Nutrition Part 3: Gut Health
Improve your gut health to improve just about everything else
Welcome to this series on nutrition in collaboration with Strong Friend Gus Martin, our resident expert and Gut Health Guru.
There's a lot to unpack on this topic, and we would love to talk about the subjects that interest you most. As usual, pop your suggestions in the comments below or head over here to drop in the details more privately.
Today is the third in the series, and it's all about Gut Health. It's a "trendy" topic right now, and it's fantastic that there is more awareness of gut health and its impact on everyday life.
However, as with anything to do with nutrition though, it's hard to wade through the crap (pun intended) and work out what is fact-based and what applies to you specifically.
You can check out the rest of the series and other articles on nutrition here.
Please enjoy part three!
A healthy gut is the key to everything.
What is the "Gut"
When I'm talking about the "gut", I'm referring to all of the digestive tract (from start to finish), and I also include key organs such as the pancreas, gallbladder and, most importantly, the liver.
How to make your gut healthy
Let's focus on 4 key areas to attaining/maintaining good gut health.
1. Adequate amounts of Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) with the correct pH
2. Sufficient digestive enzyme function
3. The gut barrier
4. The microbiome (the gut flora)
1. Hydrochloric Acid (HCL)
Adequate levels of HCL in the stomach at the right pH are essential for the breakdown of all food, but it is particularly important for protein.
HCL stimulates the release of pepsin, which is the chief digestive enzyme in the stomach.
Without HCL, pepsin, other gastric juices and food pass into the Small Intestine (SI) in large molecules which cause a cascade of issues further on down the digestive tract.
Low HCL is very often a result of the consumption of processed food, micronutrient deficiency, high stress levels and the use of Protein Pump Inhibitor (PPI) medication, like antacid medications.
How to improve your HCL
To help boost HCL, you can do the following:
- Recognise and manage your stress
- Test your HCL levels - the tests are cheap and all you do is increase the dosage per meal until you feel a burn in stomach. Here is an example:
- Eat bitter foods as they help promote enzyme and bile production
- Consider taking an HCL supplement (see a qualified nutrition practitioner before doing this)
- If you are taking PPI’s, speak to your doctor about managing your HCL levels
Enzymes secreted by the SI, the pancreas and the liver have the job of breaking down food (now known as chyme) when it enters the SI.
These are often pH sensitive and will either not be as effective not be secreted at all if food enters the SI at the wrong pH or if the chyme has not been broken down properly in the stomach.
The result of this is undigested food particles in the digestive tract.
This presents two main issues:
- Undigested food particles passing into the bloodstream which will result in an inflammatory response by the immune system
- Bacteria further down the digestive tract feeds on this undigested food leading to digestive issues such as Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), which is characterised by bloating and gas; as well as dysbiosis in the Large Intestine (Colon), characterised by constipation and diarrhoea as well as many more non-GI issues
How to keep your enzymes topped up
To help boost enzyme production you can:
Boost your HCL production
Eat lots of veggies (these include key nutrients that help the enzymes work)
Take a digestive enzyme supplement (see a qualified nutrition practitioner before doing this)
3. The Gut Barrier
The gut barrier is essential to the digestive process but is also for stopping harmful substances/pathogens from reaching the bloodstream.
The barrier is covered by millions of tiny projections called villi and microvilli (made up of enterocytes-intestinal cells) which creates a surface area the size of a tennis court. This large surface area is key to the gut's ability to digest and absorb large amounts of food in such a small tract.
The cells are tightly packed together and, in a healthy gut, only the smallest of molecules can pass through them and the tight junctions between these cells.
However, when the gut barrier is subject to stress and inflammation, these junctions can open up and larger molecules can pass through. This then leads to an immune response in the bloodstream and can eventually lead to more serious conditions such as food sensitivities or autoimmune conditions.
How to help your gut barrier stay strong
- Eat a diet rich in real foods (plenty of veggies, quality animal and non-animal protein sources (pea, hemp, beans/legumes) and some quality fats (olive oil, avocados, coconut oil)
- Remove the triggers of inflammation: be aware of food sensitivities and stay away from refined sugar, processed foods, gluten and pasteurised dairy
4. The Microbiome
The microbiome is a collection of 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial (mostly bacterial) cells living within us, the human host.
The predominant amount of these cells are located in colon. They form a symbiotic relationship (in a healthy gut) with their human host and interact with multiple systems, which include the immune system, the endocrine system (hormones) the metabolism.
The immune system is the area where the microbiome seems to have the greatest interaction, which would seem to make sense giving that the majority of the immune cells are also located in the gut. There is a great deal of “cross-talk” between both parties on almost every action of the immune response. This is why having a diverse microbiome is so important for immune and overall health.
How to support your microbiome
The key to obtaining/maintaining healthy microbiome is feeding it the appropriate food.
Bacteria feed on fermentable fibre (probiotics), and the best source of this is a wide variety of dark green and colourful veggies on a daily basis. Along with this, remove known food sensitivities, processed food and refined sugar from your diet to help boost the microbiome’s diversity and health.
As you can see, there are lots of suggestions here that are already part of what we understand to be a "healthy" diet. This is good news and also no surprise. If you put good stuff in, your whole body will thank you.
It's also very clear that listening to your body is key. If you feel gross after eating - bloating, wind, diarrhea, constipation and so on - chances are that something doesn't agree with you. Eliminating foods that cause inflammation not only helps you feel better in the short term but it has long term positive effects as well.
As always, seek advice from professionals.
It's time to prioritise your gut health!