When we think about what it means to be healthy, we often forget about our gut. Our gut health plays an important role in not only our digestive system but our overall physical and mental health. In fact, 80% of the immune system lies in the gut.
Though it’s so integral to our health, most Brits still aren’t clued up as to what makes a healthy one. The experts at Benenden Health have spotted that Google searches for ‘what is gut health’ and ‘how to improve gut health’ have both recently increased by 83 percent.
Additionally, ‘signs for an unhealthy gut’ are up by 120% compared to 3 months ago, while interest in #guthealthhacks on TikTok have reached an all-time high.
There are several different signs of an unhealthy gut but while some are obvious like having diarrhoea or experiencing a loss of appetite, others are less expected. You probably don’t associate having itchy skin with bad gut health - but it’s true!
10 signs and symptoms of poor gut health:
High stress levels
Poor sleep quality
Loss of appetite and loss of weight
“The microbiome within the gut is key to many aspects of our health, so it’s important that people are conscious of what can affect that balance,” Llinos Connolly at Benenden Health explains.
“For example, factors such as diet, stress levels, exposure to pollutants, and alcohol intake, can all impact your gut health – which can be quite overwhelming when you’re trying to keep track,” Connolly adds.
So, how can we improve our gut health?
It seems that everyone is trying to get a healthy gut and luckily we have the experts at Benenden Health on hand to help.
Y GUT sensitive share 7 simple ways you can improve the health of your gut.
1. Eat gut-friendly foods
Fibre is among the best foods for gut health. In addition to cutting down on highly-processed meals and eating lots of fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, you should also look into adding some fermented goods to your grocery list.
That’s because, although you do already have a lot of bacteria working in your belly, boosting the diversity of that microbiome can do wonders for your gut function. Ingredients like kimchi, kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha can all be useful in getting some good bacteria into your system.
2. Control stress levels
When we experience stress, our bodies kick off a chain of reactions that put us in a type of ‘emergency mode’. In this state, it chooses to focus only on its most critical internal activities, with digestion being one of the bodily functions which will be reduced or even shut down in the process.
Try and prevent chronic stress by adjusting other aspects of your life which you can control. Getting enough sleep is probably the number one thing you can do to lower your stress levels, along with adopting a mindfulness practice.
Meditation is obviously a great option for that, but if even thinking of sitting perfectly still for some time makes you jittery, activities like Kinhin (walking meditation) and Hatha Yoga could provide an ideal combination of mindfulness and movement. Spending time in nature has also been found to have stress-reducing effects on the body, as well as the mind.
3. Keep moving
Physical exercise has a positive impact on digestive health, but that’s not the only way in which it benefits our gut.
Beyond its ability to make our minds calmer and our muscles stronger, exercising regularly will increase blood flow to the digestive system, facilitating the absorption of key nutrients and helping the bowels to eliminate toxins.
4. Stay hydrated
Water plays a key role in softening and breaking down food, which eventually facilitates its transit through the GI tract and enhances nutrient absorption.
Drinking plenty of water is an excellent way to prevent issues like constipation and bloating, although a recent study even suggests that individuals with a higher water intake often have less of a certain species of bacteria commonly responsible for digestive infections.
5. Rest, recuperate and sleep
Rest is as important as exercise and can mean the difference between a well-functioning digestive system and a disrupted one. Studies show that gut health and sleep health are a two-way street.
Good sleep has been found to support the diversity and performance of the trillions of microorganisms that make up our digestive system, and a healthy microbiota will contribute to better sleep.
Sleep deprivation has proved to be an important cause of unbalance within the digestive system, reducing the diversity of the bacteria present in the GI tract and triggering inflammation processes that are detrimental not only to our sleep patterns but to many other important bodily functions.
6. Eliminate tobacco and limit your alcohol consumption
Alcohol is an irritant on the gut lining and has the potential to disrupt the fine balance of our digestive microbiome when consumed in large quantities. Comprehensive studies have suggested that cutting out booze entirely is best for health. The same goes for tobacco.
7. Floss regularly
Oral health can significantly influence your gut microbiota. The mouth is the first organ of the digestive system and if you don’t brush or floss properly, harmful bacteria can grow in the mouth and travel further down to the GI tract where they disrupt the gut function.