Six ways to improve gut health
In recent years, researchers have emphasised just how important the gut is to overall health.
But even though the vast majority of people have experienced gut health problems ranging from feeling bloated, to suffering heartburn and constipation, most do nothing about it.
To mark Love Your Gut Week, which runs from 19 - 25 September, registered dietician Jo Travers has shared some top tips for improving gut health.
There is a strong link between gut health and the immune system.
"The bacteria in our gut 'teach' our immune systems what is harmful and what isn't," she explained. "This helps make sure the immune system doesn't overreact when exposed to antigens and keeps inflammation in check. These important bacteria thrive when we eat plenty of plant fibre; get some exercise; sleep well and manage our stress."
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
Varied gut microbiota is associated with better health.
"To keep the bacteria thriving, you need to feed them well. A study found that people who eat 30 or more different plant foods each week are likely to have a much more varied gut microbiota than those who eat 10 or less," noted Jo. "To up your intake of plant-based foods, try adopting new habits such as swapping to wholemeal pasta when cooking, adding an extra portion of veg to your plate, or snacking on nuts and seeds."
Get enough sleep
Sufficient sleep is something everyone needs, and depriving ourselves of sleep can disrupt the communication between our gut and brain.
"The bacteria in the gut directly communicate with the central nervous system and disrupted sleep can affect the levels of bacteria in the gut," the dietician shared.
Stress - physical or psychological - triggers a chain reaction in the body, including the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause dysregulation of the communication pathways between the gut and the brain.
"This can mean changes to blood flow and secretions in the gut, which may create better conditions for pathological bacteria and inhibit the growth of some helpful bacteria," she continued. "It can also affect the movement of food through the gut and result in either constipation or diarrhoea."
Get into nature
Just coming into contact with the great outdoors is enough to influence our gut bacteria.
"Microscopic airborne particles are colonised by a variety of bacteria that make their way into us via the air we breathe," said Jo. "One of my favourite ways to take advantage of the outdoors is by gardening, as science shows that exposure to green spaces and outdoor sunlight, including our own gardens, has proved successful at improving mental wellbeing, reducing depression and anxiety symptoms, while also having a positive effect on stress reduction."
Keep track of what you eat
An easy way to monitor your gut health is by tracking what you eat and drink, and cross-referencing with any symptoms you may experience.
"A simple way to do this is by keeping a food and symptoms diary, where you can keep note of the food and drink you consume, alongside symptoms, and then share this with your GP or dietitian, who will be able to help identify any triggers," the expert added.