[As featured in Sheer Luxe]
Put down that matcha latte and quit being mindful for a minute. Getting down with your gut is the health industry’s latest hot topic with wellness insiders, nutritionists, scientists and medics all eager to expound the importance of a well functioning gastrointestinal tract. And for good reason too. Turns out the digestive system isn’t just there to break down the food you eat, it also plays a pivotal role in many of your body’s other processes – from immunity to skin health to serotonin production*.
Your digestive tract houses around 100 trillion live bacteria (collectively called microbiome) – some are good, some bad. The key to keeping your system running efficiently is to cultivate the beneficial type because with good microbiome comes good health. When your internal ecosystem is off kilter – viruses, poor food choices, caffeine, booze or antibiotics are likely to upset the balance – bad bacteria can start to proliferate, which in turn paves the way for bloating, diarrhea, candida, IBS, allergies, skin conditions such as acne, eczema and dermatitis and even weight gain.
Here are a few tips on keeping your gut flora in order:
- Bad bacteria thrive on sugar, so try to steer clear of sweet, processed foods and limit your alcohol intake (especially if you suffer from thrush or acne). This probably wont come as news but you should aim to up the number of fibre-rich plant-based foods in your diet.
- Hydration is key. Drinking plenty of water helps keep the beneficial bacteria active and able to perform efficiently.
- Probiotics are live microorganisms which can help to redress the balance of good bacteria. They’re largely found in fermented foods such as kombucha, kefir, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut and kimchi. You can also buy them in supplement form. Look for billions not millions of cultures and remember they’re live (check labels to see if they need to be stored in the fridge). Take first thing in the morning on an empty stomach before you drink or eat anything hot as heat destroys them. I particularly like Optibac who are based in the UK and put their products through rigorous clinical trials. They offer different strains of probiotics for different conditions – everything from candida (thrush) to eczema – and have a remarkably informative website.
- Prebiotics act as food for your good gut microflora; the more you consume, the more efficiently the live bacteria work and the healthier your gut will be. You’ll find prebiotics naturally in artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and bananas.
- Stress stimulates the release of cortisol which impacts your gut flora in a negative way **, so anything you can do to keep tension and anxiety at bay will benefit your body as well as your mind.
- Spirulina, bananas, spinach, slippery elm and psyllium husks are all said to help soothe the gut membrane and promote good bacteria growth. Try adding one (or more) of them to a breakfast smoothie to start you off on the right track each day.
- Organic apple cider vinegar increases stomach acidity which improves digestion and can ease bloating. Be warned: the taste is not for the fainthearted. Start with one teaspoon in water first thing in the morning or before a meal. A far more palatable option is to incorporate it into salad dressings.
If you want to read more about the importance of gut health, there are a myriad of best selling books out on the subject. 10% Human by Alanna Collen and Gut by Giulia Enders both come highly recommended.
- The gastrointestinal system contains almost 70 per cent of the body’s whole immune system. It’s also worth remembering that 95 per cent of our serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’ – is created in the gut and other hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone, thyroxine and appetite regulating hormones are also produced there. Little wonder then that so much research is taking place into how our microbiome helps us maintain weight, mood and reproductive processes.
- ** Gut-brain axis: How the microbiome influences anxiety and depression by Jane A. Foster and Karen-Anne McVey Neufeld