Improve your gut health

Is gut health important?

Not only is good gut health important for proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients we eat, but we are constantly seeing more research linking gut health to our wider health. Most of us have heard of the gut-brain-axis, but not as many of us know of the impact that gut health has on our immune system, cardio-metabolic health, detoxification, hormonal systems, skin, and energy levels.

How can I improve my gut health?

It all starts with what you eat and how you eat it. 

Try to limit ultra-processed foods, which contain unnatural ingredients that are damaging to the microbiome and the gut lining. The term 'ultra-processed' refers to pre-packed foods containing ingredients that you wouldn't find in a kitchen cupboard. Instead, aim for a wholefood-based diet with an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruit and plenty of fiber. Variety is key here, so eat across the rainbow daily; each different colour pigment represents a different plant compound which has so many benefits for your gut.

Next, focus on eating mindfully. Our bodies were not designed to digest food while we are stressed. Chew your food well and eat away from distractions (e.g. phone, TV or your office desk), and avoid snacking constantly throughout the day.

If your gut issues are longstanding and complicated, then you may need to work with a health practitioner to get to the root cause of your symptoms and use a more targeted dietary approach.

What are the signs of an unhealthy gut?

The main gut-related symptoms to look out for are;

  • Indigestion
  • Reflux
  • Bloating
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Irregular bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea)

It is also important to remember that imbalances in the gut can manifest in other areas of the body.

Immune dysfunction, food intolerances, skin issues, anxiety/depression, chronic headaches, anaemia and hormonal dysfunction can all be signs of gut imbalances.

What are 3 signs of a healthy gut?

  1. Regular bowel movements - Although there is no single rule, a daily bowel movement is ideal for most. If you notice sudden changes in your usual routine, that could be a sign that something isn't right.-
  2. Poop consistency - We may feel a little strange about examining our poop, but this is one of the best indicators of our overall gut function. You want to see a stool that is medium to dark brown in colour, smooth in texture, well-formed and sausage shaped, and doesn't float in the water.
  3. Good energy levels - If you have consistent energy levels and mental clarity, your gut is likely to be in good order. Low energy levels and exhaustion could be a sign that you are not digesting and absorbing nutrients efficiently.  

What are the 3 superfoods for your gut?

Fermented foods

Kefir, Kombucha, Saeurkraut, Kimchi, Miso. These foods are natural pro-biotics, which contribute towards the development of a diverse and thriving gut microbiome.

Polyphenol-rich foods

Berries, cocoa, green tea, olive oil, herbs and spices. Not only are polyphenols potent antioxidants, but they also act as pre-biotics, feeding some very beneficial species of gut bacteria.

Bone broth

High in collagen and L-glutamine which help to repair the gut lining and reduce intestinal inflammation. If you are vegan, then cabbage broth is a good alternative for it's high L-glutamine content.

Are gut health supplements worth it?

Of course, we always want to aim to get all of the nutrients we need from foods, and you can't supplement your way out of a bad diet.

However, when there are disruptions to normal gut function, supplements can be really useful to help speed up the healing process and provide some symptomatic relief.

Quality is really important here. Cheap supplements can contain poorly absorbed nutrients and lots of added ingredients which may be harmful to your gut, so it's always worth investing in good quality supplements that are clean and thoroughly tested.

Are gut health tests worth it?

Gut health tests can be expensive, but are so worth the money!

A comprehensive stool test gives you so much information about your digestive function, microbiome composition, gut wall integrity, inflammation, and possible infections. This is a great tool to identify and address the root cause of your gut symptoms quickly, and use a targeted treatment approach, possibly saving you years of suffering through trial and error.

You should always do these tests under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner as most of these tests require professional interpretation.

Can gut health affect skin?

Absolutely. Proper gut function is essential for the absorption of skin protective nutrients like Zinc, vitamin A, and Selenium.

The gut and our skin have a constant interplay through what we call 'the gut-skin-axis'. There is plenty of research linking gut dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria) to skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.

Additionally, inflammation in the gut causes inflammation in other areas of the body, including the skin. This is why we commonly see skin issues alongside chronic gut conditions. If you are struggling with skin issues then improving your gut health is a great place to start.

How long does it take for gut health to improve?

Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question due to differences in our individual biology and circumstances.

While some people will see huge improvements quickly from making a few changes to their diet, others may have a longer healing journey and require more specialist support.

However, the sooner you start caring for your gut, the sooner you are likely to see improvements. 

Gut health when on antibiotics

Although antibiotics can be necessary and in some cases life-saving, we need to remember the detrimental effects that they can have on our gut microbiome and be ready to repair the damage quickly.

This is where probiotic supplements are vital. I like to add in a specially formulated probiotic to take alongside antibiotics (like Optibac 'for those on antibiotics'). After finishing an antibiotic course, it's good to take a course of high strength probiotics (like Biokult 'Boosted') to add back in as many of those 'good guys' as possible.