Article by nutritional therapist Tracey Randell
The gut microbiome
Perhaps you have heard the term “gut microbiome” and wondered what it means? Very simply, your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi and collectively they are described as the microbiome. Although it’s the gut microbiome which is mostly mentioned – your skin, respiratory tract, urinary tract and even your armpit have its own microbial ecosystem!
Collectively, gut microbes act as another body organ and perform critical functions to keep your body healthy. Some of these functions are obvious, like the digestion of food, but are not so obvious, such as weight control, heart health (gut flora influences levels of HDL “good” Cholesterol and triglycerides) and reduction of Type 2 diabetes risk. Your brain too is influenced by the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin which helps to reduce the risk of depression.
Farting is ok!
Bloating, variable bowel movements, abdominal pain, and excessive gas (although it’s okay to fart a few times a day!) are all signs that your microbial imbalance might be a bit off. This condition can be described as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. It is a common assumption that IBS is something that must be lived with and that partial relief can be obtained by taking some medications. This is incorrect; much can be done to address IBS if the root cause is uncovered. For some, IBS is caused by SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) these bacteria ferment certain carbohydrates in our food (FODMAPS), making gases which alter gut motility and osmolarity, causing diarrhea or constipation. Studies have indicated that as many as 65% of people with IBS may have this condition which can be resolved by diet change and antibiotics. Other causes of IBS include food intolerances: gluten and dairy are common culprits but there can be others. Stress and hormone imbalances can also cause IBS.
Fortunately, it is possible to make some simple dietary changes to help to rebalance your gut microbiome:
- Consume a diverse range of plant foods (ideally 8-10 portions daily) as every food consumed encourages the growth of a different strain of bacteria.
- Eat fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kavas) yoghurts and kefir.
- Eat prebiotic foods, to encourage the growth of friendly flora: artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, and stewed apples.
- Consume gluten-free whole grains (Brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth) to provide extra fibre and beneficial carbohydrates loved by gut flora
- Eat more plants – you don’t have to be vegan but making vegetables the star of your meal a few times each week and having at least one meat-free day each week will significantly improve the diversity and abundance of your gut flora.
- Eat a rainbow every day – eating colourful foods ensures that your diet is rich in polyphenols these are plant compounds that encourage the growth of beneficial flora. The best sources of polyphenols include green tea, olive oil, red wine, and dark chocolate so keeping your gut healthy can be delicious too!
A final word on stress – it hugely impacts on your gut health, so take steps to de-compress.
About our guest blogger – Tracey Randell from IBS Clinics
Tracey Randell is a fully qualified Registered Nutritional Therapist at IBS Clinics, a functional medicine nutrition practice that helps people to resolve their IBS and other health issues. Her role involves becoming a medical detective to seek out the root cause of an individual’s ill health often aided by innovative functional testing to help identify biochemical imbalances and help the creation of an individuals health programme. When not working with patients she can often be found reading cookbooks in preparation for commencing a Natural chef course determined not to be the worst cook in the school!