Gut Health: What can you do?

Gut Health: What can you do?

Posted by Anthony Lawrence on

Gut Health issues are quickly becoming a concerning thing that many of us suffer from in modern times. Many of us do not even realize that we are suffering from things of this nature until it is too late.

Our body's digestive system is very robust and efficient at keeping us within a regular range of operations. However, the body cannot continually keep taking the punishment for poor food choices. Eventually, it all catches up with us.

This blog will hopefully give you a little insight into what are the possible symptoms of poor gut health and hopefully offer some information, and solutions for both prevention and alleviating any problems you may be currently experiencing.

The big factor we all know that affects our Gut Health is our diet. But understanding what is happening in the gut and why may make it that little bit easier to adhere to applying good dietary habits and solutions.

PH LEVELS AND OUR BODY.

pH is a measure of hydrogen ion concentration, a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Water is the major solution that makes up our body, pH only has meaning in an aqueous solution (in water).

If your body’s pH varies too much from the ideal of being slightly more alkaline, it becomes difficult for various enzymes to function properly. pH value tells you whether something is an acid, a base, or neutral.

Our body has a PH balance that needs to be maintained to keep us in optimum health.A pH of 0 indicates a high level of acidity.

A pH of 7 is neutral.

A pH of 14 is the most basic, or alkaline.

The distance between two points on the pH scale represents a tenfold difference in the acidity or alkalinity of a substance.

A pH of 6 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 7, and so on.

Different parts of the human body have different pH levels. Your ideal blood pH is between 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly alkaline.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO GUT HEALTH?

The stomach is typically acidic at a pH of 3.5, which helps to break down food properly. If we eat high amounts of acid-forming foods in an already acid-like environment our overall pH balance becomes compromised and we get gut issues.

Foods that are considered acidic generally have a pH level of 4.6 or lower.

Foods that tend to cause more acidity in the body and that you may want to limit, reduce or avoid include:

  • certain dairy products, including cheese fish and seafood
  • high-sodium processed foods fresh meats and processed meats, such as corned beef and turkey.
  • certain starchy foods, such as brown rice, oat flakes, or granola
  • carbonated beverages, such as soda, alcohol or spritzers.
  • high protein foods and supplements with animal protein.


With a diet that is high in the above foods, it is easy to see how we can knock out our pH balance.

Some signs that you may have high stomach acid include:

  • abdominal discomfort, which may be worse on an empty stomach

  • nausea or vomiting
  • bloating
  • heartburn
  • diarrhea decreased appetite
  • unexplained weight loss

The symptoms of high stomach acid are very similar to those of other digestive conditions so it is recommended to do a further investigation with a health care practitioner if you have adjusted the diet and the symptoms still persist.

Does this mean we should avoid eating them altogether? NO.

The recommendation would be to eat more alkaline-producing foods to BALANCE the gut and the body's pH level better.

Foods that are alkaline forming foods are generally vegetables and fruits, some examples of these foods are:
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Eggplant
Green Beans
Garlic Dark Green leafy vegetables
Leeks
Onions
Zucchini
Beets
Celery
Cucumber
Dandelion leaves
Lettuce
Radishes
Red, Green and Yellow Peppers
Tomatoes

So, the FIRST solution to try is to start eating a diet with a higher percentage of alkaline-forming foods and a smaller number of acid-forming foods.This is the best way to maintain a slightly alkaline pH in your body.

A balanced diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, dairy milk and yogurt and some plant protein sources will aid in alkalising the body.

Reducing and limiting processed foods, condiments and beverages may be helpful to maintain normal acid/base balance and overall health.

GUT BACTERIA

Diet, and interestingly, lifestyle and other environmental factors can negatively affect your gut bacteria.

Our gut is home to TRILLIONS of bacteria known us "GUT FLORA" or our gastro intestinal environment.

When we eat a diet select in certain food items, we open ourselves up to feeding select bacteria in our gut, this can lead to an imbalance in the digestive system.

Most bacteria in the gut belong to one of four groups:
Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria or Proteobacteria.

Each group plays a role in your health and requires different nutrients for growth.

The friendly gut bacteria are important for digestion. They destroy harmful bacteria and other microorganisms and they also produce vitamin K, folate and short-chain fatty acids.

When the gut flora contains too many harmful bacteria and not enough friendly bacteria, an imbalance can occur. This is known as dysbiosis.

When your gut loses its diversity of bacteria, it can increase your risk of getting a chronic disease. The increased risk could also be related to your age. Our gut is more vulnerable to diseases and other health conditions when it’s in dysbiosis.

Our gut health has direct effect on our Immune system. When our gut health gets imbalanced and dysbiosis happens, we are more likely to have stomach and other health conditions.These conditions include:

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Central nervous system disorders‌

To ensure a good balanced gut environment we need to ensure a good balanced diet is in play.

Some things that help modulate this are Prebiotics and Probiotics.

Probiotics ARE beneficial bacteria, and prebiotics are food for these bacteria. As mentioned briefly above we can over feed certain strains of bacteria, and this is where we can run into health issues.

