10 things you probably didn't know about your stomach

Keep your stomach healthy this winter [Photo: Getty]

The Christmas lights are being switched on this week which means it’s official – the festive season is beginning. 

Our bodies are about to take a serious hit, in particular our stomachs. There’s nothing worse than a dodgy tum and feeling run down when you’ve got a full social calendar ahead.

But how does our stomach actually affect us beyond eating and drinking? Is there a way to boost our bodies before party season? After all, it’s purpose isn’t just to hold food and drink. Your digestive system can impact emotions, stress levels and even act like a brain.

We caught up with a professional to find out the facts.

Your stomach needs to be balanced

It’s not just about eating a balanced diet, but the balance within the stomach has to be right too. Our digestive system contains a complex community of microorganisms called flora – often commonly known as the good and bad bacteria – that can be destroyed by the modern lifestyle, through smoking, alcohol, environmental pollution and stress. It can actually take your gut flora as much as 1 year to repopulate from just one course of antibiotics.

“When a person has an imbalance of “good” to “bad” bacteria in the intestines, the body’s defences are down.” Explains Dr Sara Celik, ND – Naturopathic Doctor and Renew Life Spokesperson. “In order to keep the bacteria alive, I recommend consuming a diet that is rich in fermented foods and prebiotic-rich foods such as garlic, onions, artichoke, bananas, and fibre.”

70% of your immune system is found in your gut

Believe it or not, most of our immune system is within our digestive tract and we rely upon it to resist infection and fight off bad bacteria, viruses and parasites.

When a virus invades our body, our ‘friendly’ bacteria will fight back. When the virus is in the intestine, the good bacteria surround the virus and neutralise it, triggering the body to produce substances that neutralise it before it causes damage. Secondly, they form a barrier along the intestinal lining which prevents the virus from leaking through into the blood stream.

If open and laid flat, the gut would cover an entire tennis court

You’ve probably seen a couple of cool stats about the amazing size of our digestive system but why is the size important? Do we really want a big gut? Fortunately, Dr Sara confirmed that having a big digestive system is not linked to having a big belly.

“The gut is where nutrients are absorbed and the absorption of nutrients requires a large surface area. With better nutrient absorption, a person may experience increased energy, healthier hair, skin and nails.”

The importance of the stomach is acknowledged in several cultures

Western medicine promotes the balance of bacteria in the gut, and it’s led to a booming probiotic market that is now quite well known (Activia yoghurt anyone?). The Stomach is also held in high regard in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where practitioners believe the stomach is not just responsible for digesting food but also emotions and thoughts. The balance of your digestive system is also one of the key principles of the ancient practice of Ayurveda, which has been around for thousands of years.

Dirt could be good for you

Put your antibac to one side for a minute. Turns out that being super clean/sterile might not always be the best thing for us. “It appears disinfecting everything and avoiding microbes may actually impact immunity in a negative way.” Says Dr Sara, “The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ has many healthcare professionals questioning whether being overly clean is a good thing”

A study exists which shows children raised in rural areas have fewer allergies and autoimmune diseases than children raised in cities. This is thought to be because children raised on farms are exposed to more dirt and microbes than children in cities.

Eating fibre isn’t just about All-Bran

Just 30g of coconut has almost a third of your daily fibre requirement. Fibre can help balance blood sugars and helps to remove toxins, cholesterol and excess estrogen from the body. “Excellent sources of fibre include legumes (kidney beans, mung beans), chia seeds, flax seeds, steel-cut oats, fruits and vegetables – especially the skin.”

If you’re not great at eating these, there are also plenty of fibre supplements available in pill or powder form. 

A healthy gut can help reduce stress

It’s quite understandable that when people have stomach issues such as gas, bloating or heartburn, they often experience higher levels of stress.  Dr Sara reveals that new research is linking an unhealthy digestive system to mood changes. It appears that with common digestive disorders like these, the gut sends signals to the central nervous system that can actually trigger changes in mood.

There are actually over 100 million brain cells found in your gut

Our brain is a giant network but did you know our digestive system is too? The gut contains its own neural network called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), which contains millions of nerves.

“Although the ENS doesn’t make decisions or solve math problems the way the brain does, it can communicate other important messages to a person through hormones and neurotransmitters.” Explains Dr Sara, “ Gut feelings and decisions made based on intuition are thought to be from this second brain.“

A healthy system can even improve sleep

Over 90% of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’, is produced in the gut. It may not surprise you that the brain and the digestive system are connected – serotonin is one of the most important brain chemicals for regulating the sleep cycle.

 “Since the gut is packed with nerve cells that communicate with the brain, a healthier gut will result in more positive signaling to the brain. When stress levels are high and the mind is active, sleep can be easily affected.” Maybe that explains why we have such a good sleep when we eat well?

 It is possible to prepare our stomach before the party season

Think of our gut flora like an army within, which you can add reinforcements too. “The beneficial bacteria in the gut help the immune system by acting like an army standing on guard 24/7. A daily live bacteria supplement may help bring gut flora back into balance and the immune system up to par.” Just make sure your supplements are enteric coated so that they make it through the stomach to where we need it most.

Supplement your friendly bacteria levels with a daily probiotic supplement like Renew Life Ultimate Flora £24.99. A single dose contains 50 billion good bacteria to reinforce your bacteria army, and they’re coated to ensure they don’t dissolve in the stomach.


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