The last two years have has brought a lot of prominence to one’s gut health. A healthy gut keeps the body healthy. We have more than 100,000 billion microbes in our intestine. Gut microbiota, which are microorganisms including bacteria, archaea and fungi that live in the digestive tracts of humans, animals and insects, helps in maintaining our immunity. Additionally, it helps in digestion and the absorption of nutrients, vitamin production and decreases inflammation.
Some foods that can improve gut health are yogurt, buttermilk, almonds, berries, citrus fruits and bananas. Curd, cheese, rice overnight fermented, pickle (in brine), raw unpasteurised apple cider vinegar with mother (the somewhat murky collection of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria in the vinegar), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi, tempeh, etc. are all sources of good bacteria — lactobacillus.
Additionally, garlic, onion, barley, oats, banana, flaxseed, whole grains with bran, etc. are ideal choices for fibres to feed the gut bacteria.
Foods such as cooled plantains (green banana), rice and potatoes convert to resistant starch, which also feeds the good bacteria. Green tea, turmeric, omega 3 rich oily fish like sardines, mackerel to chia seeds have powerful properties to maintain the integrity of the gut lining. Cocoa and dark chocolate are some welcome options to increase bifidobacteria.
According to Geetha G H, a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist (International Olympic Committee) and certified diabetes educator, eating right and keeping fit is the first line of defence that not only elevates wellness but also prevents illness. “Do remember to space your fibre-rich foods adequately in all meals as they contribute to flatus. Consume plenty of water alongside to prevent constipation. Similarly, consuming fermented foods can cause some gas or bloating. Start with small portions, preferably in the daytime to ease digestion when one is more active,” she explains.
Ayurveda recommends herbs like long pepper, black pepper and dry ginger powder to be used as a seasoning for all foods. Those with sluggish bodies and people who put on weight easily can benefit from strong herbs like cloves and peppers. Additionally, melatonin is proven to affect intestinal motility and aid secretion of intestinal enzymes.
Jatin Gujrati, business head of the Hyderabad-based Ayurveda brand Vedix, also notes that sipping warm water throughout the day keeps the intestines moving, increases blood flow and aids absorption. “Chilled drinks, including water, constrict the blood vessels and impair digestion and absorption, especially when they accompany meals,” cautions Jatin. “As a habit, one should sip just hot drinks with food.”
Additionally, Jatin points out how we also need to mind our body clock when it comes to gut health. “Our bodies have very sensitive internal clocks. When you eat at the same time every day, it aids gut health,” he explains. “Food should not be consumed after 11.00 pm as that is when your metabolic ‘fire’ kindles. Eating at this time precipitates metabolic diseases.”
Dr Karthiyayini Mahadevan, head of wellness and well-being at Columbia Pacific Communities, also talks about how important it is to eat good portions of fibre and more insoluble fibre from plant sources. “This will nourish the gut flora,” she says. “Our gut microbes outnumber the trillions of cells within our bodies and maintain our gut health.”
Speaking of how the colonisation of the gut flora occurs even before we are born, Dr Karthiyayini tells us that this gut flora mark specific signatures on our immune system. “This is because the lining of our gut has a lot of cells that play an important role in defending our gut from several types of bad bacteria. A good balance of gut microbe supports the immune system. Gut health contributes a lot to our immune system and good gut health implies good life,” elaborates the doctor.
A healthy gut can control appetite and weight, moderate metabolism, enhance absorption of vital nutrients and help manage anxiety depression and irritable bowel syndrome and prevent several neurological disorders.
Dr Adarsh CK, Chief Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, states that gut microbiome changes are also linked to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and some neuropsychiatric disorders.
In fact, according to Dr Shamna, general surgeon and consultant general and laparoscopic surgeon, Specialist Hospital, Bengaluru, a healthy human being has is a symbiotic relationship between the gut microbes and the human host. “Role of the gut microbes (‘microbiota’) includes developing and maintaining immunity, helping in digestion, providing vitamins like B2, B12 and folic acid (B9) and keeping disease causing bacteria in check,” Dr Shamna adds.
The gut bacteria influence several neurotransmitters and can underpin our response to stress, which is an integral part of living. In fact, several experts now say that the gut is the second brain and there is a clear gut-brain axis. Also, 95% of the feel-good hormone serotonin comes from the gut.
At present, we live in a world of infections and environmental pollution, which has compromised our body immune system function.
Dr Vishnu Satheesh, Atmantan Wellness Centre, points out that even our happy hormones is produced in our gut and transported to the brain. “Latest researches have proven there is strong relation between depression and gut as well. So, keep your bugs in your gut healthy to keep a strong mental health,” he explains.
When you don’t pay attention to your gut, several problems arise, most of which have the potential of becoming serious and chronic problems.
According to Simrun Chopra, Deep Health Coach and founder Nourish with Sim, gut health has also been linked to anxiety and depression in recent times. “A poor diet adds to poor lifestyle habits such as stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, stomach pain, nausea and heartburn, mood disorders, anxiety or depression,” she opines.
Tips for a good gut
· Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
· Add curds, buttermilk and yogurt to your diet.
· Avoid fried foods, red meat, alcohol and fatty meals.
· Avoid sugary drinks, artificial sweeteners.
· Drink plenty of water.
· Regular physical activity and exercise with sufficient sleep.