Gut health is crucial to our overall health. Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the stomach, intestines and colon. Bacteria, yeasts, and viruses — of which there are trillion are called the “gut microbiome” or “gut flora.” An unhealthy gut microbiome is associated with many health problems like skin issues, hormonal imbalance, anxiety, diabetes, and even depression. To keep your gut healthy, it is important to understand signs of an unhealthy gut and then advice you how to get your gut back on a healthy track.
Common Signs of an Unhealthy Gut:
- Weight gain- Weight gain or loss without even trying is one of the most common signs of gut imbalance connected to unhealthy gut bacteria. If your gut is not working properly, your body will be unable to absorb nutrients properly. It will keep your body from storing fat and controlling blood sugar. As a result, you may overeat to make up for lost nutrients, and this will ultimately lead you to weight gain and potentially obesity.
- Increased Stress- The microbiome plays a crucial role in your mental health in the way you respond to stress. An imbalanced gut can negatively impact hormonal balance and contribute to stress, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
- Skin irritation- If you have skin flare-ups there are many studies have linked a number of different skin problems. Unhealthy bacteria in the gut can not only affect you internally but externally as well. If the gut is inflamed or irritated, proteins can “leak” from the gut and into the skin, which can cause irritation and itching. Eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne can be attributed to an unhealthy gut.
- Bloating and gas- Gas is a normal part of the fermentation and digestion process in our body. The bad bacteria strains can lead to excessive gas, leading to uncomfortable and even painful situations. Gas trapped in the gut can cause bloating and heartburn.
- Upset Stomach and Stomach Pain- upset stomach or stomach pain happen from time to time. I could be caused from eating foods that cause gas, from menstrual cramps, or a passing virus. However, if stomach pain or other stomach disturbances, such as bloating, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation persist, it is an indicator of an unhealthy gut. While this can be somewhat connected to the food you eat, it is more due to the imbalance in your gut. You are experiencing pain because the stomach is having trouble digesting food and eliminating waste.
- Diarrhea and Constipation- whether acute or chronic, is a sign of an unhealthy gut as well. Diarrhea can even make your gut health worse as it may cause the good bacteria to flow out of your gut, which will lead to even more gut dysbiosis. Constipation is also linked with an imbalanced gut. People suffering from constipation usually have a lower level of gut bacteria, which impacts digestion and can lead to constipation.
- Sleep problems- A majority of the hormone serotonin, which is responsible for your sleep and mood, is produced in the gut. As such, an unhealthy gut can lead to sleep problems such as poor sleep or insomnia.
- Sugar cravings- A diet with added sugar can reduce the number of good bacteria in your gut. This will increase sugar cravings and can damage your gut even further.
-The last very important area that impacts our gut microbiome is the medications we take. Many of the common medications we use upset that balance. If you take prescription medications, over the counter meds and antibiotics frequently or have a long history of use, it is time to start to heal your gut.
1. Antibiotics are also damaging to the gut microbiota and immunity, with some source reporting that even 6 months after their use, the gut still lacks several species of beneficial bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors in the United States prescribe around 30% of antibiotics unnecessarily.
2. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs (i.e., Motrin, Advil and Aleve) America’s leading pain killers. Unfortunately, also disrupt the normal balance of the beneficial bacteria living in your gut.
3. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) – These acid blockers—used to treat indigestion, peptic ulcers and acid reflux—are also known to reduce the diversity of gut bacteria. This can lead to an increased chance of infections like Clostridium difficile (also known as C. difficile or C. diff) and pneumonia, as well as vitamin deficiencies and bone fractures. Generic PPI names include omeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole and dexlansoprazole.
4. Antacids - all antacids neutralize the acid in our stomach, which is the body's first line of defense from harmful pathogens that we ingest daily. If you take antacids on an ongoing basis, you increase the risk for stomach bugs and infections.
5. Antidepressants – One of the most popular classes of anti-depressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Scientists estimate that 90 percent of serotonin is made in the gut. Imbalances in serotonin have been linked to diseases including irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
6. Sleeping pills – Like antidepressants, sleeping pills are fat-soluble drugs. They can penetrate the gut wall and injure the natural balance of the digestive system.
7. Statins – cholesterol lowering medications, are the most widely prescribed medications worldwide. Recent research indicates that statins may negatively influence the balance of gut bacteria. https://www.mainlinehealth.org/blog/medications-and-gut-health
If you are on a prescription drug or over the counter drug ordered by your doctor, do not stop. If you are having symptom of an unhealthy gut, please discuss this matter with your doctor. If you are suffering from the effects of an unhealthy gut, it is wise to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a referral to a gastroenterologist.
Gut health and diet are closely linked. You can ensure a healthy gut by
- avoiding processed food-
(Breakfast cereals, tinned vegetables, sausage rolls, pies and pasties, bacon, sausage, ham, salami, microwave meals or ready meals, cakes and biscuits. Usually high sugar, high in saturated fat and low in fiber.) These foods all taste so yummy but are actually bad for your body, as they destroy good bacteria that contribute to a healthy microbiome while promoting the development of damaging bacteria in the gut. Start today by cutting down or cutting these foods out of your daily intake.
- Eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes. These foods are high in fiber, which is essential for “good” bacteria growth in the gut (Bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and Bacteroidetes). Key foods to add include raspberries, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, green peas, and artichokes, berries, bananas, oats, leeks and asparagus.
