Does a healthier gut mean a healthier life?
In a world where everything and everybody seems to be constantly in flux and where life moves so quickly, those old sayings about following your “gut feelings” to get you where you want to be spring to mind. But could it be that what might seem like a jaded old metaphor about the path to contentment, actually harbours some secrets to a healthier and happier existence?
Most people understand the importance of maintaining good health: healthy brains, healthy bodies and healthy immune systems. Most people also understand that these important elements filter into positive emotional and mental health too. Right? What many people might not understand, or maybe do not even realise, is the importance of “the gut” in tying all of these elements together.
Here comes the Science...
Over the past two decades or so, there has been a vast amount of research and a large body of evidence to suggest that gut bacteria could be far more important to a number of outcomes in our lives than we ever thought possible.
The human gut contains trillions of microorganisms and somewhere between 300-500 different species of bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. For a long time, it might have appeared that what happened down in our bellies was little more than simple mechanics at work: eat food, digest food, get rid of the non-essentials! Not true. For hidden in the very pits of our tummies, lies a second brain of sorts, a brain which is slowly changing the way professionals look at links between our digestion and other important health factors.
These days, most people are inclined to reach for their impulse buy, pocket sized portion of hand sanitizer when they hear the word “bacteria”. It has become easy to overlook the fact that bacteria and other microbes can be useful and even helpful in our every day lives and inside our bodies. The truth is, your gut contains more microbes than you can shake a very large stick at and studies are finding more and more that the presence of these little ones are associated with lower incidences of cancer, heart disease, asthma, skin conditions and irritable bowel, to name but a few. Recent findings also suggest that these wee microbes (or lack thereof!) can even have an impact on a person’s mood and on their behaviour.
So, what can I do to help?
Many of us probably take our gut for granted far too often. Leading stressed and busy lives, bad daily habits such as eating too much sugar and processed foods and not allowing enough time for sleep can all lead to poor gut health and in turn this can have a negative impact on our bodies and our minds.
The good news is, that unlike other health issues, there are very simple steps we can all take to help promote good gut health and keep our tums feeling fine!
1. EAT more plant based foods (lots of fruit, vegetables, beans and legumes) lean protein, and increase your fiber intake. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi and kefir are also good for gut bacteria
2. AVOID processed foods and artificial sweeteners
3. DRINK plenty of water
4. TRY a prebiotic or probiotic supplement
5. MANAGE or lower your stress levels (easier said than done, right?!) We all know how stress can impact our bodies and our gut is no different. Just remember to take time for yourself and do the things you enjoy too, be it a walk with your dog or putting your feet up with a cuppa and a good book.
6. MAKE sure you are getting the recommended 7-8 hours sleep every night.
7. Avoid taking antibiotics if possible
8. GIVE UP smoking (as if you needed another reason to quit!). Smoking can affect intestinal flora and reduce the level of beneficial microorganisms
While we do not have control over many things in life and knowing how difficult it can be to address and manage many complex health related issues, it seems that there are many things that we can do to positively influence our gut health. An even bigger plus is that many of these steps are simple, affordable and easy to incorporate into our hectic schedules. With all signs pointing toward a good gut for better physical and mental health, maybe it’s time we started listening to them after all?