The Case For Good Gut Health
There is so much information on health and nutrition these days it is so difficult to know where to start and what to trust.
I get it, believe me.
I have been there and it can be a confusing position to be in and since a confused mind says no, it is easier to do what you know and hope it works. However that won’t get you what you want if you have tried and failed before.
So what to do?
For me there is a number of steps to health and the primary focus of every nutrition plan should be the health of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract which is largely made up of the stomach and intestines. Gut health is an essential part of overall health and is so easily neglected by poor nutrition choices.
It doesn’t matter if you’re sedentary, an athlete, overweight, or lean. The gut is key to your optimal health.
The GI Tract is an incredible part of the body.
Composing of not only the stomach but the small and large intestines, it is around 30 feet long and comprised of trillions of cells. The GI tract provides a secondary line of defence against toxins and is the primary line of defence for anything harmful we ingest.
Believe it or not, 70-90 percent of our immune system is found in the gut. Of the trillions of cells in it, 100 trillion are bacterial cells, and these cells have a profound effect on our health.
Gut Health and Gut Flora
Most people are not aware that it is the bacteria, or more importantly the good bacteria in our gut that protects us from pathogens and other foreign bodies. There is also bad bacteria and so the key to gut health is maintaining the balance between good and bad.
The collective group of both good and bad bacteria is called gut flora and help maintain the integrity of the lining of the GI tract three ways:
- They convert unabsorbed dietary sugars into short-chain fatty acids, which are a major source of energy for epithelial cells (the cells that line our internal cavities)
- They form a protective layer and do the job of blocking harmful bacteria.
- They secrete immunoglobulin A (IgA or sIgA), which is an antibody that plays a critical role in immunity and helps prevent infection.
Cells of the immune system are also prominent in the gut. They secrete chemical mediators known as cytokines that coordinate the inflammatory response in the body.
The gut flora can also assist in preventing allergies by balancing the histamine response and down-regulating inflammation.
Inside the gut’s mucus layers, thousands of hormone cells are produced that help aid digestion and metabolism. The 100 trillion microbes also play a vital role in nutrition because they synthesize vitamins such as thiamine, folic acid, pyridoxine, and vitamin K, as well as producing digestive enzymes that facilitate the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Unfortunately, time, lifestyle, and environmental factors will degrade this complex system.
Gut Health Imbalances
What we eat plays an enormous role in maintaining the integrity of the gut and bacterial imbalance, appears to be heavily influenced by diet.
Sugar, wheat, dairy, additives and preservatives, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics all have an impact on the balance of good and bad bacteria.
Non-dietary influences include prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), stress (physical, psychological, or physiological), radiation, immune deficiencies, and aging.
As harmful bacteria levels rise, the intestines become more permeable, making them less likely to keep harmful pollutants out and to aid in the absorption of nutrients.
Bacteria, toxins, and undigested proteins and fats can leak into the bloodstream and trigger an autoimmune reaction, which increases the levels of histamine, cortisol, and cytokines. This situation is often referred to as “leaky gut syndrome.”
Although not a medical term, leaky gut syndrome is a growing problem that is not being properly addressed. Symptoms are often treated, but the root cause is not addressed.
Symptoms of leaky gut syndrome include
- Gastrointestinal complaints such as bloating, gas, reflux, constipation or diarrhoea
- Frequent illnesses
- Chronic sinusitis
- Slow metabolism
- Skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis
- Joint pain
- Anxiety, and/or depression
The Gut Brain Connection
To have a fully functioning and well nourished brain, you have to have a fully nourished digestive system. Our guts have to be in great shape to withstand the rigours of modern life and provide the health for you to compete at a high level. Your brain is completely dependent on what you digest so if you cannot digest the nutrients your brain needs it will lead to poor brain function. Not Ideal!
It turns out that in early foetal development, the gut and brain come from the same tissue, before dividing, with one developing into the central nervous system and the other developing into the enteric nervous system (digestive system). They remain connected by the vagus nerve from the brain stem to the stomach. They even shared the same amount of neuro transmitters and hormones, each having around 100 million nerve cells.
The stomach has been referred to as the second brain. So you see, if your gut health is poor due to excess alcohol, coffee or pain killers or through frequent infections or antibiotics, your gut health will be compromised and you will most likely react to the food you eat.
Because the 2 systems are linked so closely, conditions such as a leaky gut can lead to brain allergies, which can dramatically affect your mood, attention in behaviour. The most common and most undiagnosed immune and toxic reactions are caused by wheat gluten and dairy products.
The inflammation and toxic effects of gluten and casein (from wheat and dairy) as so powerful in affecting brain function that it can lead to brain fog to depression.
The link between the gut and the brain is clear. As we have seen, what you eat has a direct effect on your brain, which means it can affect your behaviour. A healthy gut will produce up to 90% of your body’s serotonin, the happy neuro transmitter. With poor gut health, your body simply doesn’t get enough. Your Behaviour is influenced by what you eat and digest!
Putting Good Gut Health into Practice
It is important to look after your gut. By removing toxins and including nourishing foods and supplements you not only steer yourself away from diseases, bugs and disorders brought about by food allergies and intolerances, but you are also able to absorb more nutrients for your body and brain.
To make sure you are getting all your body needs for gut health it is important that you eat whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, eggs and fish. Reduce or remove the toxic foods such as wheat and dairy, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. As well as that, you should consider Nutritional Supplements that help with gut health to make sure you remain symptom free.
Chew Your Food
Your digestion of food actually starts in your mouth. You produce up to 32 ounces of saliva each day. Chewing your food will help your body absorb vital nutrients more thoroughly and rapidly due to enzymes secreted in your saliva
Eat slowly and chew your food at least 25 times each mouthful. Make sure it is a liquid pulp before swallowing. It takes 20 mins or so for the brain to register that you have eaten, this is why you should never eat when you are starving hungry as you will eat far more than you need. Taking your time and chewing slower lets your stomach signal your brain to say, right I am full, so you stop taking in excess calories.
Your tongue recognises various flavours of each food and will send messages to the brain, which then tells your stomach to produce the corresponding digestive juices needed to break down that food.
- Greens drink or multivitamin/mineral supplement – make sure you get all the vitamins and minerals your need, don’t leave your body wanting by the diet you have.
- Digestive enzymes – aid digestion of food. Poor gut health will have fewer enzymes.
- Omega Fish Oils – Helps reduce inflammation
- Probiotics – Provides support for digestive and immune health, enhances balance of good bacteria in the gut.
- Curcumin – a potent antioxidant that offers numerous health benefits, including supporting joint health and liver, GI, and cardiovascular function, by helping to maintain the body’s normal inflammatory response.*
- Vitamin D – helps to maintain the gut flora balance and is involved with regulating inflammation in the gut.
- L-Glutamine – helps repair the gut lining after damage.
- Vitamin B12 – poor gut health affects absorption of this vitamin in a number of ways from leaky gut/inflammation, low stomach acid or prescribed medications. Essentially your body cannot make as many red blood cells and their life span is shorter with out B12, which effects your energy.
Simply put, a healthy body and mind is dependent on a healthy digestive system, you simply cannot have one without the other.
Get your gut health right, give it the nourishment it needs and you will thrive. If you don’t if can impede your health and performance, both with work or training. Make sure you are doing everything you can to protect your gut.
To your strength and Health
[Reproduced from my article in Martial Arts Illustrated – August 2014 – A Case for Good Gut Health]