Gut Health: Ways to Manage an Unhealthy Gut

Gut Health: Ways to Manage an Unhealthy Gut

Jun 12, 2024

You’ve likely come across the term “gut health” and understand that having a healthy gut is vital. But what exactly does a healthy gut entail? It involves maintaining a balanced mix of bacteria and other microorganisms in your digestive system. Researchers are finding more and more evidence that these microbes play a significant role in overall health.

What is gut health and gut microbiome?

Gut health refers to the overall health of the gastrointestinal (GI) system, including digestion, a balanced microbiome, the absence of GI illness, and an effective immune system. It's linked to overall health, impacting immune function, mental health, and well-being. A healthy gut balances good and bad bacteria & properly digests and absorbs nutrients.

The gut microbiome is the collection of trillions of healthy microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites) living in the intestines. Most of these are present in the part of the large intestine called the caecum. Diet and environmental factors introduce and influence these microbes over time. A healthy gut microbiome along with probiotics supports immune health, reduces inflammation, and promotes mental health. An imbalance can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms and chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer.

How does the gut microbiome affect your health?

The gut microbiome, a collection of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, plays a crucial role in gut health. From birth, these microbes start affecting the body, initially acquired during childbirth and possibly even in the womb. As individuals grow, their gut microbiome diversifies, which is beneficial for health.

The gut microbiome aids in digestion, nutrient absorption, and toxin elimination. It influences the immune system, hormone production, and even mental health. Research has linked poor gut health to various conditions, including mental health disorders, autoimmune diseases, endocrine conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. A diverse gut microbiome is associated with improved overall health.

Why is the gut microbiome important?

The gut microbiome derives nutrients from the fermentation of carbohydrates, resulting in the synthesis of short chain fatty acids, which are vital for gut health. The gut microbiome also supports lipid metabolism by inhibiting lipoprotein and enhancing the efficiency of lipid hydrolysis required by pancreatic lipase for the digestion of lipids. They help maintain the gut barrier, keeping toxins from escaping into the bloodstream and providing anti-inflammatory action. The nervous system also gets affected by gut microbes which can stimulate certain neurotransmitters (serotonin), sending chemical signals to the brain. Moreover, gut microbiomes also interact with endocrine cells present in the gut lining, secreting hormones regulating various metabolic disorders.

Why gut health is important?

Your gut is crucial for overall health, aiding in digestion, nutrient absorption, and waste elimination. An imbalanced gut health can disrupt your immune system, serotonin, and hormones, leading to issues like chronic fatigue, illnesses, and inflammation. Symptoms of an unhealthy gut include diarrhoea, constipation, and gastro problems.

Gut microorganisms have a symbiotic interaction with the body, helping with digestion and keeping harmful microbes in check. An unhealthy gut can disrupt the entire digestive system.

Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

1. Upset Stomach:

Symptoms: Frequent discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn.

Impact: These issues indicate that your gut is having difficulty processing food and eliminating waste properly.

2. Chronic Fatigue:

Symptoms: Feeling tired more often.

Impact: Imbalances in the gut health are linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. Nearly half of people with chronic fatigue also have IBS.

3. Sleep Issues:

Symptoms: Insomnia, poor sleep quality, frequent wakefulness.

Impact: The gut produces most of the body’s serotonin, which affects mood and sleep. Inflammation or bacterial imbalances in the gut can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to fatigue.

4. Food Indigestibility

Symptoms: Bloating, gas, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain after eating certain foods.

Impact: Poor gut health can cause food intolerances, where your body struggles to digest specific foods.

5. Sugar Cravings:

Symptoms: Cravings for sugar.

Impact: A diet rich in processed foods and added sugars can disrupt the beneficial bacteria in the human gut. The imbalance that results can cause increased cravings for sugar, which further harm the gut.

6. Weight Changes:

Symptoms: Unintentional weight gain or loss without changes in diet or exercise.

Impact: An imbalanced gut health can affect the body's ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat, leading to weight fluctuations.

7. Skin Irritations:

Symptoms: Acne, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions.

Impact: Skin issues can be related to gut health including skin dysbiosis with lower concentrations of beneficial bacteria leading to inflamed skin.

