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Understanding Gut Health: Importance, Signs, and Solutions for Optimal Wellbeing

Posted on June 5th, 2024 02:37 PM

What is the gut and why is gut health so important?

When we talk about the gut we are discussing the gastrointestinal tract, which is the long tube starting at the mouth and ending at the anus. Food enters the mouth and is then passed into the esophagus and into the stomach. It will then pass into the small intestine where in a perfect world food, is broken down by enzymes and then nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Any waste, toxins or fibre then pass through the large intestine which eventually leads to the rectum where stools are eliminated, hopefully on a daily basis.

You know the phrase to trust your gut instinct, well it’s referring to us tuning into our intuition or emotions. There is sense behind this saying as our gut is known as the body’s second brain and there is a direct line of communication running between the two through activation of the vagus nerve. The Gut-brain axis consists of linking peripheral intestinal functions with emotional and cognitive centres of the brain. We experience gut issues when under emotional stress and equally we can experience emotional problems if our digestive system is compromised, which issue came first? It can be somewhat similar to the chicken and the egg question. Our gut microbiota plays a significant role in this signaling from the gut to the brain and the brain to the gut, so having a healthy gut flora is paramount. All of our systems are interconnected in the body and when one is not working at its best that will certainly affect the other systems in a sort of domino effect way, resulting in a myriad of chronic health complaints. It is interesting that our gut bacteria can become compromised even before we are born, as studies have linked prenatal maternal stress to lower levels of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus.

For example there is an undeniable link between the gut and our immune systems, with around 70-80% of the body’s immune system being housed in the gut. It is important that we have this immune support in the digestive tract as many pathogens enter the body through the gut such as fungus, bad bacteria and parasites which all contribute to disease. Therefore it’s essential for health that our guts immune system is functioning well so that we don’t get sick. If you find your immune system is quite low and you are taking numerous rounds of antibiotics each year then it’s time to boost your gut health. Having enough of the right good bacteria is essential to maintain a health gut and immune system, they act like the army as such, fighting off invaders or pathogens that can cause illness.

Our digestive system has a great ability to defend itself from bad bacteria and other pathogens, infectious diseases and toxins through digestive immune cells and good bacteria. Problems can arise if the integrity of the gut lining is compromised and we start to develop intestinal permeability or leaky gut. These leaks allow pathogens and undigested food particles to pass through into the bloodstream and can travel to different parts of the body, even passing the blood brain barrier. Effectively a leaky gut will cause out immune systems to go into overdrive so that we can become more sensitive or intolerant to certain foods, including things like gluten and dairy. If left with these leaks then a person may have an increased risk of immune abnormalities and develop autoimmune conditions such as hashimotos, rheumatoid arthritis, graves, depression, fibromyalgia etc

Having a healthy gut is also very important in regulating energy levels and moods. Around 85-90% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut and having certain bacteria in the gut can increase or decrease the amount of serotonin produced. Having a healthy microbiome helps to ensure we produce enough of this “”feel good neurotransmitter”, to keep our moods lifted.

Our bacterial flora also influence our weight, studies have identified different types of bacterial strains that are prevalent in those who are obese and have metabolic diseases like high cholesterol. For example the bacterial strain Fermicutes, so improving bacterial flora is an important way to ensure a healthy weight is maintained through life.

Hippocrates “all disease begins in the gut” so prioritizing gut health is the key to a healthy, happy life.

Five signs that we have a leaky gut - How and why does an overgrowth of years/candida affect brain chemistry? 

Numerous food intolerances, including one that you might get from a test result but also to things like histamines, salicylates etc

Brain fog, fatigue, headaches, memory issues

Sugar cravings

Digestive health issues like constipation, diarrhea, reflx, bloating

Mood issues, depression, anxiety

Poor immune system, getting sick all the time

Skin complaints

Issues with sleeping

Nutritional deficiencies (low b12, iron etc) or failure to thrive

We all have some candida or yeast housed in our body but it is kept under control by the good bacteria (those lovely soldiers protecting us). Problems arise when those good bacteria are killed off by us taking numerous rounds of antibiotics or other medications like the, NSAIDS, steroids, eating a diet full of sugar and processed foods, highly stressed. Without our army at the gates or protecting our mucosal lining, candida is able to overgrow, being fueled by sugar or carbohydrates.
So candida fuels itself on sugar or units of glucose, converting it into ethanol and its by-product acetaldehyde into our system. These chemicals leave us feeling a little cloudy in the head and one experiences the classic candida brain fog. They will also cause a reduction in stomach acid and enzymes, hindering digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as putting extra burden on the liver.

How does a vegan or healthy vegetarian diet affect the gut? Do they lead to less bloating and flatulence or more than a meat eater?
When it comes to adopting the vegan/vegetarian diet people really need to make sure they are doing it right. I have seen many clients with terrible digestive health complaints such as bloating and flatulence. One of the main reasons for this is that they swap out animal products for processed grains and this would be an issue for anyone, vegan or not.
For others they can have issues when their diet has too much fibre, particularly if their microflora has been compromised through antibiotics, high stress and a bad diet. If we don’t have enough digestive enzymes, stomach acid, good bacteria a person will have issues with bloating, flatulence, acid reflux, irrelevant of whether they are vegan or not. The first step is to heal the gut and boost things like stomach acid and digestive enzymes, as well as replacing the bacterial flora.
Many do find that eliminating animal products, in particular red meat can really help improve bloating and post meal fatigue. We are all different and it is a good idea to listen to your body. Another major factor is to slow everything down, eat more slowly and practice mindful eating.
There is a study that suggests eating too much red meat can actually feed the bad bacteria in the gut.

