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Gut health is a somewhat underrated topic when it comes to personal health, yet research continues to show us that there is a tremendously significant link between the gut and the health of a multitude of other bodily functions and features.

Our guts are incredibly complex but our understanding improves as the latest research sheds lights on its inner workings.

In fact, numerous studies have shown that there are clear correlations between gut health and mental health, skin conditions, the immune system, cancer, and even your general mood.

As such, a system once thought to be relatively simple is proving to play an integral role in maintaining and promoting overall body functioning and psychological wellbeing.

This drastic change in the way we view the gut is thanks to our improved understanding of a complex network known as the gut microbiome.

The gut microbiome contains hundreds of different species of bacteria and yeast that reside, grow, and multiply in your digestive tract.

These various species interact to create a network effect that has implications for the rest of the body.

Many of the species of bacteria found in your gut are quite beneficial for your body while some are even necessary for a healthy physiological system.

By looking after the health of your gut, you’re taking care of the good bacteria that reside there and impart beneficial effects on the rest of your body.

Here we are going to understanding what gut health entails so that addressing problems is made easier all the while trying to prevent issues by taking precautionary measures.

Basically, we want this article to help you understand and maintain good gut health for the benefit of your entire being.

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What to Know About Gut Health

Unfortunately for all of us, modern life is not set up in such a way that guarantees a healthy gut environment. The opposite is actually true…

Many key features of today’s society result in many, if not most, people living with high stress levels, operating on too little sleep, taking antibiotics, and eating highly processed foods.

This unhealthy concoction does not bode well for our gut health and, indeed, the rest of our physiological system.

Explained further, a gut that is in poor health has a negative knock-on effect with many other aspects of our general health such as the brain, heart, immune system, hormone levels, and mental health all susceptible to an increased likelihood of problems occurring.

Poor gut health can manifest itself in several ways. Here are some common signs that may give you an indication that your gut is in need of some TLC.

1. Food Intolerances

Different from food allergies, food intolerance is the result of the difficulty in digesting a certain food (as opposed to the immune system reaction in food allergies).

Research indicates that this is due to the poor quality of gut bacteria. Ways in which this can manifest physically is through bloating, gas, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and nausea.

2. Upset Stomach

General stomach disturbances such as those mentioned in the previous point, all point to something gone awry in your gut health.

Constipation and heartburn are some extra signs indicating that your gut is having difficulty processing food and getting rid of the necessary waste.

Suffering from regular heartburn, bloating or unexpected weight change, might mean you need to see a Gastroenterologist.

3. Unintentional Weight Changes

The important word to take note of here is “unintentional”.

If you are losing or gaining weight without changes in your diet or exercise routine, you may have a sign of an unhealthy gut on your hands.

When your gut health is suffering, your body will have a reduced ability to effectively absorb all the key nutrients from foods, regulate your blood sugar, and store fat.

Weight loss may be caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO, while weight gain can be caused by insulin resistance or a nagging urge to overeat due to insufficient nutrient absorption.

4. Irregular Sleep Patterns and Nagging Fatigue

Insomnia and low sleep quality may be the result of an unhealthy gut. Serotonin, largely produced in your gut, plays a large role in your mood regulation and sleep.

Therefore, an unhealthy gut may result in poorly regulated serotonin production thereby affecting your sleep quality.

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How to Improve Your Gut Health

Now that we have taken a closer look at some of the real negative aspects of having poor gut health, let us look at how to improve and maintain good gut health.

1. Eat a Vegetarian Diet

Those who enjoy eating meat have a very different gut microbiome from those whose diets consist of only non-meat products.

This may in part be due to the high levels of prebiotic fibre in a meatless diet.

Studies have been done which show that following a vegetarian diet after living off a high meat diet results in lower gut inflammation due to the changes in the gut microbiome.

2. Avoid Smoking

Smoking is never a good habit to pick up as far as your health is concerned – it has an immensely negative effect on your entire biological system including your gut health.

Smoking negatively affects one’s gut microbiome by increasing the number of potentially harmful microorganisms while decreasing the levels of beneficial bacteria.

Consequently, those who smoke have an increased risk of developing intestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

3. Take Probiotics and eat Fermented Food

Some research suggests that regularly taking a probiotic, found in health food stores and pharmacies, can support a healthy gut microbiome and that it may even serve as a preventive measure for developing gut inflammation and other intestinal problems.

For those who want to ingest one less, not one more, pill a day – look towards foods that are natural sources of probiotics.

Consuming fermented vegetables, kombucha, sauerkraut and miso regularly may improve gut health significantly.

4. Eat More Prebiotic Fibre

Non-digestible carbohydrates are referred to as prebiotics and they are essential for the generation of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

How?

Well, probiotics feed on this prebiotic fibre which, in turn, help grow and maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

Research has also shown that prebiotics may help probiotics become more tolerant to certain environmental conditions such as changes in PH and temperature.

5. Reduce Stress

One of the chief villains contributing to an unhealthy gut, stress, or the lack thereof rather, is very important for keeping your gut microflora healthy and happy.

Psychological stressors have been shown to have disruptive effects on the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria, even if the stress is temporary.

The solution is to find ways to manage your stress so that your gut microbiome is less susceptible to sudden changes due to temporary stress.

Chronic stress is even worse highlighting the case for its mitigation.

Some key stressors that affect your gut health include sleep deprivation, environmental stressors such as extreme noise pollution and intense temperature changes, and general psychological stress.

A few useful habits or activities worth looking into for the sake of reducing stress include meditation, deep breathing exercises, and focused muscle relaxation.

For the sake of completeness, it’s important to remember that simply sticking to a sleep schedule and exercising regularly can do wonders for lowering your stress levels.

6. Take Antibiotics Only When Absolutely Necessary

The overuse of antibiotics is a significant public health concern that may eventually lead to antibiotic resistance.

Apart from that, however, antibiotics are, by very nature, damaging to gut bacteria with research showing that the gut can lack the beneficial bacteria even up to six months after antibiotic use.

Always consult with your doctor about the necessity of taking an antibiotic so that alternative options may be discussed if they are available and effective.

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Want to Know More?

For more information on the digestive tract and the rest of the gastrointestinal system, contact Dr. Schneider or visit www.gidocjhb.co.za and book your consultation today.

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.