Optimising your gut health: four key considerations
Updated: Jun 18
Optimising your gut health is essential, not just if you have obvious gut-related symptoms like reflux, bloating or constipation, but it is also important for many other health issues, seemingly unrelated e.g. low immunity, skin problems (including teen acne - see last blog post for more info on this topic), even anxiety and weight management. There are few clients that I see that don’t need some sort of gut work to help with their initial reason for visiting me.
Gut health includes the health of the stomach, small and large intestines, and is where all the food and drink we consume is broken down into smaller molecules to be absorbed into the body’s blood or lymphatic system for circulation of the nutrients around the body to the cells where they are needed or stored. It’s also through which many of our waste products are eliminated. Our gut is amazing when you actually stop to think about it!
So how can you ensure that your gut is working optimally?
Here are four things I consider and aim to optimise when assessing a client’s gut health.
Lining the inside of your digestive tract are various specialised cells that secrete mucous, hormones and enzymes, and enable the absorption of nutrients. These functions are essential for the breakdown of the food and the absorption the nutrients into our bodies. The gut lining also provides a barrier to the entry of unwanted substances such as partially digested foods, toxins and pathogens. A poor or damaged gut lining can reduce the efficiency of digestive processes and allow the unwanted substances to be absorbed through big cracks or holes in the lining. It may also lead to inflammation too. The cells lining our gut, therefore, also play a role in protecting our bodies from infections and disease.
Certain substances may be damaging the lining of your gut. It is thought that diets low in fibre, high in sugar and saturated fats or high in alcohol use may be linked to this damage. Certain medications may trigger this too. Even high stress may be a factor. Alternatively, it may be a food that you are intolerant to that may initiate this inflammation.
Balanced gut bacteria
Inside our colon live trillions of bacteria that help with the final stages of nutrient breakdown and elimination of wastes and undigested carbohydrates; they also synthesise some of our vitamins. These bacteria are made up of millions of different types; some of which may not be beneficial and may actually make us sick. In order to reduce or eliminate these, we need to ensure the good guys are looked after and supported. We can do this by eating a high fibre diet and reducing our exposure to environmental antimicrobials (i.e. antibacterial cleaning products, antibacterial soaps etc) and reducing our use of antibiotics (which will wipe out the good guys as well as the bad) and certain other medications. Chronic stress may also affect the balance of bacteria too.
Optimal hydrochloric acid levels
Within our stomach, gastric juices are released to help with the early stages of digestion. The gastric juices are comprised of various substances including enzymes and hydrochloric acid. The hydrochloric acid is important as it lowers the stomach’s pH to activate the protein-digesting enzymes. If your body isn’t producing enough hydrochloric acid (which naturally declines in older age anyway), the efficiency of the protein digestion is affected. Burping and reflux may be a sign of low hydrochloric acid levels.
Eating plenty of bitter green vegetables, like rocket, raddichio and kale, or sour foods like lemons may help stimulate the gastric juices
Optimal enzyme production
Enzymes are substances that help reactions take place, like a catalyst. In the gut, they speed up the rate of digestion, however, they require specific conditions to work well, including temperature, pH, and substance concentration, and are easily inhibited if conditions are not just right. Some enzymes require acidic conditions, some neutral and some slightly alkaline. Each enzyme has a specific job to do and so, if the conditions aren’t right or the message doesn’t get through that they are needed, then digestion processes are affected. We also need to ensure that the enzymes are being created in the first place , and to do this we need various nutrients e.g. Zinc. Without digestion into smaller molecules, the nutrients cannot be absorbed.
Once again, a diet rich in vegetables, and whole foods are a good way to support enzyme production.
Optimising your gut health is essential for feeling good overall. It is important to support your gut lining, balance your gut bacteria and optimise your hydrochloric acid and enzyme production. Where possible I recommend consuming a wholefood, well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain to provide lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and to include fermented foods, to boost your gut bacteria, into your regular diet.
If you think you need help, optimising your gut health, please book in for an appointment here.
Campos M, 2017, Leaky gut: what is it, and what does it mean for you?, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451
Marturano, M, 2018, The Coherent Method Gut Repair System: Colonize Microbiota & Optimise Absorption, HealthMastersLive