Having a well-functioning gut is your best insurance policy because it will protect you from numerous colds and cases of flu, in addition, the connection between the microflora (all the bacteria that reside in your gut) and many chronic diseases have long been established.
Why is the gut so important?
70-80% of your immune system is in the gut.
The microflora is needed for the synthesis of vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin K) and general absorption of nutrients. If you are low on nutrients nothing will function optimally and you will feel depleted
Healthy microflora inhibits pathogens (bad bacteria) protecting you from infections.
When you suffer from gut issues it can impact your mood, energy levels and life in general.
Gluten causes a reaction that destroys the lining of the small intestines (leaky gut)
Antibiotics kill all bacteria. The bad bacteria see this as a window of opportunity to overgrow and cause havoc. This can cause diarrhoea and decrease short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) which in turn cause decreased absorption of nutrients and poor mucosal lining integrity (leaky gut), even further exposing the host to external and internal pathogens and compromising the immune system.
Psychological stress can impact the microflora in a way that reduces the good bacteria such as lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria and increases the bad bacteria such as E. coli.
Sulfates and sulfur – containing amino acids have been found to increase the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Sulfate is found in preservatives, most dried fruit, dehydrated vegetables, shellfish, packaged fruit juices, baked goods, and most alcoholic beverages. Large amounts of sulfur – containing amino acids are found in cow’s milk, cheese, eggs, meat, and cruciferous vegetables.
Consuming a very high protein diet not only increases the production of harmful bacteria in the gut, it also reduces the variety of good bacteria.
A high sugar diet can make you constipated, and when things take longer to get through the system toxins build up, which is not conducive to a healthy microflora
How to feed the bacteria
To improve gut function you will need to reduce the foods mentioned above, manage your stress levels and only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary. To strengthen the immune system through the gut we want to create a high variety of microbes and increase the good bacteria. In order to achieve this, you should feed the existing good bacteria so they can multiply. This can be done using colonic foods, prebiotics, probiotics, and good fibre sources.
Examples of colonic foods are almonds, unripe bananas, carrots, brown rice, green tea, and spirulina.
Prebiotics such as inulin, GOS, and FOS are powders that you can buy at the health food shop.
Probiotics are widely available but getting a high-quality product from a reputable manufacturer is advisable.
Fibre can be increased by eating more vegetables and fruit, but the easiest way to achieve an almost immediate effect is by adding a fibre supplement to your morning routine. Either by adding it to your smoothie, drizzling it on your breakfast or taking it in water.
I recommend starting with 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or soaked chia seed. If taking in water add it to 50ml of water and drink, follow with 200mL water.
Pernille Jensen is a Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist at Health Space Mona Vale. Specialising in gut health and hormonal health.