As human beings we are made up of 100 trillion bacteria. Yep that’s right you heard me correctly. 100 trillion!
These bacteria control many aspects of our health. Probably many more than we realize.
The bacteria in our guts helps us to digest our foods, regulate our hormones , synthesise vitamins and minerals, maintain the integrity of our gut wall , excrete toxins, provides us with somewhere between 5 and 10% of our energy and comprises up to 75% of our immune system. Phew! They really are busy.
What causes these imbalances in our gut?
- Antibiotics, oral contraceptive pill and NSAIDS (such as Nurofen, Advil, Celebrex, Mobic, Naprosyn just to name a few).
- Food intolerances and undiagnosed Coeliacs disease
- Diets high in processed sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
- Chronic stress
- Chronic infection
- Shortage of fermentable fibre in the diet
What you can do to regain control
1. Have a food intolerance test and or a Comprehensive Stool Analysis Test (CDSA)- Even though testing is not absolutely definitive it does give you a very good starting place especially if you have tried lots of things. Food intolerances are one of the major causes of bloating, reflux, headaches, constipation and/or diarrhoea. They can also be a cause of eczema, asthma and any other skin conditions and also things you are not likely to think about such as sinus, migraines, fatigue, joint pain, insomnia and even depression.
2. Feed your gut the right foods: You now know what foods to avoid for the moment after your food intolerance test, so what else can you do?
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, even ones you have never tried before. Try to eat some raw and some cooked as these are jam packed with phytochemicals (chemicals within foods that are good for us) that can reduce inflammation of the gut, enzymes which can breakdown the food and fibre both soluble (bananas, asparagus, onions, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes) and insoluble (very important because gut bacteria help enzymes break down these otherwise indigestible fibres). It is good to eat foods that encourage good bacterial growth. These are things like plain yoghurt with live cultures added, fermented foods such as Sauerkraut, Kim chi and miso. There is a disclaimer here though. If you think you may have intolerance to fructose or candida, eating fermented foods will make these conditions much worse. Mix up the foods you eat, don’t have a mono diet and by that I mean don’t eat the same things for breakfast, lunch and dinner day after day. This is a sure fire way to progress to food allergies. I am sure you’ve heard the saying “variety is the spice of life”.
Eat foods that are high in Omega 3’s as these help reduce the inflammation in the gut and they can also reduce your risk of allergy. My suggestion here would be fish; oily fish is my preference as these are loaded with omega 3’s. My favourites are salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. A word of warning not all fish are created equal. Fish such as swordfish and marlin are large, long lived fish and they accumulate mercury which is not good for anyone. Eat fish a couple of times a week and this will give you all the omega 3 you need.
I would also recommend that you soak any grains or legumes in acidulated water to help break down enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid to make these foods more digestible.
Try adding carminative herbs to your meals. Herbs such as peppermint, ginger, fennel, cardamom, anise seed and coriander. These herbs not only make for tasty meals they help improve digestive function and reduce wind and bloating.
3. Move your body- I know you have heard it before but moving your body really does help with bloating, wind and constipation. The bowel is surrounded by muscles that help push food through the digestive system. When exercising the muscles move everything around and help get things moving. Exercise should be done daily as this gets these muscles working. There are some specific yoga moves, twists and rotations that are particularly good for moving food through the system. You don’t have to run a marathon or lift heavy weights, some studies have shown that walking can also provide the benefits needed to get the bowel working.
4. Drink more water- I know this seems like a simple one but you would be amazed at the amount of people I see who are dehydrated. Not drinking water can have a negative effect on the entire digestive system. In fact studies have shown that drinking a glass of water in the treatment of acute reflux that water is more effective than the drug used for reflux. This is due to the fact that it raises the pH of the stomach.
My suggestion would be to have a large glass of water first thing in the morning as this stimulates the whole digestive system into action and helps any wastes that are in the body to keep on moving. For all the people like me who hate the taste of plain water you can add fresh herbs or pieces of fruit to give it some flavour.
5. Go to the bathroom everyday- I know for some people this is so far from their reality that they can’t even begin to imagine what this would be like. I think what is important in this context that the longer food waste stays inside your body the more putrefied it becomes, not only does this encourage pathogens such as bacteria and parasites it allows the bad bacteria to get the upper hand. Your immune system has to work much harder trying to keep everything in check. Your liver then also has to work harder because the toxins from your bowel which are supposed to be excreted are recirculating and go back to the liver. The bad bacteria in the bowel are also now being well fed and they release more toxins. Aargh! What to do.
Our bodies are like small children they love routine and also like children if the routine gets broken there is hell to pay. So that time you needed to go to the bathroom but were too busy doing something and decided to put if off to later or you were out and decided that you didn’t want to use public toilets, this can cause the body to change its routine. Another thing to remember is that the longer it takes for stool to be excreted the more water is absorbed and the harder the stool becomes which then makes it difficult to pass and gives you a higher risk of getting an anal fissure or haemorrhoids.
6. Stress less- I know I said 5 ways but here’s an extra one. When you get stressed it causes a whole myriad of issues. You don’t absorb nutrients as you should, it decreases enzyme production, alters how fast the waste is excreted from your body, it affects your good bacteria in a negative way. There have been many studies that suggest chronic stress can lead to many diseases in the gut. Some steps that you can take to help with this are get enough sleep, eat whole, nutrient dense foods, and when life begins to get difficult mindfully take time out to have some quality time for you. You will be surprised how much better you will feel after this.
So in summary, be aware of what you eat, get tested for food intolerances, exercise every day, drink at least 6-8 glasses of water and make sure going to bathroom is a priority when you get the urge.
If you have some questions or need some more practical advice or help please get in touch.
I would love to work with you.
When your gut health is bad it can really make your life more difficult than it needs to be but with these 6 simple steps you can improve your gut health so you can get on with your life.