Improve Your Immune System - Heal Your Unhealthy Gut!
Did you know that over your lifetime at least a staggering 100 tons of food passes along your digestive tract? Incredibly, your body produces an incredulous 300,000 litres of digestive juices in order to to break it all down!
What an amazing gastrointestinal system have! We fill it up with all sorts of food stuff and drinks - some which is good for us and some which is incredibly bad - yet it continually digests all that food whilst absorbing all the nutrients so that it can try to keep us healthy.
If our gastrointestinal system begins to struggle to do this efficiently - then no matter how good our diet is - we will not be able to achieve optimum health and are likely to suffer symptoms and/or become unwell.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine said “all disease begins in the gut”. Thousands of years later science is finally catching up and research is showing that a properly functioning gastrointestinal system is critical for our overall health and well-being.
According to one survey of 500 people 1 in 10 Britons suffer from heartburn, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea or abdominal pain almost every day.
Is Your Gut Healthy?
Here are a few signals that your gut health may need your attention:-
* Heartburn / pain in the oesophagus
* Discomfort after meals such as fullness, bloating and heaviness (as if you have a brick in your tummy)
* Lower abdominal pain / spasms in your tummy
* Constipation or diarrhoea or both
* Urgency to go to the loo followed by loose watery motions
* Feeling sick / nausea / vomiting
* Reactions to foods / food allergies / Coeliac disease
* Lactose / fructose intolerance
* A gut infection within the last 5 years
* Taken antibiotics / had chemotherapy
* Regularly take anti inflammatory drugs
* Unexplained muscle aches
* Unexplained stiff joints, or pains in the joints
* Suffer from ongoing infections, eczema, allergies
* Been diagnosed with an autoimmune illness, such as arthritis.
* Feel tired and have a low mood all the time even though you have had a good night's sleep
Even if you are not experiencing digestive symptoms but seem to be getting a lot of colds, infections, allergies, or nutritional deficiencies, they can usually be traced to a key underlying factor - POOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH
How To Give Your Gut Some TLC
Start by taking away key triggers - don't worry - they don't have to be forever! But if you remove some of these foods for four weeks you can see if your symptoms improve.
Alcohol and Caffeine can both irritate the gut. Try drinking decaffeinated tea or such as naturally caffeine free Redbush (Rooibush) or some of the amazing herbal and fruit infusions readily available. Lemon and ginger and peppermint are especially good for soothing sore tummies.
Wheat contains gluten which can both iriitate the gut lining and be difficult to digest which then causes symptoms such as abdominal bloating and pain. Wheat is in lots of food stuffs so it can seem quite a task to cut it out - but the good news is that wheat free and gluten free products have come a long way and there there are some great breads and bakery products. Delicious gluten free pastas are avialable made from corn, lentil and buckwheat (which isnt actually a wheat at all and doesnt contain any gluten!). Instead of cous cous try gluten free grains such as rice and quinoa and add in more vegetables to your meals to support your gut function.
Dairy which is cow's milk, cheese and cream are common allergens. Lactose is the main sugar in milk and other dairy products andi if you have lactose intolerance, you may love and even crave dairy products, but your body doesn't and can't digest them properly. It will let you know between 30 minutes and 2 hours after eating a dairy product by producing unpleasant symptoms.
There are many amazing non-dairy milk substitutes readily available made from soya, coconut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, rice and oats. You don't need to worry about not getting enough calcium as they are all fortified with vitamins and calcium so you get what you need.
Refined Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners encourage potentially harmful bacteria and yeast to flourish in our guts. Try cutting out sugay foods and for sweetening try using natural sweetners like raw maple syrup which it is high in antioxidants - every spoonful offers nutrients like riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium. If you fancy something sweet why not eat whole fruits such as a banana and berries.
In our guts we have trillions of friendly bacteria and yeast that live there. They affect the efficiency of our immune system and our “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin. Often called our second brain, our gut affects our immune system, hormones, mood, weight loss and overall health and vitality. One important feature of a healthy GI ecosystem is balance. When good bacteria flourish, bad bacteria and other micro-organisms such as yeasts and fungi are pushed out but if unfriendly bacteria overwhelm the friendly ones then our gut health will be compromised.
Poor diet with little plant based foods, processed foods, a diet high in animal based proteins, sugary foods, medications, stress and lack of sleep can all reduce our friendly bacteria upsetting our digestive health.
To naturally boost your friendly bacteria you can eat prebiotic food. These are foods that provide fermentable fibres for friendly bacteria helping them to thrive in our guts. Good choices include oats, rice and rice bran, rye, bananas, artichokes, asparagus, apples, leeks, onions, garlic, quinoa and berries.
You can also get probiotics from supplements which contain beneficial bacteria - the suggested level is 10
billion per capsule as a starting dose. Take with food/drink and use a reputable brand.
Adequate consumption of probiotics can help to eliminate abdominal pain, gas, bloating, reflux, allergies, nausea, food poisoning and vomiting. Probiotics may even alleviate dermatitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is because they are anti-inflammatory.
Calm down inflammation and help support the lining of your gut by filling your dinner plate with green leafy vegetables, and broccoli. Pineapple, berries, green tea, ginger, garlic, and turmeric all have excellent anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric (see my previous blog) is probably the best natural anti-inflammatory and can be bought in capsule form. Researchers trialing as little of 2-3 grams of turmeric extract daily shows that it helps to prevent symptoms of irritable bowel in a relatively short time. A current theory is that IBS is caused by low grade inflammation of the gut lining. Unfortunately over the counter and prescribed anti inflammatory drugs such can actually exacerbate IBS by irritating the gut lining even more.
* Watch your stress - take steps to unwind and relax.
* Mindful eating - rather than gulping down food without even noticing what you are eating. Chew your food properly and take time to sit and eat your meals.
* Eat plenty of fibre - current guidelines are 18-20 g per day but we only typically eat 8-10 g per day.
* Avoid eating too late - aim to finish your evening meal by 7pm.
* Drink plenty of water - dehydration is one of the main causes of constipation.
* Be kind to your digestion - feed it nourishing food and drinks and be patient while it heals.