How To Keep Your Gut Healthy?
Your ‘gut’ i.e your digestive system has many important roles in your body- to break down food, absorb nutrients, remove wastes and toxins etc. Your gut can handle all these responsibilities effectively only when it has a healthy support system- your gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is constituted by trillions of microbes (bacteria, fungi etc) that live in your intestines. These microbes can be both helpful (good bacteria) or harmful (bad bacteria). These tiny microbes not only keep your digestion in check but has a tremendous impact on many aspects of your physical and mental health.
Why is gut health important?
Gut health needs special attention, here’s why:
- Keep bad intestinal bacteria in check: The gut microbiome also has bad bacteria; if the balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria is disturbed, you develop gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis. Good bacteria keep bad bacteria in check and prevents it from harming the GI system.
- Supports the intestinal barrier: The gut bacteria prevent the intestinal barrier from becoming too leaky, Moreover, it also maintains the health of the mucosal layer (the layer of stomach which protects the tissue lining of the stomach from stomach acids).
- Supports Immune function: The gut bacteria interact with immune cells and improve their effectiveness in fighting infections
- Supports brain function: Several studies show that the composition of the gut microbiome affects the way we think and our emotions. Gut microbiome alterations may also have a role to play in conditions like anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
- Maintain healthy metabolism: Unhealthy gut microbiome is associated with hormonal imbalance. This in turn affects our appetite, huger and the way we metabolize fat.
- Role in repair mechanisms: Gut microbiome helps in repairing damaged cells. It is also known to play a role in preventing cancers.
What harms gut bacteria?
The following factors negatively impact the gut bacteria composition:
- Inadequate fiber intake
- Excess intake of fatty and sugary foods
- Inadequate intake of prebiotic foods like lentils, bananas, nuts, onions etc
- Excess alcohol intake (however, limited intake of certain alcohols like gin and red wine can increase good bacteria in your gut)
Signs of poor gut health
Poor gut health has a negative impact on all your body systems. There are many signs that indicate an unhealthy gut microbiome. They include:
- Stomach issues: Bloating, constipation, diarrhea, are all indicators of poor gut health.
- Weight changes: Weight changes without any changes in diet or exercise can indicate issues related to gut microbiome.
- Sleep issues: Poor gut health can contribute to insomnia which can eventually lead to constant fatigue and loss of productivity.
- Food intolerance: Poor gut health can make it difficult to digest certain types of food which results in food intolerances.
- Autoimmune diseases: Unhealthy gut microbiome alters the function of the immune system which can lead to autoimmune diseases.
How can you keep your gut healthy?
Dietary and lifestyle modifications go a long way to improve health of the gut microbiome.
- Eat a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains:
- Eat fermented foods
- Eat prebiotics:
- Eat food rich in polyphenols:
- Avoid sugary foods:
These are rich in fiber and highly nutritious for a healthy microbiome. Fruits and veggie diet is also known to inhibit the growth of harmful gut bacteria.
Fermented are natural sources of probiotics (good bacteria). Include foods such as yogurt (plain, unsweetened preferably), idli/dosa, pickles, dhokla, paneer in your diet to make your microbiome rich with good bacteria.
These are foods that promote growth of good bacteria. foods like bananas, whole grains onions and garlic are all prebiotics. They contain specific carbs that cannot be digested but they serve as food for heathy bacteria and promote their growth.
Polyphenols are chemicals present in plant foods that cannot digested by human cells. These foods are digested by the gut bacteria, and they have tremendous health benefits like reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. Polyphenols are present in foods like dark chocolate, red wine, almonds, green tea etc.
Foods rich in sugars or artificial sweeteners alter the balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestines.
- Get rid of stress: Stress contributes to unhealthy microbiome. Stress relieving techniques like meditation, exercise, ang good sleep- all have a good impact on our gut microbiome.
- Avoid overuse of antibiotics: Antibiotics not only kill harmful bacteria but can damage good bacteria as well. It may take more than 6 weeks for the gut to replenish good bacteria after stopping antibiotic use. So, avoid taking antibiotics unless prescribed.
- Avoid smoking: Studies have shown that smoking increases bad bacteria and decreases good bacteria in the gut.
Dr Vishnu A Raju
M.B.B.S, M.D, D.M
Department of Medical Gastroenterology & Endoscopy
Consultant - Medical Gastroenterology and Therapeutic Endoscopy