So many of us live busy lives, with all the stresses and complications that modern life brings. With COVID-19 creating an additional level of stress, anxiety, illness, lifestyle changes and so many other emotions, I thought I’d write a list of how we can help look after ourselves and our guts.
- Sleep. In short, poor sleep can negatively affect your gut microbiome, our microbiome is regulated and influenced by our circadian rhythm. Melatonin is produced in the gut as well as the brain, controlling your sleep cycle as well as being linked to the permeability of your gut. So, turn that TV off and put your phone down, ensure your room is dark and not too hot, and schedule in some early nights to relax and get a good night’s sleep.
- Diet diversity. We all know we should be eating 5-a-day, but do you stick to that, or could you do more? Studies have shown that diet diversity was related to higher gut microbiota diversity, especially in those who ate whole grains, veggies and fruits. Increase your fibre intake slowly to ensure no side effects such as gas or bloating!
- Exercise. One of the leading ideas in the field of exercise’s influence on the microbiome is that working out boosts the levels of gut microbes that produce butyrate (a short chain fatty acid) that has a whole host of health benefits in humans, from producing satiety hormones that curb hunger to playing a role in supporting the survival of existing neurons and promoting the growth of new ones.
- Fermented foods. Kefir, kimchi, yoghurt, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut are all fermented foods that contain beneficial bacteria that support your gut microbiome. Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria so by consuming fermented foods you are adding beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your overall intestinal flora, increasing the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system, and enhancing the immune system.
- Probiotics. Probiotic foods tend to be fermented foods listed above, with World Health Organization defining probiotics as as ‘living microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer health benefits on the host’. These have been heavily marketed as a key purchase needed for top gut health for they have potential to introducing beneficial functions to existing microbial communities in the gut. As stated on the NHS website, there is some evidence that probiotics are helpful in some cases (IBS symptoms, diarrhoea when taking antibiotics), but if you have a varied and fibre rich diet you don’t *have* to take them! Stick to a varied diet and include fermented foods where possible!
- Prebiotics. These come from types of carbs (mostly fibre) that humans can’t digest. The beneficial bacteria in your gut eat this fibre. Foods high in prebiotic fibre are oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, garlic, leeks to name a few.
- Reducing stress levels. Stress can affect this brain-gut communication and may trigger pain, bloating and other gut discomfort. Stress can also affect digestions, and what nutrients the intestine absorb, as well as the amount of gas produced. Trey meditations, yoga, walking, or looking at your schedule and workload in order to reduce stress levels. Take some time for you and take a breather!
- Eat slowly. Our digestive system starts in our mouth with the mechanical breakdown of our food, chewing. Chewing effectively and slowly allows the stomach to produce a good supply of stomach acid and digestive juices and start the digestive process in an effective way. Try not to multitask, sit down and take some deep breathes before you eat, allow yourself to be calm. Focus on your senses, the colour, smell, taste, texture of the food and take smaller bites. Chew every mouthful thoroughly and enjoy the process of eating.
- Keep an eye on your poo. Yep you read that right, keep an eye on your poo! It’s a pretty taboo topic for most people, but if we’re taking gut health, how can we ignore poo! Not only is it something EVERYONE does, it’s also a great indicator of our gut health. Changes in the colour, texture or shape of your poo can reveal signs of digestive problems, infection, or more serious issues. Take a look at the Bristol Stool Chart to learn more about what your poo is telling you!
- Reduce smoking & alcohol intake. In short, reduce (or stop!) the amount your smoke and the volume you may drink for optimum gut health. Smoking is a large risk factor for mouth, lip, and voice box cancer, as well as cancer of the oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, colon, and rectum. Alcohol can also have large effects on the digestive system. Before you ask, I’m not saying you can’t have the occasional glass of your favourite tipple, far from it! But it’s good to be aware of the effects it has on your digestive system. In excess, alcohol can inhibit the production of digestive enzymes and juices, meaning it becomes more difficult for your body to breakdown, digest, and absorb nutrients from your food. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause inflammation in your gut as well as the likelihood of poorer food choices. It isn’t all bad news, red wine contains powerful polyphenols, which your gut bugs love. A systematic review found that polyphenols found in red wine had a positive effect on the microbiome…as with all thing in nutrition, balance is key!
I hope these 10 things help you to view gut health as something we can all work towards day by day, with small changes really making a difference.
If you’re concerned about anything to do with your gut health, please do visit your GP. If you’d like any further nutrition of lifestyle advice on gut health, please do contact Amanda Finch for a free discovery call!
Written by Amanda Finch MSc ANutr. Insta: fromroottoleaf.