The bacteria in your gut (the Microbiome) outnumber the cells that make up your whole body by a staggering 10 to one so it is definitely worth taking care of them. Not only is our gut responsible for processing the food we eat, ensuring we make the most of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, but its health affects almost every aspect of our mind and body.
Without the ‘Microbiome’ we would struggle to survive. As we grow and are exposed to more microbes, our microbiome diversifies, affecting how we digest food, control the immune system and regulate brain health.
For optimal health it is therefore important to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, namely the presence of more beneficial than pathogenic bacteria.
Dysbiosis occurs when the presence of pathogenic bacteria outweighs that of the ‘good guys’ and can be the result of several factors.
Factors such as infections, medication such as anti-biotics which can wipe out all the good strains, eating too quickly which does not allow the body to process food effectively and maybe most significantly, eating too much ‘junk food’ full of saturated, fat salt and sugar which can cause major digestive disturbance.
Dysbiosis can present in a number of ways, namely, abdominal pain as the gut is having to contract and relax more than is natural, an alternation between feeling that you are emptying your bowel either too frequently or not often enough, bad breath, diarrhoea, bloating, fatigue and having trouble concentrating.
So how can you reset your Microbiome if it has gone out of balance?
Here are 6 ways to help you achieve this
1. Recognise the triggers – keep a food and symptoms diary to help identify food or lifestyle issues which may be causing the symptoms. Once identified, remove or severely restrict the food from the diet or make the necessary lifestyle adjustments.
2. Re-think your diet – to keep gut bacteria varied and thriving you need to feed them and they respond particularly well to the fibre and nutrients found in fruit and vegetables. Try therefore to eat a variety of colours of fruit and vegetables over the week and aim to include 6-8 different types over the course of the day.
3. Eat mindfully – in the modern world we tend to eat ‘on the hoof’, at speed or whilst working. This means that we do not necessarily start the digestive process properly which can lead to undigested food passing through into the large bowel where it struggles to break it down (this process should have been completed in the small intestine) and this may lead to bloating and pain. So, sit down, take your time, savour your food and wait at least 10 minutes afterwards to have a chance to digest.
4. Don’t fear healthy fats – essential fatty acids are called essential for a reason, and Omega 3-rich Flaxseeds are a great source. Flaxseeds are high in both soluble and insoluble fibre and so great at preventing constipation. Insoluble fibre absorbs water making the stool softer and soluble fibre forms a gel with water making everything move more easily through the bowel.
So, try to eat a regular supply of healthy fats in the form of nuts seeds and oily fish such as salmon and mackerel.
5. Understand your ‘Biotics’ – Pre-biotics provide food for beneficial bacteria and Pro-biotics contain live bacteria.
Pre-biotics are fibres found in plant food that we can’t digest but the bacteria in our gut can and in doing so can help reduce inflammation and improve the absorbency of nutrients. Probiotics will help further populate your gut and you can get them both from your diet, as below
Find pre-biotics in – wholegrains, kidney beans, leeks, chicory, garlic, onions, oats, soy beans and Jerusalem artichokes.
Find Pro-biotics in these fermented foods – yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso and kombucha.
6. Listen to your bowel -when you feel you need to empty your bowels, try to make time. We are often too busy to use the loo and we maybe ignore the urge, whereas at other times we may try to force it to out when it isn’t ready, both of which can lead to poor gut health.
Do try to listen to your body signals as the digestive system does respond well to following a pattern and so if you can empty your bowel on a regular basis this will help to naturally restore the balance of gut bacteria.
Alyson Carter is a Nutritional Therapist having graduated from the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London. She is registered with the Nutritional Therapy Council (NTC) and is a member of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CHNC) and the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).