With Nutritionist Nikki Wood
The term “gut health” is something we’re hearing more and more of, and for good reason. This is because good health starts in the GUT. Equally, many health conditions that are prevalent these days are caused by something called ‘leaky gut’, a condition whereby the gut lining becomes leaky and particles of undigested food make their way into the blood stream. This can cause all sorts of problems in the body including auto-immune conditions, skin issues and allergy symptoms. But it doesn’t end there. We are finding out more and more about the GUT and its importance to the overall health of our bodies and minds.
- The strength of our immune system is determined by our the health of our gut
When we think of our immune systems, we don’t automatically think of our GUT do we? But the truth is that ~90% of our immune system is thought to be located in our gastro-intestinal tract (GIT). We’ve always known that in order to have strong immune systems we need to eat well, but we didn’t know quite how important it is, until now.
Inside our GIT we have billions of tiny bacteria, called our Microbiome. In fact, there are more bacteria in our gut than cells in our entire body! When we are born we inherit the bacteria from our Mums, and mostly from our journey on our way out of the uterus and through the vagina. Our tiny bodies are completely covered in this bacteria which eventually make their way to our tummies where they hope to set up home for life. Unfortunately, in modern times we often disrupt this little plan with interventions such as antibiotics and poor food and lifestyle choices. Over time our ‘good’ bacteria becomes replaced with ‘bad’ bacteria, the ones that give us digestive problems and all sorts of other disorders.
So how does bacteria affect our immune health? We are all born with tiny little receptor cells on the intestinal walls which respond to the type of bacteria we have in our GIT. Certain types will tell the immune system to act, and others will tell it to calm and deactivate. The problem nowadays is that we have an over-population of the bacteria that are activating and overstimulating our immune system which is thought to be one of the main reasons why the incidence of auto-immune disorders and even brain conditions such as autism and ADHD are on the rise.
- Our gut health affects our mood
More is becoming known about the connection between the brain and gut. One of our ‘feel good’ chemicals, serotonin, is predominantly produced by the enteric nervous system located in our gut. In fact, more than 95% is thought to originate from the gut! Serotonin plays a vital role in the communication highway between our brain and our gut as well as helping to regulate the digestive processes. When serotonin is low, our digestive system and mood suffers.
So how can we ensure we are producing enough of the good stuff? By feeding the gut the right foods to keep it functioning at its peak! Plenty of fibre rich organic vegetables and complex carbohydrates (preferably not wheat-based as the gluten in wheat is inflammatory – choose buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa or millet instead), fermented foods such as miso and tempeh, yoghurt and foods rich in tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin) such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds. If you must take antibiotics ensure you ‘top up’ with more of the good foods as well as a good probiotic supplement. Keep sugar intake to a minimum and keep up the exercise!
- Poor gut health can make weight management more difficult
Latest research is showing that a poor quality microbiome can affect our ability to manage our weight. New evidence indicates that our gut bacteria alters the way we store fat, how we balance blood glucose levels as well they way that we respond to hormones that make us feel full or hungry. Studies indicate that those of us with a broader array of good bacteria species are more likely to have a healthy weight. A diet of highly processed foods will result in a smaller population of bacteria (both in types of bacteria species as well as bacteria numbers). The good news is that we can restore our microbiome, by following some of the dietary and lifestyle advice above.
If you suspect that your microbiome may be to blame for some of the symptoms you are experiencing then it’s important to seek help. A simply stool test will tell us if we’re dealing with a weak microbiome as well as the types of bacteria that are deficient. It is then quite straight forward to replenish the missing bacteria through specific supplements and lifestyle modifications.
Nikki consults in clinic Thursdays
Read more about Nikki here