The Importance Of A Healthy Digestive System
If you’re looking to feel better in your body this year, then don’t neglect your gut. But we don’t mean powering through 100 sit-ups in the gym every day. We’re talking about healing from the inside, specifically, nurturing your gut bacteria – the hottest conversation in health right now when it comes to head-to-toe wellbeing.
“The digestive system contains about a kilo and half of bacteria. This bacteria used to be considered benign, but recently, researchers have discovered this bacteria – ‘the microbiome’ – is the control centre of all our health,” says Jeannette Hyde, author of The Gut Makeover (£9.99, Quercus). “They play a part in our digestive health, keep our immune system operating well, and our mental health good.”
What we eat has a crucial role in maintaining a healthy digestive system, with sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed food some of the major culprits in depleting good bacteria. In fact, a King’s College study found that just ten days of eating junk food reduced gut microbiota diversity by a third. The remedy includes consuming more probiotics (live cultures of bacteria, found in fermented foods such as miso, yoghurt and sauerkraut), and prebiotics (fruit and vegetable fibres that feed and nourish the good bacteria), with apples, asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks and onions, particularly effective. Pre- and probiotics help our body to break down foods more efficiently and convert it into energy, aid the production of vitamins and nutrient absorption, and help the immune system fight off infection.
But If you still need convincing, here are four more reasons to get good gut health.
It can make you happier
There is increasing connection between our digestive system and our mood and emotions, with the gut now being dubbed the “second brain”. With the gut containing as many neurotransmitters as our brain, recent research by Caltech found that 90% our serotonin – the chemical linked to emotions and behaviour, and, when imbalanced, depression – is made in the gut, and about 50% of our dopamine too.
It can help balance your weight
There is research that if our gut has a low bacteria count and is lacking in certain friendly species, we may extract more calories from our diet. To counter this, “eat a variety of plants (vegetables, herbs, fruit) every day,” says Hyde. “The fibre and colours in the plants provide food for the trillions of bacteria in the gut. When they are flourishing, they interact with our hunger hormones, keeping them steady, and controlling our weight.”
It can boost your immune system
With around 80% of our body’s immune system said to be located in our gut, it is no wonder our microbiome is being linked to a number of health issues, from bloating and digestive disorders to diabetes and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, supporting our gut bacteria with more gut-friendly foods could help reduce our risk of autoimmune disorders, and even ‘reset’ our system.
It makes your skin clearer
A healthy gut has been linked to a clearer complexion, with Hyde stating that conditions such as acne, hives, eczema and rosacea can all find improvement thanks to healthy gut flora. It is thought this is because while good bacteria strengthens the lining of the gut, low levels allow for pathogens to pass through into your system, which can cause inflammation – therefore aggravating inflammatory conditions such as acne. Try incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods such as tomatoes, turmeric, leafy greens, omega-3-rich fish and olive oil in your diet, as well as probiotics, to help.
~ Amy Abrahams
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