Good for your Gut
08 Jun 2016 5 Minute Read Article by MiNDFOOD
The gut is where the food that we eat gets broken down in to the base nutrients, which are then moved to our cells that help sustain our body – so it’s the primary system where the food becomes us. In fact, up to 70 per cent of our immune system is centred in and around the intestines and our gut.
“It’s essentially the home of our immune system,” says nutritionist Ben Warren. “The easiest way to get a pathogen into your body, is to eat it. And so our immune system is constantly looking at the foods we’re eating and trying to decipher whether it’s food, or whether it’s a virus or bacteria that’s going to harm us. So much of our immune system is centred around our gut as well, and obviously we know that the immune system is incredibly important to health, but it’s also heavily related to many immune dysfunctions generally related to modern disease.”
We have up to 100 trillion beneficial bacteria in our gut, which are integrated into our immune system and live in our digestive tract. When we have an imbalance in the flora within our gut due to unfriendly strains of bacteria, which may be caused by processed sugars and antibiotics, it may cause inflammation and may lead to inflammatory conditions.
THE ISSUE OF INFLAMMATION
Neurologist David Perlmutter talks about inflammation on a regular basis, and explains how our gut bacteria not only affects our gut health, but its influence extends into the brain – and the entire body.
“We have two ways of absorbing nutrients from the gut into the systemic circulation. Through the cell, which is called transcellular, and between the cells lining the gut, which are called paracellular,” Perlmutter says. “The cells lining the gut are kept tightly together by what’s called the tight junction. But we now understand that a variety of factors, like stress, infection, drugs, toxins, gliadin and even AGEs, which are proteins bound by sugar, may lead to destruction of tight junctions. And that leads to separation of these cells, which makes the gut leaky. When the gut is leaky various proteins have the ability to gain entrance into the systemic circulation and when they do so, they stimulate various immune system cells and that leads to inflammation.”
HEALING THE GUT
By nurturing gut health, you may open the door to support brain health, says Perlmutter. But it’s not just the brain’s health that’s affected.
Lee Holmes’ book Heal Your Gut includes a treatment programme supported by 90 delicious, anti-inflammatory recipes to heal and nourish the gut. These include warming drinks, teas, juices and tisanes; broths and stock; soups and desserts; and fermented foods for when your gut is strong.
“Turmeric to me is a wonderful healing spice and my anti-inflammatory hot toddy with chai spices and turmeric works at a deep level to provide anti-inflammatory benefits and help digestion by combining it with ginger and cinnamon,” says Holmes. “The broths work on a mineral-rich approach to fuel the body with the right minerals such as magnesium and calcium and gelatine to help with muscle pain and restore the lining in the gut.”
The book is personal to Holmes, because it encompasses her story and how healing her gut improved her own health.
“Everyone says this is the ‘year of the gut’, but I’ve known this for a very long time and I wanted to spread the word even further,” she says. “These are the recipes that I used to get better so I know their healing qualities intimately. I have had thousands of people do my four-week online heal your gut programme and this book is a companion to that.”
At her lowest point Holmes had a range of health challenges. While she was working with a doctor, she knew she also had to help herself through diet and lifestyle changes as well.
“I found my healing improved when I gave my digestive system a rest from the foods that were irritating it (for example gluten, sugar and artificial additives and preservatives),” she says. “I discovered how to listen to my body, research and focus on foods that worked for me.”
What we eat is critical when it comes to gut health, says Warren. “On a very basic level, if you [compare it to] your car. If you put the wrong fuel – diesel into a petrol engine – it’s not going to go very well. It’s exactly the same for us,” he says.
Acid reflux, indigestion or heartburn, bloating, feeling tired after food or eating certain foods, and loose stools or constipation are all indicators of an unhealthy gut or that there’s a potential problem in your system.
Just being aware of one’s bowel movements is hugely important, says Warren, who prefers people to move 30cm of faecal matter a day. “I don’t mind if it’s one 30 or two 15s, or three 10s. I don’t mind how people get there. Six fives is no good, that means it’s going through people too fast,” he says. “The transit time of food in your mouth to time out should be 12 to 24 hours ideally. You can test that by eating beetroot and seeing red in the stools, or corn on the cob. A lot of people will say, “I don’t have a problem, I’m having one movement a day,” and then we do a transit time test and literally the food’s in them for five days. So it’s actually making them toxic from the inside out.”
STEPS TO A HEALTHY GUT
Avoid gluten, sugar, processed grains and anti-inflammatory medications (unless prescribed by a doctor).
Drink water: it helps the bowels work to get rid of toxins.
Eat probiotic yoghurt and fermented foods, such as kombucha tea, that help build beneficial gut bacteria.
Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach as this damages the villi (folds in the small intestine tissue) and can cause leaky gut syndrome.