Gut health is an increasing trend in the wellbeing market, and for good reason. Not only are an alarming number of serious illnesses linked to poor gut health, the everyday symptoms caused by an unhappy tummy can leave you feeling miserable. The sheer nature of modern living doesn’t make things easy, but there are some simple steps you can take to look after yours.
There are two significant times of year when all healthy intentions are likely to go out the window. December is one of them; an entire month of guilt-free indulgence followed by punishment and denial of anything remotely related to fun. Summer, the second opportunity for ‘rules don’t apply’ follows the same theory, but in reverse order. We eagerly step into spring, slightly panicked that in a matter of weeks our body will be unearthed from winter hibernation. After a crash course in the latest fitness craze, and what seems like a lifetime of no carbs after 5pm, the well-deserved summer adventure arrives. We’ve worked hard, we’re feeling good and we’re ready. Calories don’t count on holiday, and regardless, we’ve earnt them.
Tipping the balance
Ideally, we’d be a little more consistent throughout the year, but we’re human. If you eat well (most of the time), exercise regularly (everyone deserves a break) and your body is in good working order, you should be able to cope with the seasonal changes. But if things have slipped and you’re a little unbalanced, it won’t take much to tip you over the edge. And it’s not just your diet that can cause problems; add a bit of stress and poor sleep into the equation and you’re set for an even bigger challenge. Your body just won’t cope.
The human body really is amazing; it’s very clever at telling us when something is wrong. We just don’t always listen, and we may even choose to ignore it. Exhaustion, irritability, bloating, lack of concentration and frequent breakouts are all symptoms of our busy lives, aren’t they? Absolutely not! Yes, we’re all tired at the end of a busy week, and for many of us, monthly breakouts are hard to manage. But any persistent symptoms, that you may have accepted, could be a cry for help.
Give your tummy what it wants
We all have our own little ecosystem, known as our microbiome. Everyone’s microbiome is unique, a bit like our fingerprint, and it’s constantly changing. It exists throughout our entire body, but primarily in the gut, and consists of good, bad and neutral bacteria. Not surprisingly, the good bacteria have to be in control for everything to run smoothly. If kept in their place, the bad guys are pretty harmless. But given the opportunity to take over, things will start to go wrong. Those in the neutral camp are quite happy sitting on the fence, but if they see a bit of action, from either side, they’re up for the game. Here’s how to keep things under control.
In theory, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s all about stocking up on good bacteria. This is now a familiar term, with the ever-increasing marketing on probiotic yogurts and dedicated sections in supermarket fridge aisles. Good bacteria play a vital role in digesting food, producing vitamins and maintaining a healthy immune system, so you really do want to keep them happy. A diet high in nutritious, wholesome produce, and low in processed foods, is vitally important. You can also give yourself a boost. Prebiotic foods (such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes) are like fertilizer for your existing good bacteria, and probiotics (found in kefir, full-fat natural yoghurt, cider vinegar and sauerkraut) will bring in new supplies.
Before natural healthcare was a ‘thing’, and doctors were inclined to prescribe antibiotics more freely, I could never understand why one symptom would be fixed, only for another to appear. I then learnt why this is. Like most modern medicines, you can’t just take them and expect no side effects. When you get an infection, which is basically when the bad bacteria take over, the antibiotics will kill it off. But in doing so, the good bacteria take a hit, as antibiotics cannot distinguish between the two. Your infection will have cleared, but your good bacteria will be at an all-time low.
Let’s not underestimate the need for antibiotics; they have saved countless lives, including my own (fairly recently and very dramatically). After an emergency hospital visit and the highest drip-fed dose of the strongest variety available, I thankfully came home in one piece. But my tummy had experienced the equivalent of a small explosion, left with very little sign of life. Having previously learnt and written about gut health, and with the help of a trusted natural therapist, I knew how to get things back on track. Recovery was like a real-life experiment on myself.
If you need a real boost, I would recommend a course of Symprove https://www.symprove.com/. There are also plenty of good quality probiotic supplements on the market that are worth looking into, during and after any standard course of antibiotics. Once you start investigating, you’ll see there are many different sorts with varying roles. Your body may need a particular type at any one time, so if you’re concerned or intrigued, it’s worth talking to a natural therapist for advice.
The Clever Guts Diet by Michael Mosley https://cleverguts.com/ is a great read, and explains this whole way of life in an incredibly engaging way. This isn’t a diet fad or a quick fix. It’s about taking a mindful approach to your lifestyle, so your body is better equipped to cope with the pressures of daily life, and the times when you really feel like letting go.