An unhealthy digestive system can cause numerous health problems.
If our digestive systems are unhealthy, we have a higher risk for inflammation throughout the body. The gut is a long tube that is supposed to keep the food we eat inside it. When food particles start leaking through the gut walls, we get sick.
The digestive system should be full of a diverse range of microorganisms, including friendly bacteria and yeasts. These send messages to our brains which means that if the good flora is not abundant enough, the brain gets unhealthy messages.
Our immune systems also rely on good bacterial diversity. If there is not enough good bacteria in the gut, we can be more prone to frequent infections.
Not everyone with an unhealthy gut environment will experience digestive problems, but they may have other issues such as allergies, sinus or nasal congestion, joint pain, fatigue, brain fog or concentration issues. Others have noticeable problems such as bloating, constipation, flatulence, or diarrhea. Either way, it is vital to make sure that we take care of the ecosystem within our digestive systems.
About 4.6 million South Africans, and many others globally, suffer with some form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which means that this is not a small problem.
It is important to have a diverse amount of good bacteria in the gut. This means that there must be multiple strains. Ideally, there should around 300 to 500 species of bacteria. These bacteria play a role in the digestion of our food and in maintaining a healthy immune system. Healthy bacteria also produce their own antibiotics to fight off infections.
Here are 5 ways to ensure better gut health
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics and antacids
Antibiotics are sometimes necessary, but they are often overprescribed. Antibiotics kill off the good and bad bacteria which means that they can drastically reduce vast populations of good bacteria in your gut. If you do need to use antibiotics, make sure to increase your consumption of probiotic-rich foods and perhaps use a probiotic supplement to help your body regenerate some of the good bacteria.
Many people have low stomach acid. They take antacids thinking they need to reduce acidity, but this just makes it worse. Using a digestive enzyme or a supplement containing betaine HCL can be very helpful.
Remove foods that you are intolerant to
Many people have food intolerances that they are not aware of. Two common food groups include dairy products and gluten grains. If you struggle with digestive symptoms, I strongly suggest removing these from your diet. Gluten can make the stool sticky which can lead to constipation and dairy can cause diarrhea in many people.
Heartburn and reflux can also be worsened by the consumption of dairy, gluten, and fatty pastries.
Eat a varied diet
For diversity in the microbiome, we need to feed the bugs a variety of foods. Eating colorful fruits and veggies, a variety of protein, nuts & seeds, and legumes will be helpful in providing the fiber and nutrients to feed the good bacteria.
Fiber is also necessary for a healthy digestive system as it acts as a bulking agent so that we can have healthy bowel movements. Our bodies are unable to digest fiber without the help of good bacteria. A varied diet will provide adequate amounts of fiber to keep our guts functioning well.
Reduce intake of sugars and unhealthy carbohydrates
If our diets only consist of yellow, white, and brown foods, we are really only feeding the bad bacteria which creates an imbalance. Unhealthy fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates are everywhere, but they provide little to no nutritional value. When we eat these in moderation our bodies can cope, but when they form the bulk of our diet it will eventually lead to ill health.
Consume prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods
Foods that are rich in prebiotics include garlic, onions, berries, legumes, oats, nuts & seeds, and vegetables. Prebiotics reduce insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Probiotic foods are those that are rich in live bacteria and include yogurt and fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. Some people might find that they don’t tolerate these foods well. This can happen when you introduce too much too quickly, and you have a “die-off” reaction.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 31 March 2022 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am