What is good/bad for gut health? Gut Health, Microbiome/Serotonin & Immune Part 3

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By Sally Pattison BAppSc, Adv. Dip. Nat, Adv. Dip. Nut

Today we are challenged on many fronts: lifestyle and diet, deficient intestinal flora, stress, toxic chemicals in our food/water/environment, consumption of alcohol and frequent use of antibiotics all deplete our healthy supply of beneficial enzymes and bacteria. This allows disease to take hold.

How does this affect our microbiome?

It is known that eating sufficient dietary fibre can help feed the beneficial bacteria, which in turn produce nutrients that nourish the cells that line our gut.

Too little fibre, on the other hand, can starve them, and when they’re starved of fibre they begin to seek nutrients from other sources such as the mucin (protective proteins) in the mucus lining in the large intestine.

A plant-heavy diet helps to increase diversity in your microbiome. Plants give the microbes what they need - something to break down, digest and extract nutrients from. It’s what they need to survive.

Another way is to eat fermented foods as they contain naturally occurring probiotics, which encourage the growth of essential bacteria in our gut and may help to prevent the bad bacteria from damaging our health.

Your Gut Flora Is Constantly Under Attack

Your gut bacteria are vulnerable to your diet and lifestyle. If you eat a lot of sugar, processed foods and refined grains your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because these foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast. Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to and can be harmed by:

antibiotics (only take when necessary and then take a probiotic to reseed your gut)

  • processed foods – dead nutrients
  • stress
  • meats where antibiotics have been used
  • sugar – in all forms
  • artificial additives

How to Protect Healthy Gut Bacteria

As I have mentioned 100 trillion gut bacteria live and work in an average digestive system. They play important roles and when they get imbalanced we get diseases and mental health problems.

Given this, it makes sense to try to protect our microbiome - to encourage a good balance of beneficial bacteria. Here are a few general tips on maintaining good bacterial health:

  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotic use and limit antibiotic use to short courses, whenever possible
  • Encourage beneficial bacteria with a diet high in probiotics and prebiotics
  • Avoid intestinal parasites and if exposed get treated promptly
  • Be cautious with GERD drugs like proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) which drastically reduce stomach pH. This alteration in pH can lead to a dramatic change in gut flora and in some cases, growth of harmful bacteria at the expense of beneficial bacteria more accustomed to normal stomach pH levels.
  • Avoid excessive stress – stress leads to substantial declines in certain beneficial bacteria.
  • Breastfeed whenever possible
  • Watch out for excessive hygiene and let small children get a little dirty every now and again
  • Make healthy eating choices – minimize consumption of high sugar, high fat and processed foods and maximize consumption of fibre-rich vegetables and fruits.

Dietary Sources of Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotic foods are foods high in beneficial bacteria.

  • Yoghurt (buy one that indicates live active culture on the label)
  • Kefir – a fermented dairy drink
  • Sauerkraut
  • Natto
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Fermented pickles

Prebiotic foods are foods high in the soluble fibres that feed beneficial bacteria.

  • Bananas
  • Honey
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Whole grains
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Chicory

Enhance Your Digestion & Mood with “Feel Good” Serotonin Production

So I have explained how digestion and gut health affects nearly every aspect of our functioning. From appetite to the health of our immune system, a functioning digestive system with sufficient serotonin production can mean the difference between feeling well and feeling lousy.

As people age, they often find their GI tract is not working like it use to, sometimes resulting in the onset of an uncomfortable disorder. A lack of clarity, memory problems, and moodiness are on the list of accompanying complaints.

So a couple of simple things to do to keep your serotonin levels high, your spirits up, and your chances of developing a digestive disorder low.

  1. Keep Your Colon Cleansed

Keeping the digestive tract cleansed is a good strategy for dealing with digestive disruption.

A simple colon cleanse can help return the colon to a healthier state and shorten transit time, thereby minimising the amount of time bacteria have to do damage.  Cleansing can make it easier for your body to eliminate impurities and absorb nutrients, all vital to serotonin production.

  1. Don’t Take Multivitamins, Eat vitamin rich food and digestive aids

Since it can be difficult to get all your nutrient needs from the food we eat, vitamin supplementation may help. There is no other single thing you can do to improve your digestive and overall health than to support your digestive system with digestive enzymes.

You may have the best intentions when popping your multivitamin, however, your body must digest the pills and absorb it!  Many of us just have ‘expensive toilet habits’ with supplements that pass through unabsorbed.  Fermented foods, apple cider vinegar, enzymes like Bromelain, Papain and the like all assist in absorption.

Increasing your nutrient intake also helps foster serotonin production.

  1. Probiotics!

Having read about the difference between good and bad bacteria (see previous articles), the importance of probiotics may now be clearer. A good combination of broad spectrum can help restore beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract to healthy levels, keeping a proper balance between good and bad bacteria. Probiotics can also help with nutrient absorption, which may help to increase serotonin levels.

In Summary

Your digestive system can rightfully be called a “second brain”. The essence of “you” is strongly influenced by what you ingest and your ability to gain benefit from what is consumed. How interconnected is the brain and gut?

More and more research is showing that the health of the gut is what influences dozens of diseases including those never before thought of as originating in the gut – such as depression and other mood disorders.

Avoid processed, refined foods in your diet.

Eat traditionally fermented, unpasteurized foods.

Take a high-quality probiotic supplement. Although I'm not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics is an exception if you don’t eat fermented foods on a regular basis.