The root of ALL ill health….?
In the UK, many (unfortunately not all) of us are lucky enough to have access to good healthcare services, a plentiful supply of food and drink, shelter, exercise, company and a range of other factors that may positively influence our overall health & vitality.
However, there is one extremely important part of the body that is often overlooked, until it starts misbehaving in an extreme way to gain our attention. The effective functioning of this part of the body is absolutely crucial in avoiding ill health and maintaining life-long good health.
What am I referring to? The health of your gut!
The gut is the ‘tube’ from the mouth to anus and everything in between. We can be thought of as a human polo-mint (without the minty smell!) – in that our gut can effectively be considered as the ‘outside world’, with lots of protective mechanisms along the way to keep foreign invaders out of our system. We regularly eat foods that contain microbes which may have the potential to harm us. The digestive tract is our first line of defence and is an important part of our immune system. It is also where we absorb nutrients from our food to fuel our body.
Around 2500 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, reputedly said ‘All disease begins in the gut’ and the somewhat more sinister ‘death begins in the colon’. However, somewhere along the line, the importance of gut health diminished in the general populace. Even when there is clearly something seriously wrong, people may often be reluctant to seek medical help, possibly due to fear or embarrassment. Colorectal cancers are the 2nd most common cause of cancer death in the UK, which may be partly due to late diagnosis although sometimes unfortunately there are no obvious symptoms.
Vast numbers of people are diagnosed with IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – which may have a variety of underlying physical and psychological causes, not to mention for some people making life very challenging with embarrassing symptoms.
As a registered nutritional therapist, I work with many people in my clinic who have active gut symptoms that they wish to address. But there are also many people who have seemingly unrelated issues (for example skin problems, low energy, brain fog, depression and anxiety, autoimmune conditions) where working with the gut can achieve excellent results. This is because all the systems of the body are linked and working with functional medicine means I am seeking to establish the root cause and understand what is going on for that specific person. I then work closely with the individual to support their body and address imbalances with nutrition and lifestyle interventions.
So, for example, there are really strong links with good gut health and positive mental health as around 90% of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter is made in the gut. So, if you want to feel happier – look after your gut health!
Some simple tips to start to improve your gut health today!
1) Eat mindfully – Really focus on readying your body for food – as you are preparing (or waiting if you are lucky!) for your food/eating your meal, think about using all your senses – the smell, taste and even the idea of the meal will assist the digestive processes. Similarly all the things that are necessary for good digestion (e.g. stomach acid, digestive enzymes) work so much better when the body is relaxed. Many of us are guilty of eating at our desks while working. Apart from the potential of blobbing mayonnaise all over the keyboard (which is stressful in itself and impossible to clean!) if you happen to be reading some worrying figures on a spreadsheet or an unhappy e-mail from your manager, the body will activate the stress response (which again is not going to help with the digestive process). Same goes for balancing food on your lap while watching a gripping thriller on TV/arguing with your partner.
2) Chew! – We are always in a rush and often gulp down food on the run (see above) and barely taste it. Chewing our food well is essential as is the next crucial step in the digestive process. The idea is to mix our food well with saliva which contains digestive enzymes. Ghandi reputedly said ‘Chew your drink and drink your food’. Importantly, the stomach has no teeth! You may have heard ‘you are what you eat’ but it is more accurate to say ‘you are what you absorb’ and chewing is an important step to facilitate this.
3) Diversify your diet - In terms of the gut specifically, microbiome (bacteria) will thrive on a variety of foods which will help greatly with the diversity of the bacteria. We are dependent on these bacteria to help digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system, and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease-causing bacteria. Our bacteria cells outnumber human cells by about 10:1 so the question to think about is who is actually hosting who?
While our hunter/gather ancestors ate a wide variety of plant species (around 75) the average person now eats 11 plant species a week. If we vary our diet as much as possible rather than eating that same old coronation chicken sandwich every day (mentioning no names!) our gut will thank us. You don’t have to vary foods vastly every day of the week as this can be expensive but just try and buy different foods in each weekly shop.
4) Move more - Moving the body assists with transit time – the speed of moving waste through the digestive tract. We want to remove waste fairly quickly from the body to prevent us from reabsorbing toxins in the stool.
Next month (May) is IBS month and I’ll be providing more information about how to improve your gut health in individual discovery sessions. Please follow my facebook page for more information.
Michelle Paterson is a registered nutritional therapist and owner of Transition Nutrition, practicing across Suffolk and Essex. Her aim is to support people to feel as well as they can feel and maximise their mood so that they can make the most of their life. Michelle uses diet, supplements and lifestyle interventions to support the systems of the body to optimise health.