- Collagen-boosting foods such as salmon and bone broth.
- Garlic and onion- beneficial pre-biotic for gut (will cover next week)
- Fermented food including yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut. Fermented foods contain lactobacilli, which is beneficial for gut health. – will cover more of these in a few minutes.
-Choose a more plant-based diet. An animal-based meat diets can promote “bad” bacteria in the gut. Some small studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets can improve the microbiota. (meatless meals)
- Water consumption is important in regards to all areas of your body and life – including in promoting a healthy gut. Dehydration can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut, leading to an environment suitable for bad bacteria to grow and create problems. Staying hydrated improves the balance of bacteria in your gut. Water is the key (listen to my hydration podcast). Get rid of sugary hot and cold drinks and replace them with pitchers of water, water bottles, or other drinks that hydrate and replenish the body.
- Taking probiotics as a daily supplement can help improve your gut health. However, not all probiotics are created equally. (We will cover this topic next week)
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. While it is beneficial to avoid a high-sugar diet for your gut health, artificial sweeteners don’t benefit gut health. A study conducted on rats found that when they were given artificial sweeteners, the rats had large numbers of Clostridium and Enterobacteriaceae in the intestines, which are associated with disease.
- Get plenty of sleep- 7 to 8 hours will have a positive impact on your overall health. Sleep gives the body time to heal and relax and allows the mind to rest and recuperate. Sleep also allows for a time of fasting to occur which benefits gut health and balance. (Visit my Sleep podcast)
-MOVE- exercise regularly. Working out may increase gut species diversity.
- AVOID SMOKING- smoking alters the intestinal flora by increasing potentially harmful microorganisms and decreasing the levels of beneficial ones.
-REDUCE STRESS- psychological stressors can disrupt the microorganisms in the intestine, even if short lived.
This may be overwhelming. Make a list of all the areas I just covered and pick one area to focus on. Add another each week to work on in your life. Make it a family affair. We want the whole family to have a healthier gut microbiome!
Here are 15 foods that are good for your gut.
1.Yogurt- Live yogurt is an excellent source of so-called friendly bacteria, also known as probiotics (listen to my podcast- Your First fuel for more on yogurt)
2. Kefir- This probiotic yoghurt drink is made by fermenting milk and is packed with good bacteria.
3. Miso- is made from fermented soya beans, plus barley or rice, and contains a range of goodies such as helpful bacteria and enzymes. A savory paste used in dips, dressings and soup, it can also be used as a marinade for salmon or tofu. It’s a staple of Japanese cooking and suitable if you’re avoiding dairy.
4. Sauerkraut- This is finely chopped cabbage that has been fermented. This great source of probiotics, fiber and vitamins is best known as a German dish, but versions exist in Eastern and Central Europe. Choose a product that has not been pickled in vinegar, as that doesn’t have the same benefits.
5. Kimchi- This Korean specialty of fermented vegetables brings the benefits of probiotic bacteria along with vitamins and fiber. Use it as a lively side dish with meat, salad or eggs.
6. Sourdough- This is very fashionable at the moment, but there’s a good reason for that. Made by fermenting the dough, it’s more digestible than regular bread and its energy releases slowly. It makes fantastic toast too.
7. Almonds- These have good probiotic properties, which means they are a treat for your gut bacteria – high in fiber, and full of fatty acids and polyphenols.
8. Olive oil- Gut bacteria and microbes like a diet of fatty acids and polyphenols. These are found in olive oil. Studies have shown that it helps reduce gut inflammation. Use it for salad dressing or drizzle it over cooked vegetables. Some studies have also found olive oil to be beneficial in easing indigestion problems and can also benefit your pancreas through lowering its requirement to produce digestive enzymes.
9. Kombucha- We all know water is crucial for gut health, but what else can you drink? Kombucha is a fermented tea drink thought to have originated in Manchuria that is full of probiotic good bacteria. It has a sharp, vinegary taste and can be used as a refreshing drink on its own or mixed with fruit and spices. It also makes the base for great cocktails.
10. Peas- Gut bacteria need fiber to flourish, so the more fruit and vegetables you consume the better. Peas are full of soluble and insoluble fiber to help keep your system in balance. Add peas to stir-fries, soups or salads.
11. Brussels sprouts-
Much more than a festive staple, they contain the kinds of fiber that good bacteria like and Sulphur compounds which help combat unhealthy bacteria such as H pylori.
12. Bananas- One of nature’s handiest and healthiest snacks, bananas are full of the kind of fiber that good bacteria enjoy. They also contain healthy minerals.
13. Roquefort cheese- Live, runny, smelly French cheese will give your gut bacteria a boost – but eat it in moderation. Add it to salads or spread it on your sourdough.
14. Garlic- with its antibacterial and antifungal properties, can help keep “bad” gut bacteria under control and help balance yeast in the gut. Use it as a flavoring for dishes. The properties improves gut function.
15. Ginger- Fresh ginger can help in the production of stomach acid and it stimulates the digestive system to keep food moving through the gut. Add fresh grated ginger to soups, stews, smoothies or stir-fries. Pour boiling water on grated ginger to make refreshing ginger tea. https://www.benenden.co.uk/be-healthy/nutrition/gut-food-15-foods-for-good-gut-health/