What does your gut health say about you?
Bloating, gas, diarrhoea, or constipation: are any of these familiar symptoms to you? According to The Gut Foundation Australia (2017) half of our population will complain of some type of digestive problem in any given 12-month period. Rates of heartburn, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis and bowel cancer are on the rise. Bowel cancer is now the most common internal cancer in our community, second to mortality due to lung cancer (The Gut Foundation Australia, 2017). What causes gastrointestinal symptoms and what can we do about them?
Common causes of poor digestion
Lifestyle, dietary and environmental factors are the main, modern-day culprits of poor digestive function. Eating too fast, eating while we are working, not chewing food thoroughly, exercising too quickly after a meal, and/or eating while stressed are all common daily occurrences. Unbeknownst to many people is the destructive impact these everyday lifestyle habits have on our gut function. Poor dietary choices, such as not eating enough fibre, eating too many highly refined and processed foods, not drinking enough water, and eating too much sugar affects our gut microbiome, as well as intestinal peristalsis (in layman terms, this is the motility of our digestion system). Poor or slow motility leads to constipation, a prevalent digestive complaint that sometimes has a simple underlying cause. Environmental factors may be related to nutrient deficiencies that disrupt our digestive homeostasis. For example, zinc is needed for the synthesis of stomach acid, and too little stomach acid leads to poor digestion of proteins. When food is poorly or partially digested, it may potentially cause damage to our gut lining and over time, lead to chronic inflammation.
Intestinal permeability: the connection to bowel disease and inflammation
A prospective study by Chang et al., (2017) investigated intestinal permeability in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in relation to mucosal healing and on-going bowel symptoms. Researchers in this study found that increases in intestinal permeability were correlated with increased severity of diarrhoea and that addressing mucosal healing may improve outcomes for patients with IBD. The mucus lining of our GI tract is there to protect cells from damage.
Why does our gut bacteria matter?
Our gut microbes are essential for the maintenance of good health. These little bug buddies have many jobs, including (Changing Habits, 2017):
- Maintaining a healthy immune system;
- assisting in the production of B vitamins and vitamin K2;
- digesting food and aiding in nutrient absorption;
- assisting in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, allowing for enhanced cellular communication; and
- converting substances from food, such as fibre, into short-chain fatty acids, which deliver energy to the liver.
How can we assist our gut bugs in proper nutrient digestion and absorption to reduce unpleasant GI symptoms?
Here are some recommendations and tips for improving tummy troubles and reducing the undesirable side-effects of poor digestion:
- Reduce your intake of substances that disrupt gut flora, including excessive amounts of alcohol, refined sugar, and highly refined/processed foods;
- eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and lean proteins;
- introduce small amounts of resistance starches into your diet; bacteria feed on resistant starches, and this will lead to an increase in beneficial bacteria; some food examples include cooked, green bananas, chicory, and psyllium; and
- drink plenty of water; the recommendation is 30 ml per kg of body weight, per day.
Can your gut impact your mental health?
We’ve all heard these common expressions before a gut-wrenching experience and feeling knots or butterflies in your stomach. There’s a reason these expressions are rooted in gut health, and that’s because our gastrointestinal tract is incredibly sensitive to our psychologically and emotional body mechanisms. Anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, as well as feelings of extreme happiness and elation, can all trigger symptoms in our gastrointestinal system (Harvard Health, 2017).
Did you know even the thought of eating can trigger the release of digestive juices in the stomach? Given the close connection between our gut and brain, it’s easy to understand why one may feel nauseated before a stressful experience. According to Harvard Health (2017) there is some research to suggest that people with functional GI disorders may experience pain more acutely in comparison to other individuals, as their brains do not accurately regulate pain signals from their digestive system. Furthermore, stress can exacerbate GI symptoms within this vulnerable population.
How can Elevate help?
Health practitioners at Elevate can order tests in relation to nutrient deficiencies, gut permeability, bacteria and parasite testing, microbiome gut bacteria composition tests, genetic testing, and much more. Call Elevate for more information or to book in with one of our health experts.
Chang J, Leong RW, Wasinger V, Ip M, Yang M, Giang Phan T. Impaired intestinal permeability contributes to ongoing bowel symptoms in patients with inflammatory bowel disease and mucosal healing. Gastroenterology. June 2017; (17):35731-1. Doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.056.
Changing Habits. Gut health. (2017). Retrieved from http:// https://changinghabits.com.au/gut-health/.
Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. (2017). The gut-brain connection. Retrieved from http:// http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.
McWatt, Liz. What are some of the causes of poor digestion? (2017). Holistic Health (UK). Retrieved from http:// http://www.holistic-healing.org.uk/includes/content/files/could%20i%20have%20poor%20digestive%20function.pdf.
The Gut Foundation Australia. (2017). Gut health. Retrieved from http:// http://www.gutfoundation.com.au/about.