the bacteria in the gut microbiome with food, also known as prebiotics. The more different types of foods you eat, the happier the microbiota are! Foods high in fibre are fruit and veg, legumes, pulses (beans, lentils, peas), nuts and seeds, so aim to include more of them in your diet, and change it up as often as possible for maximum diversity.

5. Stop smoking

If you’re a smoker, you’ll have heard this before, but stopping or reducing your smoking will improve nearly every body problem out there. As far as gut health goes, smoking can cause cancer in the organs that make up your gut. It has also been linked to altered microbiota, increasing the number of potentially harmful microorganisms and decreasing the levels of the beneficial ones.

6. Eat mindfully

Eating fast can increase the amount of air in your gastrointestinal tract, which can cause bloating. Eating more mindfully can also give your body more of a chance to digest your food properly and absorb the nutrients from it. The easiest way to eat more mindfully is to eat screen-free and at a table. 

7. Consider probiotics and fermented foods

Probiotics are basically bacteria, but the good kind that benefits you and your gut. Some research shows that probiotics can help with overall gut health, but it’s not clear how many of the probiotics actually reach your large intestine to make a difference, so consult a health professional before buying any supplements.

You can also eat more fermented foods - kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, fermented vegetables - as these are a natural source of probiotics.

A glass of water with a slice of lemon8. Drink plenty of water

Staying hydrated has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the lining of the intestines, as well as on the balance of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. Drinking more water is an easy way to promote a healthy gut.

9. Check for food intolerances

Allergies or intolerances can result in bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, fatigue and acid reflux. Common trigger foods are those with dairy, gluten and FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols - they’re a group of short-chain carbohydrates found naturally in many foods).

If you have digestive issues, try tracking what you eat and the symptoms you get with a food diary ready to take to a doctor, dietitian or registered nutritionist. You can try to see potential causes yourself, but a professional will do this much better. 

Remember: complete digestion takes 12-72 hours from when you eat food! So the meal you just ate is not the one causing your bloated belly.

10. Don't take antibiotics you don’t need

Overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistance to them, but antibiotics also damage the microbiota by altering the balance of bacteria. The less you need antibiotics, the better (but obviously take them if your doctor says you should).

For any more help with gut health and nutrition, you can book a free 10-minute chat with Kimberley to discuss your issues and options for a full nutrition consultation.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, N6

Written by Kimberley Neve, MSc, ANutr - Weight Management Specialist

London, N6

Kimberley is a Registered Associate Nutritionist who offers personalised nutrition consultations to help clients stop dieting, optimise their nutrition and feel happier. She specialises in weight management without calorie-counting or restriction to help her clients have a healthier relationship with food and achieve their goals.

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