'Optimising Gut Health – the Microbiome'
Donald Gordon BSc (Hons) NS AHCP (Reg) MFHP
Healthy gut healthy immune system. Beyond that, research supports an even deeper story related to mental wellbeing and the relationship between our gut health, the microbiome and how we feel.
Most people understand that we rely on our immune system to protect us from infections and keep us healthy. Undoubtedly maintaining a healthy gut is the foundation of good nutrition – hey that's where most of the magic happens as food is broken down and nutrients are absorbed. On the other hand, an unhealthy gut, is increasingly being linked to numerous chronic conditions far beyond regular tummy upsets, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.
The gut brain axis or connection is well documented in research literature and is intimately linked to the immune system. It is also linked to the endocrine system and the central nervous system (CNS) Consequently there is no surprise to know it can impact mood and depression. My guess is we should be paying more attention to our gut health by taking tiny incremental steps towards positively impacting our mental wellbeing.
Researchers as well as the media seem to be focussing more bandwidth on the gut microbiome and immunity and Professor John Cryan of University College Cork is not alone when he says
“We now know that good brain health depends on good gut health. The gut microbiome affects every aspect of brain functioning and human behaviour.”
So changing what you eat can actually help make you feel better, and there’s increasing evidence demonstrating its effectiveness.
Interestingly, according to a study carried out by the UK’s Food and Mood project, led by mental health charity Mind, nearly 90% of people found that changing their diet significantly improved their mental health. Here are some great super simple tips from MIND
Food and Mood
A healthy gut can also help with better weight loss and weight management. No matter what diet or training regime you follow, you will not get results if your gut is not working optimally, according to Dublin-based functional medicine expert Dr Fionnula McHale:
“The organisms that reside in our gastrointestinal tract have been shown to play a role in our ability to drop body fat” Your gut is full of microbes – bacteria, viruses and fungi and you’ve got way more in your body than you might have imagined. An average adult has about 1-2kg of microbes; like our brain. Only a few microbes cause disease; most are beneficial and live in peaceful coexistence in and on our bodies. We need them and they need us. And if our microbes aren’t healthy, neither are we.
Researchers at McMaster University also uncovered evidence to prove that gut bacteria influence brain chemistry and behaviour. Behaviour changes were noted in mice given antibiotics that disrupted the normal bacterial content of their gut and also produced an increase in a brain chemical that has been linked to depression and anxiety. As soon as the antibiotics were discontinued and the gut bacteria went back to normal, so did the brain chemistry!
Appearing in the journal Gastroenterology, the research indicates that while many factors determine behaviour, the nature and stability of bacteria in the gut appear to influence it and any disruption from antibiotics or infection, might produce changes in behaviour.
Avoid These 7 Gut Disruptors
- Antibiotics and other medications – including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), beta-blockers, and antidepressants – these can cause an suppression of healthy gut bugs.
- Pesticides, especially glyphosate, can kill beneficial gut bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to dominate the microbiome. Try organic where possible.
- High Processed foods (HPF’s) full of sugar and unhealthy fats encourage pathogen overgrowth and starve out probiotic bacteria, which naturally thrive on prebiotic fibre.
- Stress and anxiety negatively affect your gut microbiome through a two-way path known as the gut-brain axis; emotional stress causes an imbalance called dysbiosis and dysbiosis increases emotional stress. Try this great meditation app called insights here
- Environmental toxins, including household cleaners and heavy metals, negatively change the makeup and function of the gut microbiome, leading to increased risk of disease.
- Sedentary lifestyle leads to increased populations of pathogenic gut bacteria and lower diversity in the gut microbiome, contributing to increased risk of chronic diseases and infections.
- Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can also cause dysbiosis, leading to a weakened immune system.
The key to a healthy gut is to have as diverse a range of gut microbes as possible. According to Cryan:
“We know that the more diverse your microbiome, the less likely you are to be frail or have cognitive impairment. And a diverse diet is what drives a diverse microbiome”
Rebalancing an unhealthy gut may start with eliminating trigger foods, such as wheat, gluten and dairy. Many clients I have worked with report alleviated tummy and skin troubles with this simple fix. This avoidance can also ‘rest’ the gut as can intermittent fasting which can reduce inflammation and promote rejuvenation and repair.
The beauty of this outcome is its free and you get to improve your gut health and vitality. Keep in mind you don’t have to radically alter your diet just look for plant based, non-dairy alternatives on the weekly shop an add an extra two portions of greens to your meals.
To prove how damaging highly processed foods can be to our guts, Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London designed a fascinating experiment. His son Tom ate a diet of McDonald’s for ten days (Tom was a college kid who was looking an idea for his final year thesis!). The results were startling – comparing his gut flora before and after revealed that he had lost 40% of his gut bacteria!
According to Prof Spector, the key is to eat everything and exclude nothing: “Treat your gut like a garden, that you nourish, fertilise and sprinkle with seeds.”
5 Steps to Fix a Gut Imbalance
- Detoxify your gut: For probiotic bacteria to survive, you need to remove the toxins that threaten them. Using natural detox and cell-supporting agents — like clinically-proven modified citrus pectin — can help your body get rid of toxins and other culprits that cause dysbiosis, while actively supporting gut health and protecting cell function. Apple cider vinegar with the ‘mother’ unpasteurised added to water each day would substitute.
- Take probiotics: High-quality probiotics help restore an unhealthy gut back into balance. Giving your body a fresh supply of probiotics, every day is a crucial part of keeping your gut — and your immune system — in harmony.
- Nourish probiotics with prebiotics: Beneficial gut bacteria require a special diet made up of prebiotic fibre such as, almonds, leeks, garlic, onions, chicory. Prebiotics sustain probiotics, and allow them to produce healing compounds like coconut and avocado. These short chain fatty acids are important brain food.
- Focus on a balanced healthy diet: Sugary, fatty processed foods harm your gut microbiome. Fresh, natural whole foods provide the nutrients and fibre your gut needs to stay in healthy balance. Something I’ve been encouraging in my weekly wellness workshops has been to try a different recipe every week with some new ingredients
- Exercise regularly: You are probably on this already, but not many of us realise that even moderate physical activity increases probiotic populations and enriches probiotic diversity. So exercising on most days improves your microbiome health — so that is a big tick for your overall health as well. It doesn’t have to be more than 20 minutes activity per day so forget those time intensive gym sessions.
Finally, an exciting well researched new product is ION*Gut which is an all-natural, soil-derived food supplement rich in a variety of humate substances, trace minerals, and amino acids discovered by Dr Zach Bush.
Terrahydrite, the unique ingredient in ION*Gut, is not a probiotic or a prebiotic; it contains carbon molecules sourced from ancient, fossilised soil.
ION*Gut increases the body’s production of beneficial enzymes through redox signalling (cellular communication).
These beneficial enzymes support the tight junctions (the seals between cells) in our intestinal epithelium – the barrier protecting us from toxic substances like glyphosate and gluten, while allowing the entry of beneficial nutrients.
It’s a critical barrier to keep strong so that a vibrant microbiome can flourish.
You can read more about the evidence based research and try the product in the UK here
If there are any topics you would like to see covered, or are of special interest to you then please do connect with us in so we can cover them email@example.com