You gut microbiome contains trillions of gut bacteria, and a lot of our health and well being is in the hands of this thriving community of microbes. Naturally then, it follows that having a healthy, clean gut will lead to a happier and healthier life.
The Digestive System is Incredibly Complex
While it’s easy to think of our digestive system as simply a stomach and long, winding tubes of intestines, it is in fact incredibly complex. Starting with our mouths, encompassing our crushing teeth and enzyme rich saliva, our digestive system tracks down our esophagus and connects with our stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas and gallbladder.
This complex network of organs all contributes various unique and crucial functions to the successful breaking down of our food and subsequent absorption of nutrients. Our liver creates bile which helps to break down fats and absorb the nutrients extracted by your small intestine, the gallbladder stores and concentrates this bile until it’s ready for use and the pancreas serves to create digestive enzymes which help break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Because of the incredibly complicated nature of our digestive system, and due to what we know about the gut affecting your mood and immune health as well as the overall health of our bodies, we need to make sure we are doing all we can to improve our gut’s health and keep it in optimal condition.
The “Dos” of Gut Health: How to Best Support Your Gut
In order to support your gut flora living within the digestive tract, it is important to eat foods which are considered “prebiotics”, these are what probiotics eat (soluble fibres such as Pectin) which stimulate and support your probiotics to stay balanced within your gut, in turn assisting our digestive organs in creating enzymes and absorbing the nutrients we need to be healthy.
Along with prebiotics, there are a myriad of nutrients we need to include in our diets, which play important roles in the digestive process. These can be taken in either the form of a supplement or consumed in whole foods. Glutamine², is an essential amino acid found in protein-rich foods like red meat and fish which fuels the cells in your liver and intestines and facilitates the repair of cells in your gut lining. Recent studies have shown that Zinc³ too, found in beans, nuts and seafood, can support your pancreas as it produces enzymes. Zinc also has strong antioxidant properties, supporting your overall health and wellbeing.
The “Don’ts” of Gut Health: What to Avoid to Maintain a Healthy Gut
While the reasons for poor gut health aren’t always clear, there are a few things you can avoid in order to ensure you’re doing everything possible to support your gut. Various medications for example, can cause an imbalance in your gut flora, including antibiotics and some steroids. While your doctor prescribes these to you or your kids, they should be taken with a probiotic supplement in order to help replace any gut bacteria, which may have become collateral damage while your medication is fighting off other infections.
Excessive alcohol consumption too, can change the balance of your gut bacteria. While studies have shown alcohol can actually increase the bacteria in your digestive system, these new introductions are often negative, skewing the 90/10 ratio of good to bad bacteria you want in your gut towards a higher percentage of bad bacteria.
Another factor, which can significantly affect your gut health, is stress. While a little harder to control than diet or medications, studies have shown even one stressful incident can alter the numbers and colonies of bacteria in our gut. While we can’t always avoid stress in our lives, it is important to do what we can to mitigate stressful episodes by taking time to relax and wind down, and ensuring we are doing what we can to bolster our digestive health. We can do this by eating probiotic foods like miso, kombucha and kimchi or taking probiotic and prebiotic supplements.