Clarissa Lenherr joins us for a special guest blog post with the deepest dive into the importance of gut health...
Why is Gut Health important
The gut is at the epicentre of our health! And it isn’t just responsible for breaking down our food and absorbing nutrients, it holds 70% of our immune system and creates 95% of our serotonin, our happy, feel-good hormone!
The gut begins with the mouth and includes the stomach, intestines, rectum and anus.
Within the gut we have a collection of microorganisms referred to as the microbiota, that contribute to many bodily functions including:
- Immune system health
- Cognitive Function
- Hormone Balancing
- Weight Management
- Inflammation levels
- And more
What Impacts Our Gut Health?
Our digestive system is pretty resilient, however there are a number of factors that can detrimentally impact the state of our gut health:
- Over use of certain medications such as antibiotics
- Poor dietary intake
- Eating mindlessly
- Alcohol, Smoking and Drug use
- Consumption of artificial sweeteners
- Hormonal changes -menstruation, hormonal imbalance, thyroid concerns
The link between the brain and the gut
There is an incredibly powerful link between the gut and the brain, and just like our brain, the gut is also full of nerves - there are actually more nerve endings in the gut than in the entire spinal cord!
The gut and the brain are connected by one of our longest cranial nerves, the vagus nerve. This nerve acts like a communication pathway between the two, allowing them to send messages to each other all day long.
And you may have felt these messages before - butterflies in your stomach when you are excited? Or change in appetite when you are stressed? These are tangible sensations that can be felt when the brain sends signals to the gut.
But the gut also sends signals to the brain, impacting everything from concentration, focus, brain fog, anxiety levels and mood. Which is why we can’t think about looking after our mood and cognitive function, without taking our gut health into account.
HOW TO EAT YOUR WAY TO GOOD GUT HEALTH
Ditch the high sugar diet
a diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the number and diversity of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Opt for wholefood options if you have a sweet craving like dates, dark chocolate or fruits. Alcohol falls into this category too, I’m afraid my friends. You don’t need to eliminate alcohol, but be mindful that it can trigger inflammation in the gut. Keep to a few drinks per week and try out kombucha as a gut-loving alcohol alternative!
Eating plenty of fibre
Fibre passes through the digestive system, pushing food along and helping to bulk up our stool and keep bowel movements regular.
The bacteria that reside in the gut actually ferment certain types of fibres called prebiotics, and from this fermentation, produce short-chain fatty acids which play a role in reducing inflammation, weight, mood and even immune system function.
A fibre-rich diet can encourage the growth of beneficial bacterial strains such as Bifidobacteria and help to improve gut diversity.
Garlic, onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes and even dark chocolate! All of these foods are prebiotic sources of fibre that can help to feed our gut bacteria, helping them to flourish and thrive.
Fermented foods are those that through a fermentation process have actually developed live cultures within them. It is thought that these live cultures can actually colonise in the digestive system and help to bring up the bacterial balance in the gut. Try out Fix8 Kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and live yogurt.
Don’t underestimate a good night's sleep - when we sleep, our gut has the opportunity to clear out toxins, repair and relax. If we lack good quality sleep, this can interfere with this necessary process. In addition, a lack of sleep can impact our food choices the next day, increasing our cravings for energy rich foods such as sugar and processed foods, which are not your guts friends!
Digestion begins in the mouth. When we chew, we produce our salivary enzymes which help to break down our food. If we miss this important step, we can be left with whole food particles entering the stomach, where they are not supposed to be. Make sure to chew each mouthful fully and a good tip to remember is: put your fork down between each bite until you have swallowed. This can help you slow down.
De-stress your gut
Whilst most of us think of stress as a mental pressure, stress can come from injury, environmental changes, illness, lack of sleep, high intensity exercise and poor diet.
When we are in a state of stress, we divert resources away from the gut and to the brain, muscles and heart. If this happens chronically, we can be left with changes to our digestive system.
To work on your stress levels, try a few of these tips:
- HIIT classes are fun but they put the body into fight or flight mode. If you have existing high stress levels, this may be pushing you even further on the stress scale. Consider swapping out some of your intense exercise for slower movement such as yoga, Pilates or stretching.
- Sleep hygiene plays a key role in this too, supporting your mental health and your gut. Ensuring your sleep pattern is consistent and removing electronic devices before bedtime and avoiding large heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol pre sleeping too.
- Keep caffeine below 400 mg per day - caffeine can trigger the release of our stress hormones, exacerbating existing or triggering changes in our stress levels. Keep below the reference amount which si about 5 espresso short or 3 cups of filter coffee per day.
- Try deep breathing - when we deep breathe, we expand the diaphragm which can massage the vagus nerve, as discussed above. When we calm the vagus nerve, this can slow messages to and from the brain, resulting in a calmer stress response and digestive process.
If you feel like you're struggling with your gut health, writing a food and symptom diary is a good place to start. Picking out triggers, and noting down your onset of symptoms, duration and intensity level will help distinguish if certain foods or emotions are triggering your symptoms.
Clarissa Lenherr is a nutritional therapist, who takes the science of nutrition and converts it into easy-to-implement strategies for her clients to achieve their ultimate wellbeing.
Working closely with families, individuals and corporations, Clarissa specialises in digestive health, auto-immune conditions, weight management and health optimisation. Practicing personalised and preventative nutrition, she is a huge advocate that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
If you are keen to learn more about Clarissa’s amazing work, you can download Clarissa's free “Gut Happy” Ebook from her website to discover more ways to support a happy, healthy gut or book a free discovery call with her here wwww.clarissalenherr.com/contact to work with her privately.
Available at: www.clarissalenherr.com