Thanks for joining us to talk about gut health.
Firstly, tell us a little about yourself
I’m a nutritionist, naturopath and medical herbalist and I’m super passionate about helping people improve their overall health and wellbeing. I work with clients one-on-one using nutrition and herbal medicine to help with a number of health concerns, but specialise in the areas of women’s hormone health, fertility, acne and gut health issues such as IBS.
So why should we care about having a healthy gut?
When it comes to the gut, it affects our entire body – not just our digestion. Our gut is home to approximately 70% of our immune system, it has more nerve cells than the entire spinal cord, and produces around 90% of the body’s happy hormone, serotonin, plus other neurotransmitters involved in sleep, appetite and a good mood. When the health of the gut is impacted, it can result in poor digestion, nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances, and has also been linked with autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Coeliac’s disease and Hashimotos, as well as mood related issues such as anxiety and depression.
Gut bacteria, what’s their role?
Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria and yeasts which make up our “microbiome”. They play many significant roles within the body affecting our digestion and absorption of nutrients, our immune system, sleep, mood, heart health, weight and more.
What are probiotics and should I be taking them?
Probiotics are living bacteria and yeasts which can be found naturally occurring in foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and yoghurt, but can also be taken in supplement form. They help to support a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, and some specific strains can also provide certain health benefits like supporting the immune system, skin health and mood. Taking a probiotic each day is a great way to support your overall gut health and digestion and should certainly be considered if you have recently been on a course of antibiotics, experience digestive issues, or if you take daily medication or the oral contraceptive pill.
Poor digestive health and gut issues have become increasingly common, can you let us know what factors you think are contributing to this?
These days, most of us are living fast-paced and high-stress lifestyles. Stress along with other factors like too little sleep, eating convenient, processed and high sugar foods, too little fibre and use of medications such as antibiotics, painkillers and the oral contraceptive pill are all causes of gut dysbiosis, poor digestion and other gut related issues.
Do alcohol and caffeine affect our gut health, digestion and nutrient absorption?
Absolutely! Alcohol stimulates more acid production in our stomach which can affect the protective mucosal layer in our gut and irritate the delicate gut lining causing inflammation and a burning sensation. Many of us regrettably may have felt this after a big night out, but even a small amount of alcohol can have this effect. Similarly, high caffeine beverages like coffee can also irritate the gut lining as well as affect our bowel motions and ultimately, if the gut lining is irritated and inflamed, we will have trouble absorbing nutrients.
What would your top 3 dietary recommendations be when it comes to having a healthier gut?
- Don’t forget the PRE-biotics – Eating probiotic rich foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut and miso are a great way to get in some beneficial bacteria through your diet, but we also need to eat prebiotic foods to help them thrive. Prebiotic foods include apples, bananas, onion, leek, asparagus and garlic.
- Focus on wholefoods and avoid the processed stuff – Processed “junk” foods full of additives and preservatives can wreak havoc on the gut. Eating a fibre rich diet of wholefoods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes is the best way to promote a healthy gut and microbiome.
- Ditch the sugar – A diet high in refined sugars can disrupt the balance of bacteria in our gut, lead to inflammation as well as more sugar cravings – it can be a vicious cycle to get out of! Avoid added sugars where possible, and enjoy treats in moderation.
What would your top 3 lifestyle recommendations be when it comes to having a healthier gut?
- Stress less – Stress has a HUGE impact on our gut and can disrupt the balance of our gut microflora. These imbalances can lead to issues with overall digestion but can also impact on our immune system and mood. If stress is a factor in your life, focus on activities like mindfulness, yoga and other forms of gentle exercise to calm the nervous system.
- Get enough sleep – Research has shown that our gut bacteria have an influence on our body clock and sleeping patterns, however the relationship goes both ways. Sleep deprivation can alter our gut microbiome and on top of this, if you’re running low on sleep you can be more likely to reach for that extra cup of coffee and make poorer food choices that can further irritate the gut.
- Eat slowly and mindfully – Busy lives often means eating fast and on the run, however this can lead to digestive upset. Making sure that you’re sitting down, paying attention to the food you’re eating, chewing your food well and eating slowly can all help to promote better digestion and good gut health.
Emily is a degree qualified nutritionist, naturopath and medical herbalist. Passionate about nutrition and natural medicine, Emily specialises in women’s hormone health, fertility, acne and gut health related issues such as IBS.