Gut issues such as bloating, loose stools, diarrhoea and constipation are common problems affecting many. However, if you experience these symptoms frequently and they are affecting your everyday life, be aware of what could be their triggers as it might mean something more and warrants further medical checks.
Did you know that our gut’s health is very largely interlinked and dependent on tiny microorganisms living in our digestive tract? Their ‘well-being’ affects our well-being.
Gut microbiota refers to the communities of living microorganisms colonising our digestive tract. Think of it like an entire ecosystem of its own. They include varying species of bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites and more.
No one has the exact same microbiota composition as another person. Even across the lifespan, the ecosystem in one’s gut is ever-changing. An individual will have a varied gut microbiome ‘content’ at different points in their lives.
Research has discovered that these tiny living organisms have large influences over many areas of our health; ranging from appetite, how we think, to the body’s responses to food intake. It is known that more than 75% of our immunity is found in the gut lining.
Factors affecting gut health
The health of the gut microbiota can be altered by a range of factors, such as:
- Drugs (antibiotics)
- Food components such as dietary fibre (prebiotics)
- Foods containing live cultures (probiotics)
- Protein intake in the diet
Links have been created between diet, gut health and poor health outcomes. A poor diet that is high in saturated fat has been associated with lower gut microbiota count and diversity, as well as obesity and poor mental health. In contrast, a high fibre diet that promotes a wide gut microbiota diversity is associated with long-term reduced weight gain and improved mental health.
Gut health and health outcomes
When the condition of our gut microbiota is less than optimal, such as when it is low in diversity of the health-promoting microbiota, our health functions can be compromised. The disruption in composition of the gut microbiota has also been linked to inflammatory diseases such as obesity, changes in immunity, the regulation in gut hormones and metabolism.
Simply put, to optimise our health and prevent diseases, we need to increase the diversity of our gut microbiota.
This can be achieved by regularly choosing higher quality foods and improving our diet. This means:
- Increasing the amount and diversify our dietary fibre intake from a range of sources (nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms)
- Limiting refined carbohydrates such as from added sugar and processed foods;
- Limiting saturated fats and
- Avoiding trans fats as much as possible
Belobrajdic, D., Brownlee, I., Hendrie, G., Rebuli, M., Bird, T. (2018). Gut health and weight loss: An overview of the scientific evidence of the benefits of dietary fibre during weight loss. CSIRO, Australia.
Menni, C. et al. (2017) ‘Gut microbiome diversity and high-fibre intake are related to lower long-term weight gain’, International journal of obesity , 41(7), pp. 1099–1105.
Rinninella, E. et al. (2019) ‘What is the Healthy Gut Microbiota Composition? A Changing Ecosystem across Age, Environment, Diet, and Diseases’, Microorganisms, 7(1). doi: 10.3390/microorganisms7010014.
Valdes, A. M. et al. (2018) ‘Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health’, BMJ , 361, p. k2179.