Did you know over 60% of our immune system is in the gut? One of our first lines of defence comes from the environment created by gut bacteria in our intestines and without high levels of beneficial bacteria our overall health can be greatly compromised. Bacteria in our gut communicates with our immune system via the Common Mucosal Immune System (CMIS) through groups of lymphatic cells found in the lower gut referred to as Peyers Patches. When harmful microbes are detected the gut sends signals which trigger an immune response. Processes like this along with the fact the lining of the gut contains as many neurons as the brain, is why we refer to the gut as our ‘second brain’.
The bacterial colony in the digestive tract, our microbiome, acts like an organ and works alongside other organs to keep us healthy.
Good gut = Good health
If our levels of bad bacteria outweigh our good, and our gut becomes compromised, we refer to this as dysbiosis. Common signs you may have an imbalance are:
- skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, dry or itchy skin
- abdominal cramps
- reoccurring illness such as colds, flu, or feeling run down all the time
- problems losing weight
- mood swings
- hormonal symptoms
There are many reasons our gut flora can become imbalanced. For instance, a diet low in fibre and high in processed foods, taking antibiotics or other medication (antibiotics wipe out all bacteria-good and bad), stress, low levels of stomach acid, diets high in sugar.
What beneficial bacteria do:
- colonise in the gut to override bad bacteria and yeasts which can lead to illness
- produce vitamins such as Vitmin K, B Vitamins and folic acid
- produce short chain fatty acids that help keep the cells of the colon healthy and protects against cancer
- improve IBS related symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating and flatulence
- minimise or eliminate symptoms of food sensitivity such as lactose intolerance
- improve or prevent conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and asthma
- promote healthy metabolism and improve weight control
In order to increase levels of beneficial bacteria, which can help promote good health, and create a healthy gut environment for the good bacteria to flourish, there are some simple changes you can incorporate into your life which I have listed below:
- eat fibre~ fibre is the indigestible part of plants. Soluble fibre found in soft fruits, legumes, oats and some seeds such as chia and psyllium husk dissolves and forms a gel like substance, helping the transit of faeces through the bowel and acts as a food for the beneficial bacteria (a prebiotic) whereby they ferment it, producing short chain fatty acids and important vitamins. Insoluble fibre found in the skins of fruit and vegetables, greens, nuts, seeds and bran adds bulk to the stools and due to its absorptive nature draws water into the bowel improving symptoms of constipation. Most fruits and vegetables have a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibre so try and have a variety of three to four servings daily of wholegrains, vegetables including greens, fruit, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- drink water~ drinking water helps to soften the stools and improve transit time, so lessening the chance of auto intoxication through the faeces staying in the bowel for extended periods. If you are increasing your fibre intake it’s even more important you stay hydrated. Aim for between 1.2-1.5 litres of fluids per day.
- magnesium~ magnesium rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, nuts, wholegrains and dark chocolate are super important for gut health as magnesium promotes bowel motility, so is a winner for constipation issues, as it is involved with maintaining muscle and nerve health.
- fermented foods~ foods which are fermented have high levels of the good bacteria we need in our gut, so adding foods such as kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, natural yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut into your diet can help increase levels in the gut.
- cut out refined sugar~ eating sugar from sources such as processed food, white carbohydrates such as breads and pasta, refined cereals, sweets and biscuits feeds the yeasts and bad bacteria in the gut, encouraging it to multiply.
- exercise~ exercise increases blood flow, bringing oxygen to the cells in the bowel and keeping them healthy, and helps to tone the bowel muscles helping everything move along nicely
- supplements~ as well as eating more fermented foods it may be worth investing in a good quality probiotic to help promote levels. Look for a broad spectrum product containing a few strains of both Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium with over 4 billion live organisms per dose.
Making a few small changes can greatly improve many symptoms associated with gut dysbiosis, and bringing your gut bacteria back into balance can have a huge effect on your overall health and well being.