Within our gut is a whole ecosystem of microorganisms that constantly beaver away to keep us healthy. These gut microbes keep our immune system functioning correctly, make vitamins for us and digest some of our foods.

Scientific evidence suggests that gut microbes play an important role in protecting us from a whole range of digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, as well as obesity, autoimmune diseases, type-2 diabetes, dementia, allergies, colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disorders and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. They protect us from nasty disease causing organisms and help to keep us relaxed and happy by making the molecules that are important for our brain health. So don’t delay and start looking after your digestive health today.

What can we do to protect our gut?

  1. Try not to damage gut microbes

    Only use antibiotics when necessary because antibiotics can kill the good microbes as well as the disease causing ones. Try to limit preservatives as these are designed to stop microbes from growing. Pesticides and herbicides can also harm good microbes.

  2. Don't feed the bullies

    Sugar and starches are the favourite foods of the unhelpful gut microbes. Constantly feeding them with sugars and starches will cause these microbes to overwhelm the good microbes.

  3. Feed the beneficial microbes well

    By including foods that will also support the health of your gut lining. A high fibre content will encourage the growth of good microbes, so it helps to eat lots of veggies. Include some proteins and good fats as well as lots of nutritious goodies like fibre from oats, folates from leafy greens, broccoli, and beans. Your gut likes foods containing zinc and glutamine such as animal proteins (meat, fish, chicken), seeds and nuts. 

  4. Promote good digestion

    This is especially important because as we age we produce fewer digestive enzymes, making digestion less efficient. Chew well, eat slowly in a relaxed manner and maintain good posture to ensure good circulation around the digestive system. Poor digestion can lead to poor gut health.

  5. Avoid harming your gut

    The lining of the gut where these microbes live becomes inflamed and damaged by repeated assaults from excess alcohol and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin). There is increasing evidence that wheat also damages the gut lining. Wheat can widen the spaces between the cells lining the gut and allow toxic irritating bits of undigested food and organisms into our body causing allergies and a host of other problems. This is called "leaky gut".

  6. Replenish the gut

    With fermented foods which all contain good microbes. There are lots of different fermented foods such as yoghurts, kefir, sauerkraut or kimchee. Probiotics (good microbes) can be very useful especially after a course of antibiotics. More research needs to be done on the best probiotics and their usefulness for different conditions, but the early work is promising.

  7. Relax, because stress affects gut health.

    "All disease begins in the gut" according to Hippocrates. Increasingly we are learning that there is truth in his wisdom. Healthy gut microbes are our best friends. When we treat them well, we can enjoy the good health that comes from letting these local friendly microbes get on with looking after us.

Dr Helen Hudson, PhD - Harvard Medical School

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