Our Nutrition Team have written this blog to give you the lowdown on your gut and the gut microbiome. So, you can get to know your gut and why looking after it is so important:
What is your gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms that live inside your intestinal tract. The gut microbiome is now being considered a separate ‘organ’ with Lots of factors influence the type and amount of bacteria we host in our gut, and each person has a unique bacterial footprint.
The microorganisms in your gut are involved in some seriously important functions that are critical to your health and wellbeing. These bacteria play a key part in the digestion of food, and help with absorbing and synthesising nutrients. But these microorganisms are involved in many other important processes that extend beyond your gut; including your metabolism, body weight, and immune regulation, as well as your brain functions and mood (2).
Our gut health is really the foundation of our overall health: It helps build and boost the body’s immune system, and around 70% of our immune function is actually located in the gut- look after your gut and it’ll look after you.
A healthy gut has a barrier that keeps the contents of your gut where it should be. This barrier prevents undigested food particles and toxins from escaping into the bloodstream- gut barrier issues can lead to autoimmune conditions developing.
Imbalances and Disruptions
As with most things in life, our gut microbiome can become imbalanced or disrupted – this is called dysbiosis and can lead to digestive disturbances.
Our gut microbiota can become damaged by a high sugar diet, intolerances to gluten, high consumption of processed foods, illness, obesity, antibiotic use or chronic stress.
So how do we help keep out gut in balance? We feed our good gut bacteria by consuming a wide range of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits. These contain polyphenols, a special plant compound, that feeds the good guys in your gut. Make sure to choose vegetables and fruits with deep, dark red, purple and green colours!
The gut-brain connection
There are also a number of benefits to brain health due to the link between the gut and the brain. Approximately 95% of our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin, is located within the gut. The gut, has even been called a ‘second brain’, and researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system that trigger mood changes (4). This makes complete sense when thinking about the condition Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which can be triggered by chronic stress. Stress increases our fight or flight mode and stress hormone cortisol, which can in turn dampen our ‘feel good’ hormone, serotonin.
How can you boost your good gut bacteria?
There are many ways that you can boost your good bacteria, such as the use of pre- and probiotics. While probiotics and prebiotics sound very similar, they actually have very different roles within the gut:
Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre the feed your friendly gut bacteria. Prebiotic fibre exists in foods such as bananas, onion, garlic, leeks, asparagus, oats, apples, flaxseeds and artichokes.
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria, which are naturally created by the process of fermentation in foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and yogurt. Probiotics are also taken as supplements that are supposed to colonise your gut with health-boosting microorganisms. Including various probiotic rich foods in your diet will contribute to good gut health. You can add in kimchi or sauerkraut to your salads, or consume fermented soy products like miso and tempeh.
Consuming adequate fibre is imperative for a healthy gut. A good tip is to make sure at least half of your plate is vegetables. A serving of legumes such as chickpeas, black beans or lentils can act to feed the good bacteria in your gut and are incredibly rich in zinc, magnesium and iron. It is also important to focus on the lifestyle factors which can support a well functioning gut-microbiome, such as having adequate exercise and sleep, and reducing your exposure to stress in your daily life.
1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191858/
2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5847071/
3 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464665/
4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/