If you’ve been keeping up with trends in Nutrition and wellness, then you’ll have heard about gut health, and perhaps why it's so important.
Even centuries ago, people realized the importance of maintaining good gut health and its role in promoting overall health.
t’s the first point of interaction between the outside world, and our inner world. So it makes sense that a good gut can help us thrive, whereas one that’s a bit outta shape can lead us to have problems down the line.
In this post, we’re going to talk about how to improve gut health, which will help improve overall health.
There’s a few easy, actionable steps that you can take to start feeling your best again, in a short period of time from when you make the changes.
We’re going to talk about IBS in relation to gut health, because the majority of people who are looking to improve their gut health have started to notice, even to a small degree, some IBS symptoms.
Whilst everyone's gut is unique, whether they have IBS or not, there are a few broader fixes that can help almost everyone to a certain degree.
But what needs to be fixed exactly?
A large amount of research has found that:
- An irritable bowel is also a leaky one (*)
- Bacteria can become overgrown within the small intestine (SIBO) (*)
- Bad bacteria outweigh the good bacteria in the intestines, also known as ‘Dysbiosis’ (*)
- Yeasts like Candida grow, disrupting microbial balance (*)
- Digestive secretions are inhibited (*)
Improving gut health goes a lot further than removing FODMAPS, taking a probiotic and ‘managing stress’.
You’ll be glad to hear there’s a little more strategy and direction to this approach.
Having a clear direction to focus your efforts and attention is a great help. Quite often the hopelessness of IBS is the pervasive circles that you run in. What seems to have worked may no longer continue to work and the confusion continues.
But, what this plan does well at is addressing some of the underlying causes of an irritable bowel. It helps to correct some of the complications in a disrupted gut, from start to finish.
Remove ('Bad' Foods for Gut Health)
A lot of IBS symptoms are caused by poorly tolerated foods, ingredients, stress, drugs, alcohol and an accumulation of toxicity. These all aggravate the digestive system. Some have even been doing so over a long period of time, well before symptoms became obvious. Long term exposure to these things can throw quite the spanner in the works, especially when compounded.
Throughout various stages in the digestive process, you rely on a symphony of mechanical and chemical processes. These processes allow you to properly breakdown and assimilate nutrients from your food. When in harmony, the process goes smoothly. When some parts of this process lose efficiency or misalign from exposure to the above…….well that's where a bowel can start to become irritable.
The goal in this step is to remove the things which are causing inflammation – what we listed above. This is where you would find yourself going on a FODMAPS diet. But, there are more things that need to be removed than just FODMAPS. You may have sensitivities or allergies to other food ingredients and environmental toxins.
If you want to check out low FODMAP meals, try Field Doctor.
If you want to be thorough about it, you can go one step further than FODMAPS and conduct an elimination diet. This provides you a clear indication of many more things you may be sensitive to. You effectively test foods like corn, soy, processed meats, beans, grains…….etc, to find out if they are a problem. You can even find out if you are sensitive to the preservatives and chemicals which are applied to food – they matter too!
Getting rid of bacteria, fungi and yeasts in the gut which are ‘bad’ or have become overgrown is important to reducing inflammation and relieving digestive symptoms long term.
You can deal with malevolent gut microbes with antimicrobial herbs, or if you so wish, antibiotics. Essential oils can be effective in restoring microbial balance within the gut. In fact, some combinations of oils may even spare beneficial strains of bacteria, whilst killing bad ones. The selective bacterial clearance of essential oils is usually something antibiotics don’t do very well at.
Replace (With Gut Healthy Foods)
The chemical and mechanical processes you use to digest food can be affected by things like toxicity and stress. Your stomach may not produce strong enough gastric acid. Your gall bladder and liver – not enough bile. Your pancreas – insufficient digestive enzymes. Stress may be retarding muscle contraction in your gut. That's why it's important to remove the things that cause these in step one.
