The quality of our digestion, including our gut lining and the microbes living in our gut, can affect our mood, immune function, skin, weight or body composition, and overall health and wellbeing. Everyday diet and lifestyle choices can influence the quality of our digestion and the balance of microbes that live there. A healthy gut is the key to good health!
What determines gut health?
The gut wall acts as a filtering barrier allowing helpful micro-nutrients to be absorbed into the blood stream and preventing harmful bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles from passing through. The permeability of the gut lining fluctuates according to the requirements of digestion and absorption and permeability is upregulated by a protein called zonulin. Overtime, damage to the intestinal mucosa and the lining of the intestines can result in harmful substances passing through the gut wall and into the blood stream. Damage to the intestines affects microbial balance, and enzyme production for proper digestion and nutrient absorption, and foreign substances in the bloodstream can cause an unhealthy immune response.
What can affect gut health?
The gut lining needs specific nutrients to stay healthy and have integrity. if undigested food particles enter the bloodstream, the body may react every time that particular food is consumed or it might start reacting to a variety of ingested proteins, and even endotoxins can circulate through the bloodstream. Poor diet, stress, toxins, infections, medications, some plant compounds, and drug and alcohol abuse can affect gut health. Additionally, gluten, from gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, and barley, has been shown to trigger the release of zonulin.
Stress weakens the immune system and around 80% of the immune system lies in the gut. Stress also decreases digestive function, because digestion is not required when running away from, or fighting, a threat like a sabre-tooth tiger! Many medications, taken short or long term, may irritate the stomach and intestinal lining. Antibiotics can kill both the helpful and harmful bacteria which may lead to an imbalance of the gut flora. High sugar diets have been known to affect gut flora and the cells in the lower gut lining rely on fatty acids produced by certain gut microbes. Too much fibre can tax the digestive system and some plant compounds, such as lectins, solanins, saponins, etc, have been shown to lead to irritation.
Signs you may have issues with your gut health
Digestive upsets (flatulence, bloating, and irregular bowel movements), phlegm issues, food sensitivities, poor immune system function, sugar or carbohydrate cravings, poor mental health, brain fog, fatigue, dry skin conditions, and stiff joints may all be signs that your gut needs some TLC. Symptoms may occur quickly or over a longer period.
What can I do? – Dietary changes
There are a number of things you can do to support intestinal health and integrity. Making short and long-term dietary changes and eliminating foods that your body may treat as toxic is a good first step. Then you can address the stressors in your life and implement coping strategies.
Common problematic foods include wheat and other grains, nuts/seeds, processed dairy, seed/vegetable oils, and food additives (colourings, flavourings, and preservatives). Eliminating processed foods and focusing on wholefood consumption, including nutrient dense animal foods and their fats, which are essential for the health of gut tissue; fruits, and vegetables that you enjoy, providing the little bit of fibre (you don’t need a lot…) that your gut microbes will love; and probiotic foods, e.g., kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir, to support the balance of the gut microbiota and its alpha diversity. This local, seasonal, wholefood diet will help to support a healthy intestinal lining and encourage good bacterial growth.
Naturally helpful nutrients
Zinc supports cell repair and supports a healthy immune system. The most bioavailable source is animal foods, especially meat, organs, and shellfish.
Glutamine is an amino acid that supports healthy zonulin levels, protects the gut wall, and is the main fuel source for the cells that line the intestines. Glutamine is found in high protein foods but is at least twice as bioavailable in animal proteins than in plant proteins.
Turmeric supports the integrity of the gut lining. Turmeric taken with black pepper or in a phospholipid base helps to aid absorption.
Pre-, pro-, and postbiotics have been shown to support a healthy gut environment. Prebiotics are foods like collagen (bone broth) and some types of plant fibre. Probiotics are fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir/yoghurt. Postbiotics are the breakdown products of microbial life in the gut, and most are beneficial to the gut lining and our general health.
Colostrum contains immune proteins that support the gut structure and function and the immune system.
If you believe you may have issues with your gut health, you should first consult with your healthcare professional to determine the best plan of action to manage your individual symptoms.