You know the saying- ‘we are what we eat’ Or are we? Actually, it’s more accurate to say ‘we are what we absorb’. Therefore, a healthy gut is fundamental for overall wellbeing. So what goes on in the gut that affects absorption?
Your body is full of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi, known collectively as the microbiota or flora and when we take into consideration their DNA – microbiome. Some of them are associated with disease but others are very important for maintaining our health and an imbalance can influence whether you are in a state of a poor health or in good health. You can now understand that the role of the gut flora in health and disease is vitally important as well as complex
The gut microbiota begins to affect your body from the moment you are born and as you develop, then begins to diversify, meaning it starts to contain different types of species
As the gut flora grows, it affects your body in a number of ways :
Digesting breast milk, using the Bifidobacteria to digest the sugars in breast milk
Digesting fibre, certain bacteria utilise fibre to increase in numbers and produce short-chain fatty acids which are needed for gut health. Fibre may help to prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and the risk of cancer.
Helping to control the immune system. Bacteria communicate with immune cells and can control how your body responds to infection.
Helps control brain health Recent research suggests that the gut microbiome may affect the central nervous system which controls brain function. We know that there is communication between the bacteria and the brain, referred to as the gut-brain axis.
Other influences of the GI microbiota includes : absorption of nutrients, inflammation, obesity, blood sugar, hormone production, neurotransmitter levels and much more !
What are the Symptoms of an Imbalance ?
Many women experience constipation and/or diarrhoea, gas, bloating, abdominal cramps and often are told they have IBS. Disruptions in the gut microbiota can vary from imbalances in normal bacteria to severe infections caused by parasitic infections, yeast overgrowth and fungi. The environment in the gut is constantly changing due to diet and stress.
Maintaining a healthy gut is vitally important for good health and there many ways you can improve your gut microbiome.
Top 10 tips for a Healthy Microbiome:
1. Eat a Diverse Range of Foods. This can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is an indicator of good health. A number of studies have concluded that the Mediterranean Diet can make positive changes in gut microbiota composition and diversity. Eating a varied colourful diet that contains as many colours from fresh foods as possible is the best advice you can ever be given.
2. Eat Lots of Vegetables, Legumes, Beans and Fruit. High in fibre which can’t be digested by your body, but, can be digested by certain bacteria in your gut, which stimulates their growth. Some high fibre foods that are good for your gut bacteria include: raspberries, artichoke, peas, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, beans (kidney, white and black beans), whole grains.
One study found that following a diet high in fruits and vegetables prevented the growth of some disease-causing bacteria. Whilst other studies have shown that certain foods as apples, artichokes, almonds and pistachio can increase beneficial bacteria Bifidobacteria in humans which can help prevent intestinal inflammation and enhance gut health
3. Eat Fermented Foods. Foods such as live yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly beneficial lactobacilli. People who eat a lot of yogurt appear to have more lactobacilli in their intestines, and have fewer Enterobacteriaceae, a bacteria associated with inflammation and a number of chronic diseases.
Similarly, a number of studies have shown that yogurt consumption can beneficially modify intestinal bacteria and improve symptoms of lactose intolerance in both infants and adults. However, it is important to note that many yogurts, especially flavoured yogurts, contain high levels of sugar. Therefore, the best yogurt to consume is plain, natural yogurt.
4.Limit intake of artificial sweeteners. Some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria leading to impaired insulin response.
5. Eat Prebiotic Foods. These are foods with a type of fibre that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria which may help reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome in obese people. They are mainly fibre or complex carbs that can’t be digested by human cells. Instead, certain species of bacteria break them down and use them for fuel. Many fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain prebiotics, but they can also be found on their own.
6. Breastfeed for at Least Six Months Breastfeeding helps an infant develop a healthy microbiota, which may help protect against certain diseases in later life.
7. Eat Whole Grains. Whole grains contain non-digestible carbs that can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria within the gut microbiota. These changes to the gut flora may improve certain aspects of metabolic health.
8. Try a Plant-Based Diet A number of studies have shown that vegetarian diets may benefit the gut microbiota. This may be due to their higher fibre contents. One study found that a vegetarian diet significantly decreased disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli.
While vegetarian and vegan diets may improve the microbiota, it is unclear if the positive effects associated with these diets can be attributed to a lack of meat intake.
9. Eat Foods Rich in Polyphenols. Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress. Good sources of polyphenols include: Cocoa and dark chocolate, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries, broccoli.
Polyphenols can’t be digested efficiently by human cells, but they are efficiently broken down by the gut microbiota. They may improve health outcomes related to heart disease and inflammation. This tip is related to the benefits of eating a diverse range of foods.
10. Take a Probiotic Supplement. Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, which exert a specific health benefit when consumed. They don’t permanently colonize the intestines but benefit your health by changing the overall composition of the microbiota and supporting your metabolism.
There are products available but if you have digestive issue, and you feel it has been compromised for example a course of anti-biotics, it is then best to be advised by a nutritional therapist which one is suitable for your needs. Probiotics will not significantly alter the composition of the microbiota in healthy people. However, in sick people, they may improve microbiota function and help restore the microbiota to good health.
Your gut bacteria are extremely important for many aspects of health. Many studies have now shown that a disrupted microbiota can lead to numerous chronic diseases as well as general disruption of digestive processes.
The best way to maintain a healthy microbiota is to eat a range of fresh, whole foods, mainly from plant sources like fruits, veggies, legumes, beans and whole grains.
Valdes A M (2018) Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ, Supp1,361. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2179
Heinman M L and Greenway F (2016) A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependant on dietary diversity. Molecular Metabolism 5(5): 317-320.
Klinder A, Shen Q, et al. (2016) Impact of increasing fruit and vegetables and flavonoid intake on the human gut microbiota. Food and Function.7(4):1788-96.
Maki K, et al. (2018) The impact of dietary fibre on gut microbiota in host health and disease. Cell Host Microbe, 23:705-715.
Garcia-Mantrana I et al, (2018) Shifts in gut microbiota associated to Mediterranean diet adherence and specific dietary intakes on general adult population. Frontiers in Microbiology. 9:890.
Tags : IBS, gut health, healthy microbiome, gut flora, microbiome, digestion, gut bacteria, immune system, inflammation, brain health, prebiotics, probiotics, obesity, blood sugar balance, polyphenols, high fibre foods