Prebiotic - These substances come from types of carbs (mostly fibre) that humans can’t digest. The bacteria in your gut eat this fibre.

Some foods containing prebiotics are:legumes, beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, garlic, onions

NOTE: These are mostly alkaline foods.

Probiotic - These are live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. They can provide numerous health benefits.

Some food items containing Probiotics are: sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, yoghurt, some types of pickles(unpasteurized), some pickled vegetables (unpasteurized), probiotic supplements

NOTE: There are some individuals who should not take a probiotic, or who may experience worsened symptoms if they do, such as people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

So, the SECOND solution is to incorporate some form of prebiotics and probiotic foods into our intake.

HINT: If we are sticking to the first solution the second should be pretty easy to adhere too.

ANTIBIOTICS

Antibiotics are powerful medications that treat certain infections and can save lives when used properly. They either stop bacteria from reproducing or destroy them. Antibiotics can affect the diversity and composition of the gut environment, even in cases of short-term use.

This can have harmful effects on gut bacteria that may last for a long time after their use. Antibiotics are important medicines used to treat infections and diseases caused by bacteria.

They work by either killing bacteria or preventing them from multiplying and have saved millions of lives over the past 80 years. However, one of their drawbacks is that they affect both good and bad bacteria. In fact, even a single antibiotic treatment can lead to harmful changes in the composition and diversity of the gut flora. This needs to be a consideration when considering antibiotic treatment.

After completing a dose of antibiotics, most bacteria return after 1–4 weeks, but their numbers often don’t return to previous level. Chronic use of antibiotics is not addressing or fixing an underlying problem and should be momentarily used to gain the upper hand on illness, not for continued use.

So, the THIRD solution is to try to treat underlying causes, and not relay on antibiotics for the short-term fix. If antibiotics are needed, revert back to solution 1 and 2 above.

LACK OF SLEEP

Sleep is so important that our body has its own time-keeping clock, known as our circadian rhythm. It appears that the gut also follows a daily circadian-like rhythm. The rhythm is dictated by light. This is how our body knows when to rest and digest food (typically at night) and when to get up and get moving (typically in the day when the sun hits our eyes).

Disrupting our body clock through a lack of sleep, shift work, eating late, taking caffeine or stimulants too late in the day, blue light (from our TV, mobile phones or computers) may have harmful effects on your gut bacteria via knocking out this rhythm.

At night time our bodies are gearing down for sleep, this is when we begin to switch over to what's called our parasympathetic. This is a division of our autonomic nervous system.

During the day we are mainly operating from our sympathetic nervous system. When we are at rest our body directs a lot of its blood supply to the digestive system and brain to get rid of the waste build up that has occurred through the day via our food intake, stress and our bodies daily activities.

If this process is hindered outside of its usual window of rest, it makes it easier to form excess waste material in our digestive system.

So, the FOURTH solution is to try to sync our sleep with the rhythm of the light of night time. If this is not achievable because of work commitments, then we may need to take measures of trying to create a quiet, dark place to sleep to maximise sleep quality.

NOTE: Supplements can aid in getting a more restful sleep in these instances, but nothing beats the real thing.

TOO MUCH STRESS

Many things can cause us stress, and to some degree it is very necessary. However, when stress is too high, we can have a cascade of ill health effects.

High stress levels have harmful effects on the body and in the gut. Increased stress can increase sensitivity, reduce blood flow (via high blood pressure) and reduce appetite. Additionally, stress can reshape the gut bacteria’s composition through stress hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations. In turn, the gut bacteria release metabolites, toxins, and neurohormones that can alter eating behaviour and overall mood.

The effect of stress on the gut can be easily pointed out by understanding the Gut / Brain axis. The two are in constant communication. This is why the gut is referred to as the second brain.

When we encounter a situation, we perceive as stressful, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and initiates an acute stress response. As a result, the body ramps up its production of cortisol (stress hormone), which induces numerous changes throughout the body, including the gut.​ Some of them being increased blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the digestive system. This effect is known as the FIGHT or FLIGHT response and is directed as such by the aforementioned sympathetic nervous system.

In a day-to-day life that instigate this response too often, we can see how this can begin to affect our gut and overall health. When we couple this with the above of not sleeping, excessive caffeine consumption (which also increases this response) and daily pressures we can only expect it to hinder us in one way or another. Unfortunately, we cannot see this effect immediately and many of us dismiss the warning signs before it is too late.

There are many things you can do to manage stress. Many of these are dependent on the person and their personality. Exercise is one of the major beneficial things you can to manage stress effectively. However, if this is not an option preferentially or physically then some form of daily self-expression or alone time can do wonders.

So, the FIFTH way to manage gut health is to manage stress. NOTE: Managing stress will also make it easier to adhere to getting better quality sleep!



OVER ALL: Gut issues are something that, in most instances, is more of an effect of long-term habits rather than an immediate problem.

If we can stick to the basics of eating good quality vegetables and fruit (in variety), eat more of these foods than we do our meat and dairy, as well as reduce stress and improve sleep quality than we should not only improve any gut issues that we may have but our overall health as well.

We hope this helps.

Anthony Lawrence


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