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About 100 trillion bacteria call your gut home and they play a role in almost every aspect of your health.
The challenge with focusing on digestion is that it's not on most people's wish lists of dinner party conversation. It's not a sexy subject. Some may even say it's talking shit...but hold your judgement, this is no Gillian McKeith moment we're having here. Learning even just the basics about your gut and it's importance in your overall health is worthy of a few minutes of your time.
Indeed, I'd go as far as saying that unlocking better digestive health is the key to such a mind boggling array or other health issues that it's the only logical place to begin.
If you are reading on then you are willing to contemplate what lies beneath your navel, so let's take a look inside.
The epithelial lining of the intestinal tract is covered with what are known as villi, if you imagine something that looks like a microscopic shag carpet, that’s about right!
The tight junctions of the villi are what keep the pathogens and out and let the good nutrients in, remember, the gut is where you will absorb what you need from food. In truth you are not what you eat - you are what you absorb.
Over time these junctions can become looser - a worn down carpet instead of a tightly bound one if you like. At this point the gut lining has become more permeable allowing protein molecules to enter directly into your blood stream.
Why is this a problem? Well, your immune system sees these protein molecules as invaders as they are not supposed to enter in this way and creates antibodies that can trigger a reaction. Allergies, intolerances and inflammatory conditions, not to mention feeling tired and sluggish, all share this root cause.
There are many reasons this can occur and it’s not just about your choice of food.
How you eat not just want you eat plays a role. Chewing your food well is vital. Food that isn’t broken down properly can cause more issues for the gut. Overeating also overwhelms the digestive system - think about how exhausted you feel after Christmas dinner, this is a clue.
Microbial imbalances in your gut are also major root cause of chronic health issues. The delicate system between the good and so-called ‘bad’ bacteria can be managed with a healthy diet and nourishing amounts of beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria.
There are more than 80 species of the Lactobacillus genus of probiotics, one of these species, L. acidophilus, is the most frequently used good bacterium but there are others that are hugely helpful too.
This can be taken most effectively in natural forms such as fermented foods saurkraut and kefir. These can be a hassle to make (to put it lightly) so buy pre-made in health food shops or check out my new coconut kefir range in the shop which are the most potent lactose free kefir based drinks and shots on the market.
Many people experience a wide range of health benefits when they begin to rebalance the gut, these include (but are not limited to):
Improved skin, dramatic reduction in allergic responses or atopic symptoms (eczema, asthma, hay fever), improved immunity, better skin, better mood, weight loss, reduced cravings for sugar, improvement in digestive discomfort or a complete relief from symptoms....the list goes on.
For some people, the issue lies in the stomach. If you don’t have adequate stomach acid (HCl), you can’t digest your food properly. The result is that proteins and pathogens reach your intestines where they can potentially cause trouble. Enzymes are important and can sometimes be helpful to supplement until digestive issues have cleared up. Always check with your G.P. or visit a specialist if problems persist.
Antibiotics can also upset the balance of gut bacteria as they kill the good and the bad strains and frequent use of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can damage gut lining. Excessive alcohol or binge drinking also harms the gut over time, as does low-fibre, processed food based diets.
Sometimes, as I have found in practice, the trigger point for an individual’s digestive imbalance or complaint may never be found. The circumstances surrounding your birth and your early years even play a factor, not something you had any choice in. The key point is either to investigate what’s going on or simply start on a path that supports digestive health.
Stool and digestive analysis tests can be arranged through G.P.'s or through nutritionists and will help pick up the presence of parasites, infections or bacterial overgrowth such as candida as well as determining the integrity of the mucosal lining.
To find a registered nutritionist or nutritional therapist locally visit www.bant.org or www.associationfornutrition.org