Home to tens-of-millions of micro-organisms the gut is often referred to as the body’s ‘second brain’, as with the brain, the gut impacts virtually every system in the body.
The ecosystem of microbes, mostly bacterial, that resides inside the gut affects digestion, absorption, and the metabolism of nutrients. It also impacts our growth, development, energy levels, and immune system.
We need a balance of microbes within the gut; however, factors such as poor lifestyle choices, diet, or an illness can lead to an imbalance and a number of health concerns. If you struggle with digestive issues, you are far from alone. You may be surprised at the implications poor gut health has on your overall health and wellbeing. The following symptoms may be an indicator that your gut needs some TLC.
10 signs you may have an unhealthy gut:
- 1. Digestive issues, i.e., bloating, flatulence, sluggish or overactive bowels
- 2. Poor immune health or recurring immune issues
- 3. Food sensitivities
- 4. Low mood and/or worry mind
- 5. Chronic fatigue or lack of energy
- 6. Irritability or mood swings
- 7. Skin breakouts and dryness
- 8. Bad breath – halitosis
- 9. Brain fog
- 10. Trouble maintaining a healthy weight
The 4 Rs of gut repair
Gut health can be very complex and each of us should work with a professional when recovering from deep-seated digestive issues, but a simple place to start to feel better is with the 4 Rs.
Poor nutrient absorption and an imbalance in gut flora, can result in a number of health conditions. The first step to resolving these is to remove anything from the diet that may cause direct damage to the gut and that includes: inflammatory foods (refined sugar, flour, ultra-processed foods, seed oils/vegetable fats) and irritants (alcohol, caffeine, hot spices, or prescription drugs). Other irritants can include chemicals found in processed foods, including artificial colours, sweeteners, and preservatives. Even whole grains and certain vegetables can irritate the gut, so some people benefit from low-residue, elimination diets. Emotional stress can also have a huge impact on your digestive tract which in turn affects both physical and physiological wellbeing. While the right amount of “stress” is essential for life, it is important to take time for rest, relaxation, and mindfulness to increase gut health and proper digestion.
Add back into your gut the essential ingredients needed for digestion and absorption of nutrients. Sufficient digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), and bile production are all compromised over the years by diet, lifestyle, disease, and prescription drugs, but they are needed to maintain optimal gut health. Sufficient stomach acid is essential for proper digestion. If you suffer from low stomach acid, add lemon or a dash of apple cider vinegar (amount will vary on personal taste) to water and drink first thing in the morning and before meals; this can signal to the gut to start the digestive process. You could try supplementary digestive aids available at any health store and pharmacy. Aim to consume fluids in between, and not during, meals, and replace hard-to-digest grain foods with low-starch vegetables, naturally enzyme rich and with enough fibre to feed and balance gut microbes. Replace processed foods with whole foods, particularly animal foods – rich in essential nutrients, most that cannot be found, at least in any useful quantities, in plant foods.
Restoring microbial balance to the gut will re-establish the overall wellbeing of your digestive system. Gut microbes are collected and formed at birth creating a home to over 500 different types of bacteria, etc, however over time the beneficial to harmful ratio may become unbalanced. Pre and probiotics can be an effective way of restoring balance. The prebiotic feeds the probiotic and other good microbes, increasing their effectiveness, and helping to restore optimal gut flora balance and immune health.
Antibiotics are effective in helping to kill bad bacteria when suffering from an infection however it is important to know that antibiotics kill off the good as well as the bad bacteria. So, if you do need to take antibiotics, taking a pre and probiotic will help to maintain the gut flora and preserve the ratio. Fermented foods have been shown to be the most effective at restoring alpha diversity of the gut microbiota but are not tolerated by all, especially at the start of recovery, but these can be effective tools to use in the latter stages. Interestingly, your environment can determine the health of your microbiome – exposure to sunlight, especially early in the morning, and getting out in nature can positively affect your microbial balance.
Once the diet is optimal, stressors eliminated, and a balanced microbiota restored, the mucosal lining of the gut needs to be restored. Providing the correct nutrients necessary to support the gut is absolutely essential. L-glutamine is an amino-acid that helps to rejuvenate the gut lining and is the preferred source of fuel for cells in the small intestine. Slippery elm, Aloe Vera, Omega-3 and other fatty acids, and Vitamins A, C, and E also help to soothe and support the gut wall lining. Milk thistle and other herbs like dandelion can support liver function – essential for good digestion. Consuming bone/connective tissue/meat broths can supply many specific gut-supporting nutrients, including the essential amino acids, L-glutamine, and L-glycine. These broths should be consumed liberally at all stages of recovery.
Your health and wellbeing depend on the digestion and absorption of key nutrients from the diet and is affected by lifestyle choices. Ensure you are making your gut health a priority and see how it can improve not only your digestive health but your overall health and wellbeing too.
How can I start improving my gut health?
To begin improving your gut health, focus on removing irritating elements from your diet while incorporating supportive essential digestive components like enzymes betaine hydrochloric acid. Additionally, prioritise the intake of pre and probiotics, and consider supplementing with postbiotics or nutrients such as L-glutamine and zinc support the repair of the gut lining.
What are effective ways to restore microbial balance in the gut?
Effective ways to restore microbial balance in the gut involve implementing a regimen that includes the removal of irritating elements from the diet, replenishing essential digestive components, and incorporating fermented foods support a healthy balance of gut bacteria.