By Emma Ellice-Flint BHSc, Nutritionist
The gastrointestinal system comprises one long tube with other organs attached and interconnected. This tube’s shape and size changes with different functions, but remains the means by which all the nutrients and water from what we eat and drink enter our bodies. I believe the foundation of all health, balance and wellbeing is a healthy gut, with prebiotic foods and probiotic bacteria essential for the care of this vital part of our body.
The food choices we make each day can affect our gut microbiome either positively or negatively. The beneficial microbiota – the community of microbes living in our gastrointestinal tract – thrives when we eat foods that encourage its health, while incorrect foods may not only foster a hostile environment for that microbiota but also encourage unwanted bacteria to thrive instead. The gut microbiota communicates with the brain, and vice versa, via several neural pathways. Amazingly, some gut microbiota can produce their own neurotransmitters – hormones that can communicate directly with the brain in its own language! Through this connection, our moods can influence, and be influenced by, our gut’s condition – happiness, positivity, excitement and optimism are affected by a healthy microbiota, while tendencies to grumpiness, anger, anxiety and weepiness may reflect an out of balance gut microbiome.
The wall of the small intestine is covered with villi – small, finger-like projections that increase its surface area and its capacity to absorb nutrients from food. Studies have shown that chronic stress can reduce the length of the villi, so at these times it’s important to boost our “good” gut microbiota. This microbiota produce small fatty acids such as butyrate, which feed the villi and encourage them to grow larger and more robust, increasing their absorption of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, and also less likely to take in unwanted substances. That’s a win for the body, as it has access to more of the beneficial stuff from our food and less of the detrimental. By boosting your gut health, these villi can remain strong and nourished to do their job even when you’re stressed.
3. Immune system:
Our gut is the number one defence system in our body. Both its friendly microbiota and the gut lining are instrumental in helping to prevent us getting sick, or to reduce the severity of an illness and such complications as secondary infections. But here’s the tricky part: for those of us following the norms of Western or European culture, our gut tends to have a lower bacterial diversity. In part, this is due to a more relaxed use of antibiotics, which kill both the good and the bad bacteria in the gut. Also at fault is a typically low-fibre diet containing very little prebiotic food, which deprives any remaining beneficial bacteria of the nutrition it needs to thrive and multiply again after periods of antibiotic treatment. To help break a potentially vicious cycle of ill health, it’s important to increase the level of prebiotic and probiotic fermented foods in our daily diet. The resulting vigour of our gut will help make our immune system more resilient.
4. Weight Gain:
People who are overweight or obese tend to have a different gut microbiota profile to those in a healthier weight range, which has led scientists to theorise that improving the microbiota could benefit weight loss. Trials were conducted on mice, transferring gut bacteria from thin mice into overweight mice to see whether it made a difference. And it did – the overweight mice lost weight! Extrapolating that example to the human body, it’s possible to conclude that the health of the microbiota of an overweight person affects the gut’s ability to process food efficiently, so the body is no longer the fat-burning machine nature designed. Foods rich in prebiotic fibre promote good gut microbiota to colonise – and these same foods also happen to help us feel fuller and satisfied.
Unhealthy eating patterns and an out-of-balance gut microbiome can lead to subclinical infection, causing mild inflammation without you even knowing it. Rather, sufferers of such inflammation may experience seemingly unrelated symptoms, like fatigue, hormonal imbalance, weight gain, lack of energy and being “fuzzy headed”. Research indicates that chronic fatigue sufferers often present with a differing or reduced microbiome profile when compared to those without this condition. Related studies have shown a measurable improvement in fatigue symptoms when specific probiotics are administered. Even without a diagnosed explanation for fatigue, patients in my clinic who have added prebiotic and probiotic foods to their diet report they have increased energy.
So which foods boost gut health?
This question is a tricky one, since there are particular foods that are great for our gut microbiota but can trigger gastrointestinal disturbances in some people.
In my clinic I work with people to discover which foods would be great for their gut and overall feelings of wellbeing and vitality, but also, well tolerated by them.
Prebiotic foods can include: garlic, onions, asparagus, chicory, radicchio, artichoke, cocoa, ginger, cabbage, fennel, beetroot, bananas, blueberries, apples.
Probitoic foods can include: Kefir, live yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto and live apple cider vinegar.
Then there are foods that particularly help boost the mucilaginous layer lining the gut wall where these microbes live, and others again that help with ‘cleansing’ the gut lining. An important step often overlooked by people wanting to improve their gut health, and one that helps reduce inflammation. Foods such as bone broth, flax/linseeds and oats.
If you would like to find out which foods are best for your body then why not come see me at Newson Health for a clinic appointment? To book please telephone: 01789 595004
Emma Ellice-Flint’s website for more information: https://emmasnutrition.com