An Expert Guide To Building Up Your Gut Health
First, how exactly does the gut keep you healthy?
“The gut plays a crucial role in our immunity as it’s where most external pathogens enter the body. We either breathe in viruses through the nose, or they enter through the mouth. It’s believed up to 80% of our immune cells are in the gut, mostly in the mucus layer that coats the gut wall. The gut fights off pathogens in several ways. Firstly, the acid in the stomach has a low pH, which kills off unwanted bugs. There is also a strong mucus layer all the way through the digestive tract, which is where white blood immune cells reside – they latch onto pathogens and destroy them. There’s also the gut wall itself, which a pathogen would have to cross to infect the bloodstream. Finally, the microbiome – the collection of trillions of bacteria in your gut – competes with invading bacteria and fights them off.” – Sarah Carolides, nutritionist at Your Zooki
So how can being unwell affect the gut?
“A stomach bug will directly impact your gut health but studies show respiratory viruses can also take their toll. The bugs associated with acute gastroenteritis (aka, a ‘stomach bug’) can cause damage to the gut lining and your microbes, potentially leading to further problems. For example, having a stomach bug is one of the strongest risk factors for developing IBS. At the same time, if your gut bugs aren’t balanced and healthy in the first place, we have a reduced capacity to fight off pathogens, increasing your risk of illness. Research also suggests gut microbes can influence immune function outside of the gut, especially in the lungs. The gut and the lungs communicate with each other via what’s known as the gut-lung axis, which works in both directions, so respiratory infections can also influence the balance of the gut. For example, despite the apparent absence of virus in the gut, some flu patients present gastroenteritis-like symptoms, such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Studies show having the flu promotes the growth of detrimental bacterial species and blunts the growth of health-promoting bacteria.” – Hannah Braye, head of technical advice at Bio-Kult
What effect do antibiotics have on the gut?
“Antibiotics are an important, often life-saving treatment but they can be disastrous for the gut microbiome. Antibiotics don’t discriminate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, meaning they can disrupt the harmonious balance of bacteria in the gut, subsequently affecting immunity. The lasting impact of this imbalance varies but it can take many months to resolve, leaving you at risk of the digestive issues associated with an imbalanced microbiome, and potentially leaving you more vulnerable to viral infection. Moreover, digestive discomfort can occur within hours of taking antibiotics. Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea is a well-known side effect, for example, affecting up to 25% of those on antibiotics.” – Emily Woollins, registered nutritional therapist & founder of Digest & Well
What are the signs your gut could do with TLC?
“It can take some time for your immune system to fully recover after being unwell. As a result, you may be more susceptible to picking up further infections, for example colds, chest infections, tonsillitis, ear infections, urinary tract infections, stomach bugs, cold sores and herpes, thrush and athlete’s foot. Given the crucial role that the gut plays in modulating the immune system, these kinds of recurrent infections could be a sign that your gut needs some TLC. Digestive symptoms may also persist after a period of illness and are a clear sign your gut needs additional support. For example, gastrointestinal (GI) issues like diarrhoea, constipation, acid reflux, abdominal pain, and altered smell/taste are recognised as post-Covid symptoms, with 22% of long covid sufferers reporting ongoing GI symptoms.” – Hannah
Given the gut’s far-reaching impact, are there signs from elsewhere to look for?
“It is increasingly being recognised that there is a link between gut health and mental health, with higher prevalence of conditions such as anxiety and depression in those with GI conditions. If you are feeling low after a period of illness, it might be work thinking about your gut health. Healthy gut function has been linked to normal central nervous system function. Hormones, neurotransmitters and immunological factors released from the gut are known to send signals to the brain. Inflammation in the digestive tract (for example after an infection) places stress on the microbiome, altering these signals and increasing intestinal permeability, which contributes to systemic inflammation, potentially influencing brain function. Interestingly, studies have shown that improving gut health, for example by taking live bacteria supplements, can improve mental health.” – Hannah
Does having a stomach bug increase your risk of a food intolerance?
“Being ill can damage the gut wall, making it harder to digest food. This is because the gut wall is where many enzymes we need to break down food efficiently are produced. When food is not broken down and digested properly, it becomes a food source for different microorganisms living in the gut, and encourages the growth of less beneficial species. The gas produced can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms, too. Being unwell can also increase the permeability of the gut wall, which enables undigested proteins and toxins to enter the bloodstream. This creates a vicious cycle, causing inflammation and damage to the gut wall, less efficient digestion and a greater risk of food intolerances.” – Hannah
What are some of the best probiotics to replenish the gut?
“Probiotics may be useful in supporting the gut during or after a virus or stomach bug, but it’s vital to focus on science-backed strains. Consider having a consultation with a healthcare practitioner, as the same strain of probiotic may behave differently in different people. Probiotics such as the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species have been studied for their positive impact on the gut. A recent study found a 37% reduced risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea when taking probiotics alongside antibiotics, and it was mostly strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium that were found to be effective. Formulas that contain saccharomyces boulardii have also been shown to be effective at protecting against antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.” – Emily
Here, the experts share their top tips for bringing the gut back to peak health…
Pair Supplements With Food
“Probiotics are transient, meaning they are unable to permanently reseed the gut. It’s therefore a good idea to combine them with a diet rich in prebiotic foods (bananas, onions, sweet potatoes and garlic) to feed the beneficial bacteria to help them thrive. This can increase production of postbiotics, which protect against harmful bacteria and provide energy for the cells in the colon.” – Emily
Incorporate Colourful Veg
“The ultimate way to repopulate the gut with good bacteria after a course of antibiotics is to eat a wide variety of plans. Aim for 30 different types of plant foods per week – think vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.” – Marilia Chamon, nutritional therapist & founder of Gutfulness Nutrition
Eat Bone Broth
“Incorporate glutamine-rich foods in your diet, such as bone broth. Glutamine is an amino acid that helps rebuild the gut. Chicken bone broth is particularly effective, but if you are vegan, make a vegan broth and add vegan collagen for a boost.” – Debbie Cotton, head of clinical education at Invivo
“Stress impacts the microbiome and effectively ‘shuts down’ digestion by activating the sympathetic nervous system or ‘fight or flight’ response, which can lead to digestive issues. Yoga and meditation are both proven stress management techniques and are known to support gut health.” – Emily
“Insufficient sleep has a negative impact on the gut microbiome and immune system. Listen to your body and accept you may need more sleep – around nine hours – for a while after an infection or illness.” – Emily
“Leaving a gap of several hours between meals allows your migrating motor complex – akin to a hoover in the gut – to pass along the digestive tract and flush out toxins and repair the lining. This is one of the reasons many people find their gut health improves when they try intermittent fasting.” – Sarah
Experiment With Other Supplements
“As well as the right probiotic, collagen can be worth taking – collagen is the main protein in the gut lining. Turmeric is also a potent anti-inflammatory that helps calm your body after an infection. Aloe vera, meanwhile, can soothe an irritated gut lining.” – Sarah
Cut Back On Dairy
“Be cautious with the amount of lactose you consume during the first few weeks after an illness in case you have been left with transient lactose intolerance. If you do consume dairy, opt for pot-set yoghurts that contain beneficial bacteria and lower amounts of lactose due to the fermentation process.” – Debbie
For more information and advice, visit Zooki.com, Bio-Kult.co.uk, DigestAndWell.co.uk, GutfulnessNutrition.com & InvivoHealthcare.com
SHOP THE EDIT
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme
DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at email@example.com.