Are there any foods that are particularly good or bad for the gut? Can you say why?

Good foods:

• Fermented foods (homemade yogurt/kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi) – contain good bacteria in them and they get to the lower parts of the digestive system to help replenish our bacterial flora

Bone broth – really good source of collagen, hyaluronic acid, amino acids (glycine, proline, ), glucosamine and chondroitin. This makes is super healing for the gut, joints, hair, skin and nails

Healthy fats (olive oil, organic ghee, avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds): help increase motility of the stool an ease issues like constipation

Prebiotic foods: these are the food for the probiotics or good bacteria and they include raw garlic, raw artichoke, raw leeks, raw and cooked onions raw asparagus, raw chicory root, under ripe banana or green banana flour

Beetroot: particularly good for easing constipation due to high nitrate content

Fruit and veggies (preferable organic): boost fibre to keep our colon healthy

Coconut oil: great as a healthy fat but also a good antifungal and antibacterial agent, helps to fight off candida or bad bacteria like Helicobacter pylori

Oregano as an antifungal

Anti-inflammatory foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, milled flaxseeds,  turmeric (always add black pepper), cinnamon, garlic, ginger etc

Local raw honey: a great way to reduce risk of allergies 

Bad foods: 

Sugar: will fuel pathogens and increase inflammation in the body

High fructose corn syrup (in fizzy drinks, cereals, juices, syrups, condiments): also feeds bad bacteria and pathogens and puts extra burden on the liver which is bad for detoxification

Processed foods (including sauces, dressings): will increase inflammation in the body

GMO foods (most corn and soy is unless stated organic): they have been genetically modified an they can cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria and fungi

Soy: difficult to digest, especially bad if not organic. It is ok if it’s fermented like in tempeh as they phytic acid is broken down (anti - nutrient)

Industrial vegetable oils (corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola): will increase inflammation

Pro inflammatory foods such as  common food intolerances: gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, caffeine, corn

Why does apple cider vinegar aid digestion? What properties does it have?

Apple cider vinegar is amazing but you need to make sure you buy the right one, it must be raw and made with mother so it is fermented. In this form it is amazing as can increase stomach acid naturally by balancing the pH which boost digestion and helps kill of pathogens we might consume accidentally in our food. 

As we get older our stomach starts to produce less acid and often this can cause symptoms like acid reflux. In fact many find that having 1 tbsp 30 mins before main meals actually helps to combat heartburn.

It is also able to reduce insulin levels so is fantastic for those with blood sugar issues or who are trying to lose weight. One study found it reduced blood sugar levels by around 30% after eating white bread.

Which supplements are good for digestive health?

  • Top ones:

    • Probiotic- make sure it has a variety of strains and is a good strength, for example an adult can deal with around 30-40 billion daily. This dose needs to be reached gradually though as it can cause what we call “die off ” otherwise (killing off pathogens too quickly) and this can leave a person not feeling great.
    • Omega 3 oil such as one from fish or algae oil – to reduce inflammation in the gut
    • Digestive enzymes – to assist with breaking down foods so we can absorb more nutrients
    • Betaine HCL with pepsin – to increase stomach acid to kill of pathogens and to boost digestion
    • Glutamine – to heal the gut lining
    • Slippery elm – to help heal the gut lining and reduce inflammation
    • Perhaps botanicals if there are gut pathogens   

    How do we recognise organic body washes? What are the chemicals to look for/avoid?

    Avoid substances such as sodium lauryle sulphate, fluoride or propylene glycol. Most toothpastes contain these substances as well. Ideally buy organic whenever possible, you can even reduce exposure by using coconut oil as a body moisturizer.

    How do Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar, sea salt and seaweed powder work in the bath? What is it about them that detoxifies us?

    • Baths are a great way to detox the body, our skin is the largest organ and we are able to absorb nutrients and excrete toxins through it.
    • Epsom salts: contain magnesium which many of us are low in, this helps to improve sleep and moods, ease constipation and reduce muscle soreness.
    • Seaweed: is an excellent source of minerals such as iodine and helps with dry skin.
    • Apple cider vinegar: it will help to normalize the pH of the skin and encourage appropriate skin flora, as well as assisting the detoxification process.

    So,  is it right that if we rummage around the earth when we're children, our immune systems will be more robust?

    Yes, absolutely! There is a theory called the hygiene hypothesis. 

    We have become obsessed with avoiding germs nowadays as we see them all as potentially dangerous, with many people carrying around hand sanitizers wherever they go.

    Being exposed to germs and bacteria when we’re younger is a fundamental part of developing our immune systems as it teaches our body to turn down inflammatory responses over time. If we live in an oversantised environment we develop a low threshold for exposure to bacteria and other pathogens.

    There is almost 10 times the amount of bacterial cells than human cells in the body and being exposed to different pathogens and microbes as a child enables us to build up our immune system, it’s almost a bit like exercising it to get it stronger so that it matures more quickly. Great ways to do this include playing outside and getting exposed to more bacteria and molds. Also, we don’t need to overly wash veggies form the farmers market, that soil or dirt can actually benefit our gut health.

    Maintaining a healthy gut is more than just a trend; it's a vital component of overall wellness that influences everything from your immune system to your mental health. Understanding the importance of gut health, recognizing the signs of imbalance, and making informed dietary choices are key steps toward a healthier, happier you.

    If you're experiencing issues like bloating, fatigue, or mood swings, or if you simply want to optimize your digestive health, it might be time for a reset. Our comprehensive Gut Reset program is designed to help you restore balance, boost your energy, and improve your overall well-being.

    Try our 14 Day Gut Reset today and take the first step towards a healthier gut and a healthier you. Your body will thank you!