8. Autoimmune Problems:

Symptoms: Conditions like thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.

Impact: An unhealthy gut may increase systemic inflammation and disrupt proper immune system function, potentially triggering autoimmune diseases.

9. Mood Changes:

Symptoms: Anxiety, depression, mood swings.

Impact: Gut health problems can affect gut-brain access, altering emotions.

Ways to Improve Gut Health

1. Eat Fibre-Rich and Probiotic-Packed Foods:

Consume fibre-rich foods like sweet potatoes, spinach, beets, carrots, fennel, whole grains, beans, cruciferous vegetables, pears, and berries.

Include fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha for their probiotic benefits.

2. Exercise Regularly:

Regular physical activity promotes a diversity of healthy gut bacteria.

Longer workouts and high-intensity aerobic training are particularly beneficial.

3. Limit Your Alcohol Intake:

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to gut inflammation and induce intestinal permeability.

Alcohol damages cells leading to changes in the intestinal lining, causing ulcerations and erosions. 

Alcohol intake can increase the inflammatory response leading to alcohol-induced damage to various areas of the GI tract.

4. Reduce Stress Levels:

Stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, and cognitive behavioural therapy can improve gut health.

5. Consider a Supplement:

Probiotic supplements may help under certain conditions, such as during antibiotic use or for specific inflammatory bowel diseases.

Steadfast Nutrition's Tri Fibre is one such supplement that can be consumed by anyone - it is an easy way to add fibre to the diet as it is odourless, colourless, and tasteless and can be easily consumed with water twice a day for good gut health.

Not all probiotics are effective for every condition, and supplements should complement other healthy lifestyle choices.

6. Stay Hydrated:

Drinking enough water daily supports gut function by aiding in the movement of food through the intestines.

Aim to drink about 2 to 3 litres of water to keep tissues and organs healthy and lubricated.

7. Limit ultra-processed foods:

These are industrially processed and high in refined sugars, salt, additives, and unhealthy fats. Research shows that consuming these foods leads to more "bad" gut bacteria, while avoiding them promotes more "good" gut bacteria.

8. Add nuts and seeds to your diet:

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of fibre, polyphenols, and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, which promote a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. Consuming omega-3-rich foods is linked to greater gut microbiome diversity.  Omega-3 reverts the microbiome in disease conditions, increasing the production  of anti-inflammatory compounds like short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Additionally, healthy fats from nuts and seeds improve cardiovascular health and help reduce blood sugar spikes after eating carbohydrates. Some beneficial nuts and seeds to include in your diet are almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.

5 foods for gut health

1. Whole Grains

  • Opt for whole grains over refined carbohydrates for better gut health, as they provide fibre and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Whole grains support colon function and immune health by producing short-chain fatty acids through fibre fermentation by gut bacteria.
  • Despite low-carbohydrate diet trends, avoiding grains can negatively impact beneficial gut bacteria.

2. Leafy Greens

  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale are rich in fibre and nutrients such as folate, vitamins C, K, and A.
  • These vegetables contain SQ sugar, a type of carbohydrate that promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria, supporting an ideal gut microbiome.

3. Low-Fructose Fruits

  • Excessive fructose intake can lead to metabolic disorders due to an increase in intestinal permeability triggering inflammation in the liver. To avoid gas and bloating, reduce intake of high-fructose fruits like apples, pears, and mangoes.
  • Opt for low-fructose fruits such as berries, citrus fruits, and bananas, which are easier to tolerate and promote the growth of good gut bacteria.

4. Drink Plenty of Water

  • Water is essential for nutrient absorption and waste elimination, supporting overall digestive health and cleaning the intestines and body.

Maintaining a healthy gut is crucial for overall health and immune function. By adopting appropriate lifestyle and dietary changes, individuals can enhance the diversity and number of beneficial gut microbes. Positive steps include taking probiotics, following a fibre-rich diet, and avoiding unnecessary medications. Additionally, getting enough sleep and regular exercise are simple yet effective lifestyle changes. However, it's important to consult a doctor before making significant dietary changes, especially for individuals with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Keeping a food diary to track diet and symptoms can help identify causes of stomach issues, aiding in better management and health improvement.