Gut health: A to Z

Coconut Banana pancakes: prebiotics, probiotics and plenty of fiber on one plate
Gut health, a topic increasingly popular these days, fascinating in every way, with huge amounts of myths and confusing information involved. To be fair, new research emerges all the time, confirming or defying what we knew before, making it even more confusing. But hey, one should never stop wondering.

What we know for sure is:
  • around 70% of our immune system is located in the gut
  • gut is a mamma to pretty much every system in our body
  • our microbiome weighs about 2.5kg and contains trillions of bacteria
  • most of them are beneficial, some are less so, both are needed, we are after balance here
  • the more different types of bacteria we have, the better it is for us. Diversity rocks!
  • if you change your diet, go through illness, prolonged period of stress or start a new medication - it changes your microbiome. Even two weeks can be enough here to shift things in either direction(that’s more of a positive, right?)
  • antibiotics do not know the difference between good and bad gut bacteria. If you are taking some - overall population will be affected.

What can we do to make our microbiome a happier place to be? There is a good handful of working measures.

Here is something to start with:

Increasing prebiotics (or food for gut bacteria) in our diet. Regularly feeding ourselves as many different sources of plants as we possibly can will always be a winner, as bacteria is feeding off plant fiber. Remember 32 plants/week challenge we were doing earlier this year? Still a winner that one is! With garlic, onions, artichokes, leeks, asparagus, oats, apples, flaxseed and bananas are being especially generous sources of prebiotic fiber.

Increasing probiotic rich foods. Again, diversity is the key here. So it makes lots of sense to become friends with different types of probiotic rich foods (kimchi, yoghurt, miso paste, raw cheeses, kefir) and go for 1-2 types a day, introducing as many different bacteria as we can. Nothing too much, whatever is comfortable. A spoon of kimchi/yoghurt daily will get you further than no daily kimchi/yoghurt at all :)

Limiting your sugar and artificial sweeteners intake. High sugar diet negatively affects gut microbiome (it may reduce diversity of bacteria in the gut) at the same time as regular consumption of artificial sweeteners can increase number of bacteria linked to metabolic diseases.

Hydration. Adequate hydration is essential for optimal gut health. Elimination of waste products is one of the gut`s main functions, which can be massively impaired by dehydration. The more you drink and the more regular your bowel movement is, the healthier your gut will be.

Stress management. Incredibly important aspect when it comes to gut health. Psychological and environmental stress as well as sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disruption — all these affect gut health negatively.

Whenever possible, stay away from things that will affect your microbiome directly or indirectly. While it is not always possible to avoid using antibiotics and they can be life savers in certain situations, it is up to us to limit use of antibacterial agents in everything else. One of the examples is antibacterial soaps with triclosan which may affect our microbiome.

Another example — quality of animal products we are using. If you happen to be a fan of bone broth and you make it yourself, make sure you can source great quality organic bones from farmers who do not use antibiotics on their animals routinely. One of the examples is antibiotic called tetracycline, which is routinely used on dairy cows to prevent them from mastitis and other inflammatory conditions. Tetracycline tends to build up in bones of those animals making them undesirable for regular human consumption.

These are only some simple steps one can take to strengthen and optimise own gut health.
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