Our body and the way it functions is wonderful and mysterious and everyday, we seem to learn new things about it. While doing some light reading and research I came across an interesting fact: we have 100 trillion micro-organisms (most of them bacteria, but also viruses, fungi, and protozoa) that exist in the human gut! It got me thinking, is there really any relationship between what we eat and how it affects our body, mind and soul? The answer is yes! And so, we decided to go a little deeper into “the gut microbiome”, see the signs of an unhealthy gut, and what we can include or leave out from our lifestyle and make sure that when our gut health speaks, we need to listen quickly!
The “gut microbiome”
Learning about our digestive system back in the day, it seemed to have a very simple way of working: A single long tube for our food to pass through, be absorbed, and then excreted. Over the years, gut and its unimaginable complex nature of functioning has proved its importance and that has made it a topic of increasing research in the medical community. We now see a clear link between gut health and the immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and forms of cancer.
The term “gut microbiome” Refers specifically to the microorganisms living in your intestines. While we may find some microorganisms causing harm to our health, many are incredibly beneficial and even necessary to a healthy body.
Signs to look out for when your body is telling you that you have an unhealthy gut.
We have so much to deal with all of a sudden that we ignore the cues that our bodies give us. Our changed lifestyles compared to our ancestors, can say enough. High stress level jobs, less sleep, more processed foods, fast foods, high sugar content, strong antibiotics or medication when we fall sick, all can damage our gut microbiome. This eventually plays havoc with our immune system; hormones, weight, skin, all can be directly affected by this.
There are more ways than one in which an unhealthy gut can reveal itself to us. Here are few common signs you shouldn’t ignore:
1. An Upset Stomach
The first of many tell-tale signs of a bad gut is an upset stomach. Bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, excessive belching, when you see a recurring pattern to any of these stomach disturbances, know that your gut is trying to caution you.
2. Food Intolerance
This is different from food allergies that are caused by the immune system. Intolerances occur when a trigger food has been consumed leading to diarrhoea, bloating, gas, stomach aches and the likes. This happens when gut health is weak and cannot tolerate the food or ingredient that causes this trigger.
3. High sugar/sodium diet
With fast paced lives, it seems easy to accommodate ready to cook, packaged and processed foods that contain high levels of added sugar and/or sodium. This decreases the number of good bacteria present in our gut leading to an imbalance causing increased sugar cravings, which can damage your gut.
4. Sudden weight changes
If you are not exercising or haven’t made changes in your diet and see major fluctuations in your weight all of a sudden, it can be a sign of distressed gut health. An imbalanced gut can impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat.
5. Autoimmune conditions
Medical research continually finds a direct relation with gut health and the immune system. An unhealthy gut may increase systemic inflammation and alter the proper functioning of the immune system leading to autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac diseases and more.
6. Skin irritation
Skin conditions like eczema may be related to a damaged gut. Inflammation in the gut caused by a poor diet or food allergies may cause increased “leaking” of certain proteins out into the body, which can in turn irritate the skin and cause such skin conditions.
7. Unusual sleep patterns or fatigue
An unhealthy gut may contribute to unusual sleep patterns such as insomnia and therefore lead to chronic fatigue. The majority of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. So gut damage can impair your ability to sleep well. Some sleep disturbances have also been linked to risk for fibromyalgia, a condition that causes chronic pain in the entire body.
Foods you can eat and include in your diet to improve your gut health
1. Probiotic and prebiotic foods
While you can add supplements to your diet, fermented foods are your best source of probiotics. Greek yoghurt, idli, dosa, home-set curd, home- made buttermilk, akhuni, dhokla, are easy to cook or find on a menu. Prebiotic foods such as khichdi, curd rice, garlic, bananas, onions, and whole grains are ideal to introduce good bacteria in our system.
2. Whole grains
Choosing between white, brown or multi-grain bread, Brown or white rice, whole wheat or flour chapatis? If you are confused about what works best for your gut, research says that if you want your gut to work better, choose whole grains, since optimal colon function requires at least 25 grams of fibre daily. Along with that they contain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Tempted to try that new low-carb diet for weight loss? If you avoid grains altogether it may not be so great for the good gut bacteria that thrive on fibre.
3. Leafy Greens
Remember when your mother stressed on “Eat your veggies”? She was right. Spinach or palak, and kale, are excellent sources of fibre, as well as nutrients like folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin A. They also contain a specific type of sugar that helps fuel growth of healthy gut bacteria allowing you to develop an ideal gut microbiome.
4. Low Fructose fruits
If you are prone to gas or bloating, you may want to avoid fruits like apples, pears, mangoes that are high in fructose or fruit sugars. Stick to berries and citrus fruits such as raspberries, blueberries, oranges and grapefruits. Bananas, as well, are high in fibre and a fructose low fruit.
Polyphenols are a type of plant chemical that gut microbes love. They are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress. You can find these in dark chocolate, artichokes, red onions, tea, dark chocolate, green tea, broccoli and other fruits and vegetables. Gut bacteria feed on polyphenols and produce beneficial substances.
What more can you do to improve your gut health
1. Eat on time
Often going for long hours without food in your system can cause bloating or acidity. Consuming your meals and healthy snacks on a regular schedule can help keep your digestive system in top shape. Sit down for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks around the same time each day and if you struggle to keep up, set reminders on your phone to help you.
2. Stay hydrated
Fibre pulls water into the colon to create softer, bulkier stools, allowing them to pass through more easily. Drinking lots of water helps with this digestion.
3. Lower your stress levels
Chronic stress level can be harmful to your gut. Some ways to lower stress may include meditation, walking, getting a massage, spending time with friends or family, diffusing essential oils, decreasing caffeine and alcohol intake or yoga.
4. Eat slowly
Chewing your food thoroughly and with intent helps with good digestion and proper absorption of nutrients improving gut health.
5. Pay attention to your food intolerances
If you notice cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rashes, nausea, fatigue, and acid reflux, you may be suffering from a food intolerance. Try avoiding common trigger foods to see if your symptoms improve. When you identify a food or foods that are contributing to your symptoms, you may see a positive change in your digestive health by changing your eating habits.
6. Get enough sleep
Try to get a minimum of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. Avoid using your phone before going to bed, wind down by reading a book instead of watching TV and activating silent mode on your devices. Sufficient amount of sleep can be great for your gut health.
Adapting to certain lifestyle changes can be difficult but definitely works wonders to having a healthy gut. We need to be mindful of the food we eat. At the end of it, our gut is a mirror to our healthy life choices. Make a conscious choice to take care of it.