The goal of Replace is to jump start good digestion, and once again restore the harmony which allows you to properly breakdown and assimilate nutrients. As this process gets better, the symptoms of troubled digestion should naturally cool off.
To supply additional stomach acid, you can use organic apple cider vinegar. This will help reduce particle sizes of food, lightning the load on further digestion (by microbes). Take a tablespoon shortly before a meal.
Spices like cumin seeds, turmeric, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cardamon and ginger all stimulate bile and digestive enzymes. Grind these fresh spices up and put them into capsules, or drink them in a tea. Have them before a meal.
You can also take digestive enzymes as a supplement.
Reinoculate (Heal Your Gut)
An irritable bowel is often one that is lacking in beneficial bacteria, particularly after taking antibiotics (which clear out good and bad bacteria).
This gut solution focuses on restoring the balance within the gut microbiome by introducing new strains of beneficial bacteria. These are also known as probiotics, which Im sure many of you currently take. Since there are so many brands, picking a good one is important. Look for a probiotic supplement which provides a spectrum of colonizing bacterial strains (like this one).
Fermented foods are a rich source of probiotics. I would even argue that they are more effective than a probiotic supplement. Combining them might work even better, though.
Some great fermented foods are:
- Pickled Ginger
- Kefir (fermented dairy – a lot of lactose is fermented out)
Add these to at least one meal a day and you will start to recolonise your gut with a host of beneficial bacterial strains.
To look after the beneficial microbes already living in your gut, its a good idea to feed them plenty of prebiotics. These are the fibres found in plants, and actually act as a fuel source for your microbes to grow stronger.
Pretty much all plants contain some form of prebiotic. The ones you select depend on how you tolerate them. If you are still following FODMAPS, or eliminating beans or grains for example, you can still get plenty of prebiotic fibres from leafy greens, and other low FODMAP fruits and vegetables.
Repair (Long Term Gut Solutions)
This is where the magic happens because its where all your hard work begins to materialize. This is the part where you patch up the leaks in the gut wall. You have these leaks to thank for a handful of IBS symptoms like brain fog and fatigue. These leaks have exposed your body to all sorts of pathogens, viruses and infections. They have also been keeping your immune system very busy.
These are some of the best gut healthy foods and supplements that heal a leaky gut:
- Coconut oil
- Ghee (clarified butter – very small amounts of lactose)
- Omega-3 Fish Oil
- CBD (cannabidoil)
- Bone Broth
Key nutrients like Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin D all play a part in re-fortifying the gut. Make sure you get plenty of these from gut healthy foods. You can also supplement these.
This kind of ties everything we have talked about above, together. It’s something that can be thrown in at any stage of the gut healing process, at any time. It’s also completely free, and it maintains it’s effectiveness overtime as well.
The reason fasting (for at least 16 hours) is so effective for gut health, is because for a lot of people it removes the source of digestive aggravation - food. It can be a great tool to use whilst a broader gut rebalancing programme is followed.
Fasting can help reduce inflammation, and encourage the formation of new cells (of the digestive tract) by clearing old ones. It’s also a great tool to reduce digestive symptoms whilst someone figures out their diet, to find one that will no longer produce symptoms, as well as start the healing process.
It’s really a spring cleaning technique for gut healing, and provides the space needed for the digestive system to re-balance itself over time.
Throw in a few fasts a week, and start small with intermittent fasting. You may wish to do a few prolonged fasts as well along the way.
Improving gut health is pretty simple really, and involves simply removing bad stuff from the diet, gradually stripping it back to find a level where things settle down, and then re-building with healthy foods from there.
You can work your way through this as steps if you like, and follow the process of stripping back and then re-building. The main thing to remember is that you have to rebuild if you are stripping back, because surviving is not the aim of the game, we want to be thriving!
Check out some of our Gut Friendly meals on Marvins Den. They include lots of friendly foods for gut health. We have a great selection of Gluten Free, Dairy Free and Low FODMAP meals to choose from to help get your gut to where you want it to be.