Gut health: Dr Chris George on how to improve microbiome
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Research into gut health has progressed tenfold over the past decade as we grow more aware of the impact it has on our health – physically and mentally. From producing hormones to digesting food, it even houses 70 percent of the immune system. Everything you consume triggers a different gut reaction, and some foods fare worse than others.
The digestive system is considered to be “the second brain”, due to the millions of neurotransmitters that reside here, so it’s important to fill your body with as many beneficial nutrients as you can to keep it nourished – and of course, avoid the ones that could jeopardise it.
Dr Christina Papadopolous, GP at Livi told Express.co.uk: “Not only does the human gut contain trillions of bacteria, also known as ‘gut flora’, but the relationship between your gut and these bacteria play a vital role in maintaining your overall health.
“Generally speaking the more diversity there is in the composition of your gut flora the better it is for you.”
The gut flora tends to comprise beneficial bacteria, often termed ‘friendly bacteria’, and other bacterias that are not so friendly.
Foods play a vital role in the production of these bacterias – for better and for worse, making it vital to be mindful of the impacts certain foods can have, in order to monitor consumption more closely.
Bloating, fatigue, extreme food cravings, constipation, fluctuating weight, skin irritations and acne are all symptoms of bad gut health.
If you suffer from any of these, it might be a problem that can be solved by looking inward.
Express.co.uk spoke to experts Dr Jess Braid, qualified medical doctor, functional medicine practitioner at Adio and Dr Christina Papadopolous to find out what items you should avoid to improve your gut health.
Copious amounts of sugar and artificial sweeteners
Dr Braid said: “While diet is the most obvious gut villain, many people do not truly understand the real gut-damaging culprits within our diet.
She continued: “As a result of the 40-year misinformation campaign on the dangers of too much fat in our diet, the dangers of sugar in our diet were downplayed.
“Sugar, particularly fructose, which is sugar derived from fruit, has been shown to cause leaky gut, disrupt the microbiome and cause fatty liver.”
She adds: “85 percent of people in the UK eat more than the recommended amount of sugar per day.”
While we’re here, it might be a good idea to reduce the artificial sweeteners, too.
Dr Papadopolous said: “Some research has found that artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose and saccharin – often found in diet, zero-calorie and sugar-free drinks – have a negative impact on your gut flora, changing the composition adversely.
“This alteration has been shown in some studies to be linked to glucose intolerance.
“More research is needed, but it could be a good idea to limit your intake of artificial sweeteners if you are hoping to improve your gut health.”
Hold back on the wheat
Dr Braid said: “Wheat and white flour, in particular, is highly processed and is inflammatory for our digestive systems.
“The way that wheat is produced has changed dramatically over the last 100 years, making it a grain that you may now wish to avoid in order to improve overall health and wellbeing.”
She continued: “Modern wheat is very high in gluten, and gluten-related disorders are increasing in incidence all over the world.
“Gluten increases the permeability of the gut wall, making it leakier, in everyone, not just people with coeliac disease.
“When the gut wall becomes leaky, it makes us more prone to immune system problems and autoimmune disease.”
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Reduce intake of inflammatory oils
Dr Braid advises reducing your intake of inflammatory fats in processed food – specifically those that are omega-6 based.
These include sunflower oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil and soybean oil.
She said: “These can be extremely damaging, creating gut inflammation and leaky gut.”
However, the good news is that upping your intake of omega-3 fats can help to counteract this – so stock up on fish, nuts and seeds.
Avoid ultra-processed foods
Dr Braid said: “Eating a varied, healthy, balanced diet is one of the best ways to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs – but the average person in the UK now consumes more than half their daily calories from ultra-processed, low nutrient foods.
She continued: “Vitamin D, in particular, is shown to regulate the gut barrier, microbiome and affect inflammation in the gut.”
As our food decreases in nutritional quality, often the result of over-processing, long transportation distances, and extended storage times, the vitamin D levels reduce, impacting gut regulation.
Lower your alcohol intake – or at least swap to red wine!
Dr Papadopolous said: “Heavy drinking can alter the balance of bacteria in your gut and encourage bad bacteria to grow.
“Not only is too much alcohol bad for your gut health, it can have a serious negative effect on your overall physical and mental wellbeing.
However, she adds: “Some studies have shown that red wine in moderation could have a protective effect on gut bacteria due to the polyphenols content – a type of plant chemical that gut microbes love.
“It might be a good idea to switch out your usual tipple for a glass of red wine, but remember that moderation is always key.”
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