By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.
The incredible complexity of the gut and its importance to our overall health is a topic of increasing research in the medical community. Numerous studies in the past two decades have demonstrated links between gut health and the immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and cancer.
Many facets of modern life such as high stress levels, too little sleep, eating processed and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics can all damage our gut micro-biome. This in turn may affect other aspects of our health, such as the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, ability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer.(1)
Definition of Gut health
Gut is another word for the gastrointestinal or digestive tract, which starts at your mouth and ends at your rectum.
Gut health refers to the overall health of your digestive tract. (2)
The World Health Organization defines “health” as a positive state of health, rather than “the absence of diseases,” the healthy gut can be defined as a state of physical and mental well-being without gastrointestinal symptoms that require the consultation of a doctor, absence of any disease affecting the gut, and also the absence of risk factors for diseases affecting gut. (3)
Why is my Gut microbiome important?
The micro-biome is responsible for all sorts of things in your body, including aiding digestion and the absorption of nutrients, helping to regulate things like bile and vitamin levels, and supporting the immune system.(4)
What are the signs of Gut health problems?
Everyone at some point experiences digestive problems such as abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, constipation, heartburn, nausea or vomiting. When symptoms persist, it may be a sign of an underlying problem that needs medical attention. Weight loss without a good reason, blood in the stool, black stool (a sign of bleeding in the gut), severe vomiting, fever, severe stomachaches, trouble swallowing food, pain in the throat or chest when food is swallowed, or jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin or eyes) could potentially indicate an underlying gastrointestinal problem with serious consequences. Consult your doctor if any of these symptoms occur. (5)
Tips to improve Gut health
- Eat a wide range of plant-based foods. A healthy gut has a diverse community of microbes, each of which prefers different foods.
- Eat more fibre. Most people eat less than they should. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and whole grains feed healthy bacteria.
- Avoid highly processed foods. They often contain ingredients that either suppress ‘good’ bacteria or increase ‘bad’ bacteria.
- Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, might encourage more microbes to grow. Eat them if you enjoy them.
- Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other fats when you can. It contains the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
- Antibiotics kill ‘good’ bacteria as well as ‘bad’. If you need antibiotics, make sure you eat lots of foods that boost your microbes afterwards.
- If your diet is low in fibre, a sudden increase can cause wind and bloating. This is less likely if you make gradual changes and drink extra water.(6)
In addition to eating a wide variety of good food, you can help maintain your gut health by:
- Cutting down stress
- Getting enough sleep.(7)