What Is The Gut?
The gut is a collection of organs that process what we eat and drink - not just the stomach. It runs all the way from the mouth to the anus and is made up of what are referred to as “hollow organs” and “solid organs”.
The hollow organs are the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and anus. The solid ones are the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. All these work together to digest what is put into your body called the gastrointestinal tract.1
In terms of our gut health, we need to focus on the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome contains trillions of microorganisms that work together to keep us healthy.
They exist all over our bodies, most of them being found in the small and large intestines. The microbiome comprises good bacteria, bad bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses.2
When the gut is healthy, these all work together well, and the body will run smoothly. You will begin to see issues when there is an imbalance between the good and the bad.
Where Does The Gut Microbiome Come From?
Each person has a unique microbiome that begins to form during birth. You are exposed to microorganisms through the birth canal and through the mother's breast milk, which means at the start of life, the type of microorganisms you are getting depends on which ones your mum passes on to you.3
As we grow, exposure to environmental factors and diet change our gut microbiome. Infectious illnesses, poor diet and prolonged use of antibiotics can upset the balance of bacteria and make us more susceptible to illness.2
How Do I Know If My Gut Is Unhealthy?
Well, if you have the following symptoms, something is going on in your gut that isn’t quite right:4
- An upset stomach - bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, or excess gas- all signs of an unhealthy gut.
- Weight changes you weren’t expecting - losing weight can mean bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine (SIBO), and weight gain can mean a decrease in the absorption of nutrients causing overeating or insulin resistance which is linked to diabetes.
- Sleep disturbances or feeling overly tired - Insomnia and poor sleep are linked to an unhealthy gut; serotonin is made in the gut, and this hormone affects sleep and mood.
- Bad skin - Skin conditions such as eczema can be related to gut health. A poor diet or allergies cause inflammation of the gut, which then leaks specific proteins into the rest of the body, which can cause or worsen these skin conditions. It can also cause spots, acne, dry skin and a whole host of skin issues.
- Illness - The health of our gut impacts our immune system. If the gut microbiome is imbalanced, this can cause the immune system to have to attack the inflammation caused in the gut. Whilst the immune system is busy working here, it has less time to focus on foreign invaders, which can mean you get ill more frequently.
- Food intolerance - Reacting to certain foods you are not allergic to can be caused by the poor quality of the bacteria in your gut. You may have trouble digesting these foods, which can cause an upset stomach.
What Can I Do To Help My Gut?
If you’ve noticed any of these issues, you may wonder how you can help your gut be healthy. Here are some tips and tricks to help balance your gut microbiome and improve your overall health:
#1 - Up your fibre intake
Fibre comes in loads of different foods that are readily available in supermarkets. The Institute for Medicine recommends that adult women eat 25 grams of fibre daily, and adult men eat 38 grams daily.5
Fibre is essential to help us to have a normal, healthy poo. If you have symptoms of an upset stomach, chances are upping your fibre intake will help the problem.
Fibre increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it, making it easier to pass and reducing the risk of constipation. It solidifies our poo as it allows it to absorb water and makes it bulkier, which reduces the risk of diarrhoea.5
You can get fibre from foods such as breakfast cereals like Weetabix, shredded wheat or porridge oats. Wholemeal toast, potatoes, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, beans and lentils, and many other foods are fantastic sources of fibre.
Most vegetables and fruits contain loads of fibre, so adding more of these to your plate will dramatically up your intake of fibre.
#2 - Eat more fruit and veg
Fruit and veg have a whole host of health benefits for our guts. Fruits and veg contain flavonoids, which are antioxidants that our guts love. They interact with the gut microbes and help balance the gut microbiota, reducing inflammation. They reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases.6
Adding a fruit that you like to your breakfast cereal can be a great start to introducing more flavonoids into your diet whilst also upping your fibre intake. Adding a wider variety of vegetables to dinner or snacking on fruit and veg can add in all those nutrients your diet is currently lacking.
#3 - Drink more water
Hydration is SO fundamental to gut health; our gut just doesn’t function properly when we are dehydrated. Water helps our guts to digest what we eat, and slow digestion can lead to constipation.
The NHS suggests we drink 6-8 glasses of fluid daily, including tea, non-sugary drinks and low-fat milk, as these have high water content.7
It’s important not to wait until you’re thirsty to start drinking water. Feeling thirsty is actually a sign of dehydration, as our bodies send a signal to the brain to tell it we’re thirsty, meaning the effects of dehydration have already begun kicking in. Dehydration can cause headaches, kidney stones, low energy levels, confusion and weakness.8
To avoid these symptoms, get used to sipping on fluid throughout the day and avoiding the feeling of thirst altogether. Starting your day by drinking a pint of water before anything else can be a great way to boost your digestive system from the minute you wake up!
#4 - Not so fast!
The food we eat travels down the digestive tract into our stomachs, and when we are full, the stomach sends a signal to the brain to tell us we’re done. This doesn’t happen immediately, and our brains need time to process the feeling of fullness, approximately 20 minutes.9
If we eat too fast, we may eat more food than we need. This can lead to weight gain, increasing the risk of diseases like heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.10
If you are eating your food too quickly, you may experience gut issues like indigestion, excessive gas and bloating.1 The digestive system needs time to process the food, so focusing on slowing down the process and chewing your food can help eliminate this problem.
#5 - Probiotics are the key
Probiotics are live microorganisms that help to balance our gut microbiome. They feed the good bacteria, which ensures the gut is functioning well. A diverse range of good bacteria is fundamental to a healthy gut, and probiotics can help you achieve that.
You can gain probiotics through fermented food sources such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh and kimchi. Some cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella also contain probiotics.
If you don’t fancy these foods or would find it hard to include them in your diet, there’s an easy alternative that balances your gut microbiome.
At The Gut Co, we have created a range of products that contain strains of live bacteria (probiotics) that do just that. Our signature product “Gut Care” includes a variety of clinically-tested ingredients, including prebiotic fibre, yeast and live probiotics that nourish, diversify and rebalance the microbiome.
This product can reduce bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, and excess gas by repopulating good gut bacteria.
#6 - Get moving after meals
Gentle exercise such as a 10-minute walk after a meal can positively impact your gut digestive function. Physical activity increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, which helps the food move through the digestive system and absorb nutrients whilst preventing the growth of bad bacteria.11
A 10-minute walk after a meal can also help lower your blood sugar, which is super beneficial for those with diabetes.12
#7 Follow a pre-made lifestyle plan
Having assistance from a nutritionist can be really helpful when it comes to changing your life. It can be challenging to maintain the drive to make better choices and sometimes confusing, given the conflicting advice available all over the internet.
If you are looking for a pre-made plan and expert support to maintain your gut health, The Gut Co have created just the thing for you…
The Gut Co offers a 90-day gut reset plan to help you make the necessary changes to maintain a healthy gut and make healthier choices. By supplying 90 days of “Gut Care” daily supplements alongside 90 days of support and habit change coaching from their in-house nutritionist, you can implement healthy habits to improve your overall health.
You will receive weekly emails with helpful information and tasks to complete that aim to add healthy diet and lifestyle choices to your everyday routine. It takes 60 days to form a habit, and following 90 days of their plan ensures you will see the impact of these changes on your health and keep them in your routine.
Maintaining a healthy gut is proving fundamental to our overall health. It’s not always easy, but following simple steps and gradual changes can make a world of difference in our lives.
Why not try implementing just a few of these ideas and seeing how you feel? Usually, once we start to feel healthier, it becomes easier to make better choices for ourselves.
Related content: What Are Prebiotics?