We’re entering the time of year of feasting and celebrating. This can take its toll on many aspects of health, not least the digestive system. Here we’ll give you some tips on how to look after your digestive health, specifically your microbiome.
There are trillions of microscopic organisms in our gastrointestinal tracts that are collectively known as the microbiome. These organisms play a critical role in our health and well being. Each of us has a unique microbiome composed of a diverse range of organisms. What we eat and drink affects the make up of the microbiome. Having a reduced diversity of organisms in the microbiome can cause problems and is common in people with digestive problems such as IBS.
As we’ll find out the health of the microbiome can influence many aspects of both physical and mental health.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The digestive system is sometimes referred to as the second brain as there are millions of neurons lining the gut which release chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. The gut microbes also produce hormones and neurotransmitters that are identical to those produced by humans. The microbiome can directly stimulate neurons that send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve. Through these varied mechanisms the gut microbes influence memory, mood, cognition and daily rhythms and are relevant to a range of disorders, including alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Factors that Alter the Microbiome
Each of us has a unique microbiome. The make up of our microbiome is influenced by many factors including how we were born, whether we were breast fed as a baby, genetics, use of medications, stress, diet, physical activity and exposure to chemicals.
The gut microbiome can affect:
Immunity – the make up of the microbiome can lead to inflammation and may be involved in allergies, autoimmune disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Brain health – organisms in the microbiome produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA which influence mood. The balance of organisms in the microbiome have been linked to depression and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
Digestion and Absorption – along with digestive juices produced by the body the gut microbiome plays a key role in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Some organisms even produce nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin K.
Skin Health – just like the gut the skin has its own microbiome. The health of the intestinal microbiome may have an impact on the health of the skin microbiome. It’s thought that inflammation in the gut may contribute to skin problems such as acne, psoriasis and eczema.
Weight – the reason why some people can eat more than others without putting on weight may be partly down to the make up of their microbiome. The organisms in the microbiome affect blood sugar and calorie absorption and utilisation.
Tips for Supporting Digestive Health
Learn to manage stress – stress disrupts the digestive process. This can lead to food moving too quickly or too slowly through the digestive tract which may lead to the overgrowth of undesirable bacteria. Many people find that digestive symptoms and skin problems flare up when they are under stress. Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and tai chi can aid relaxation and may have a positive effect on the digestive system.
Get physical – exercise affects the make up of the microbiome in a positive way and may aid gut motility. Avoid sitting down for long periods of time.
Limit alcohol – alcohol alters the make up of the microbiome, sometimes in a negative way. For most people the odd tipple is fine but if you are sensitive alcohol may cause symptoms to flare up. If this is the case it may be best to avoid it for while to allow things to settle down.
Include fibre – fibre promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and provides bulk to stools which aids their movement. This helps in the removal of toxins and waste products.
Limit sugar and refined carbs – these may lead to an overgrowth of less desirable organisms and may increase inflammation. Opt for complex carbs and lots of vegetables instead.
Eat for the microbiome – eating a wide variety of plant foods each week is a good way to increase the diversity of your gut organisms. Foods that are generally beneficial for the microbiome are whole plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, pulses and sea vegetables.
Think ferments – eating fermented foods is a powerful way to alter the balance of organisms in the gut. These include sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt, kimchi, kombucha and miso. Introduce them gradually to avoid triggering symptoms.
Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary - antibiotics have a negative effect on the gut microbiome as they kill off beneficial bacteria as well as any problematic bacteria. If you do take antibiotics, or have done in the past, one way to replenish your good bacteria is by taking probiotics.
Tom Oliver’s Products to Support Digestive Health
Tom Oliver’s Probiotic Complete – contains beneficial bacteria to help replenish stores of beneficial bacteria in the microbiome.
Tom Oliver’s Curcumin Complete - taking supplements containing turmeric with piperine may increase the range of species in the microbiome.
Tom Oliver’s Complete Multi Men’s/Women’s – digestive problems often indicate that absorption may be compromised. Taking a carefully designed multivitamin/mineral can give a base line of nutrition that aids the path to health.