10 ways to improve your gut health
The bacteria in your gut are incredibly important for your health and weight, writes consultant gastroenterologist Dr Deirdre O'Donovan. If you want better immunity, efficient digestion, improved clarity and balance, listen to your gut
Your gut guides your overall wellbeing. Yet, it's all too common when we experience digestion issues that have a huge impact on our strength and vitality, we do nothing about it. Below are 12 handy tips to drastically improve gut health - crucial in both physical and mental wellness, so don't neglect it.
1 Fibre add more to your diet
Become familiar with the labels on your food. If a product has more than six grams of fibre per 100 gram portion, then that's considered a high-fibre product. Foods like porridge and wholegrain cereals are top of the tree, but simple changes like swapping wholegrain bread for white bread can make a real difference.
2 Get more plant-based foods
Help your gut to help itself by taking in a wider variety of plant-based foods. Our guts are filled with good bacteria, which make up what's called our gut flora. By eating more fruit, vegetables and pulses, we are not only eating healthily for ourselves, but we're also ensuring our gut flora are eating healthily. Avoid processed foods.
3 Limit red meat and increase fish intake
Try to limit red meat, and increase your intake of fish. Red meat is fine in moderation, but eat too much and you increase the likelihood of consuming too many nitrates. This can adversely affect long-term gut health.
4 Eat regularly and chew more
Eat regularly. Don't allow too long between meals, and when you eat, make sure you chew your food well before swallowing. Give your gut every chance to absorb the best nutrients it can from what you eat as the food passes through it.
5 Drink six cups of water per day
We all need at least six cups of water per day to stay healthy. While cups of tea and coffee are good in moderation, why not try something different. Drink peppermint tea and camomile where possible - it's caffeine free and much better for you.
6 Using prebiotics and probiotics
Explore the use of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods that can encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, such as asparagus, leek, artichoke, onions and garlic. Probiotics are products that can directly add good bacteria to the gut to help it stay healthy, such as Alflorex, which is available in chemists and health-food shops.
7 Take vitamin D especially in winter
As well as probiotics and prebiotics, consider adding some vitamin D to your diet. Known as the sunshine vitamin, it interacts well with your gut flora. Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals. Also fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon are all good sources of vitamin D. (see also page 11)
8 Get more exercise
Exercise helps the whole body, and has been shown to improve the transit time for food through your gut. If you exercise regularly, such as walking or swimming, the odds are higher that your bowel will be regular.
9 Reduce your alcohol intake
This one might not be popular - reduce your alcohol intake. As well as taking on empty calories that add weight, alcohol consumption can affect your bowel, impact your liver function and increase the risk of serious illness, such as cancer. Equally, avoid smoking for obvious reasons.
10 Destress for your gut
Reduce your stress. Studies have shown that there is a link between the brain and the gut, called the gut-brain axis, which runs along what's called the vagus nerve.
Emotional stress can result in bowel disturbance, as the brain releases certain endorphins that can lead to what your ¦mother would have called "butterflies in the tummy".
11 Get into a better sleeping pattern
Try to get a good night's sleep. Those with irregular sleep patterns, such as shift workers, can experience a disturbance in their gut flora as their circadian rhythm is disturbed. Taking a probiotic can sometimes help.
12 Don't ignore red flags
Most importantly don't ignore red-flag symptoms that your gut is in distress. These include unexplained weight loss, persistent heartburn, a change in bowel habit or any bleeding from the back passage.
Should you experience any of these symptoms, you need to seek urgent medical help from your doctor.
Dr Deirdre O'Donovan is a consultant gastroenterologist at the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin
Health & Living