What is good gut health?

I’ve been fascinated the role of our gut in our overall health, pretty much since my mum was first sick with a lymphoma. 80% of our immune system is in out gut, and more and more research has gone into the role it plays in so many parts of how we can not only make out bodies well, but truly thrive. Hippocrates reportedly said that ‘all disease starts in the gut’ and I’ve got a ‘gut feeling’ that over time the scientists will discover more and more about the important role it plays.

Amelia Freer, is one of the UK’s most respected nutritional therapists and healthy eating experts. She recently published an article where she explains how ‘the gut is a collection of organs, running from the mouth to the bowels, with help from the stomach, liver, pancreas and gallbladder along the way. All of these structures work together to extract the greatest amount of nutrition from whatever we choose to eat. Alongside our digestive organs, we increasingly understand the powerful impact that our gut microbiota has on health. The microbiota consists of trillions of microbes (bacteria, yeast, funghi and viruses), which live inside our bowels, interacting not only with the food we eat, but also with each other and with us. Each microbiota is unique to each person.

All sorts of factors may affect the composition and function of our microbiota, and therefore our gut health, including:

What is a healthy gut?

There is actually no specific definition of what makes a ‘healthy’ gut, because that depends so much on the individual.

But in general, I personally would consider a healthy gut to:

  1. Be free from persistent digestive symptoms (such as bloating, abdominal pain or disrupted bowel habits). We all get the odd mild symptom from time to time though, but when things change, are persistent, or show any worrying signs (see below) this should be flagged to your healthcare provider promptly.
  2. Eliminate regular, formed (but easily passed) stools*
  3. Allow complete digestion and absorption of nutrition. The average time for the entire process of digestion / absorption is 24 hours, although this does vary a lot between individuals.

When I was at Gwinganna years ago, I was taught about correct sitting/ squatting position and found a little step to have next to my loo which helps your body adopt a squatting position when opening your bowels (which some people find beneficial with constipation) – it is really only recently in the brief history of time that we have sat down to go to the loo – squatting is the way our body is traditionally designed, and by raising your feet on a little stool everything just ‘works’!

What is an unhealthy gut?

Amelia outlines the following unhealthy gut symptoms that are known as ‘red flags’ which she believes “are important warning signs that should be discussed with a doctor as soon as possible. Although some of them may represent a harmless condition that will settle itself, it is important if you have any of these symptoms to seek a medical opinion promptly”.

These signs may include:

  • A sudden, persistent change your bowel habits
  • Any bleeding, or black, tarry stools
  • Persistent bloating
  • Increasing heartburn, indigestion or stomach pains
  • Abdominal pain
  • Losing weight unintentionally
  • Any difficulty or pain on swallowing

Our body doesn’t have a voice but it is great at telling us when there are issues on other ways such as such as skin, mood, energy, weight and more.

How might gut health affect weight?

We know that our gut needs to be functioning effectively to be able to digest and absorb the nutrition that we are eating. If this function becomes impaired, it could potentially lead to both weight loss, and perhaps even weight gain.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is firstly whether there could be an underlying medical problem that is driving poor digestion? The best way to work out if this is a possibility is to speak to your doctor or other healthcare provider. Problems with maldigestion or malabsorption may lead to an unintended decrease in weight (although not always).

Once any medical concerns have been ruled out (if necessary), the next step would be a more comprehensive look at overall digestion, and to see whether there are any signs and symptoms gut inflammation or irritation. This is often highly variable between people, so again, I would suggest that you find a well-qualified Nutritional Therapist, Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist to help. There simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to gut health, so this individualised support is very important.

There is also a lot of interest at the moment around the potential role of the gut microbiota in the development of obesity, and obesity-related diseases. Lots of this revolves around how certain microbes may potentially alter appetite, metabolic function and energy absorption by the body.

Unfortunately, we do not know enough about this topic yet to know which types of microbe could potentially help us to lose weight (or indeed, help us to gain weight). However, there are some promising studies emerging and research is certainly ongoing (Abenavoli et al.l, 2019, Kadooka et al., 2010).

I’ll share more on this fascinating topic soon.

Click here to read more from Amelia. https://ameliafreer.com/

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