At least 6.5 million people in the UK struggle with some kind of digestive issue but, despite its impact on health, fitness, and physique goals, gut health tends to be relatively low on our list of priorities when it comes to our overall wellbeing.
With increasingly more people looking towards sports nutrition supplements to complement their training routines, the more questions are being asked around gut health and the importance of maintaining and supporting it. With the help of our Reflex Elite Nicola Hobbs we chat through why it's important to look after your gut and some tips to help.
Why Looking After Your Gut is Important
Strong digestion is the foundation of a strong and healthy body.
Think of your digestive system like the roots of a plant – the roots receive nutrients from the soil and transform them into nourishment for the whole plant. In a similar way, your GI tract receives nutrients from the foods you eat and, if it’s functioning optimally, breaks them down into small enough parts for the body to absorb and use for energy, repair and growth. At the same time, it prevents toxins and antigens from getting through the gut barrier.
However, if your gut isn’t healthy and happy, the rest of you won’t be healthy or happy either.
Whilst it can often be tricky to identify the root cause of digestive issues, research suggests that an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome (known as dysbiosis) contributes to common symptoms such as bloating, indigestion and constipation.
The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms – these bacteria play a key role in metabolism, nutrient absorption, immunity, and mood. This means that if the digestive system becomes disrupted, it will have a knock on effect on other areas of your health.
Common Causes Of Impaired Gut Health
Diet and lifestyle factors have a strong influence on the gut microbiome, which in turn can effect health. Research suggests that imbalanced gut bacteria and reduced bacterial diversity (linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, obesity and type 1 and 2 diabetes) may be caused by:
- Increased consumption of sugar, refined starches and processed foods
- Excessive consumption of high-intensity sweeteners (e.g. sucralose, aspartame and saccharin)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Unnecessarily restrictive diets (for example cutting out gluten when not coeliac or gluten intolerant)
- Toxins and pesticides found on unwashed fruit and vegetables
- Antibiotic and antibacterial medications
- Viruses, parasites and pathogenic bacteria (e.g. E. coli)
- High stress levels
Warning Signs Your Gut Needs Some TLC
Some signs that you have an unhappy gut are obvious, but others are more subtle and may seem unrelated.
Digestive symptoms: Bloating, Indigestion, Diarrhoea, Constipation, Acid reflux, Stomach pain, Wind, Nausea, Food sensitivities.
Other symptoms: Skin issues (acne, eczema, rosacea), Joint pain, Frequently getting sick, Brain fog, Anaemia, Fatigue, Weight gain or difficulty losing weight, Sugar cravings, Weak hair and nails.
Simple Ways To Look After Your Gut Health
Changes to the gut microbiome can occur within days of making healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle, including:
- Discover the cause – visit your GP to rule out any severe health issues and to explore the root cause of your symptoms
- Consume prebiotic and probiotic-rich food and drinks – these include yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut
- Take a probiotic supplementation – research shows probiotic supplementation is beneficial to gut and overall health
- Consider a digestive enzyme supplement – this can support the enzymes in your digestive system to break down food optimally, we offer this as a supplement called Digezyme and often found in protein powders, try our Instant Whey Pro which contains these digestive enzymes too.
- Eliminate any foods that trigger symptoms – you can work with a qualified professional to guide you through an elimination diet
- Eat intuitively – eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full to reduce unnecessary stress on your digestive system
- Reduce consumption of common trigger foods – these include MSG, sugar, and refined carbohydrates
- Eat fibre-rich foods to feed healthy gut bacteria e.g. vegetables, legumes, wholegrains
- Eat slowly – this gives your digestive system time to produce the enzymes necessary to digest your food properly
- Reduce stress and make time for rest – excessive stress, lack of sleep and over training can contribute to poor gut health by increasing inflammation and inhibiting recovery
- A healthy body relies on a healthy gut
- Digestive issues are often caused by imbalance in the gut microbiome
- Imbalances in the gut microbiome can be caused by viruses, medications, and diet and lifestyle factors
- Simple ways to support gut health include consuming probiotic-rich and fibre-rich foods, eliminating trigger foods, and reducing stress
- Look out for protein powders which contain digestive enzymes, try our Instant Whey Pro for example!
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Menees, S., & Chey, W. (2018). The gut microbiome and irritable bowel syndrome. F1000Research, 7.
Rinninella, E., Raoul, P., Cintoni, M., Franceschi, F., Miggiano, G. A. D., Gasbarrini, A., & Mele, M. C. (2019). What is the Healthy Gut Microbiota Composition? A Changing Ecosystem across Age, Environment, Diet, and Diseases. Microorganisms, 7(1), 14.
Valdes, A. M., Walter, J., Segal, E., & Spector, T. D. (2018). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. Bmj, 361, k2179.