What does your gut have to do with your health?

We cannot alter the genes we are born with, but the way we choose to live our lives can make a much bigger difference to our health and wellbeing than the genes we inherited: our genes can be switched on and off, and our vitally important telomeres altered, by lifestyle.  More and more research is demonstrating that health can be immeasurably improved by positively changing diet and lifestyle. Poor gut bacteria is linked with increased risk of several cancers both in and outside the gut as well as increased risk of diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, digestive problems, low mood, sleep disorder and even depression.

‘Good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria

The bacteria in and on our bodies – and particularly in our digestive systems (or microbiome) – can roughly be divided into ‘bad’ and ‘good’ or probiotic.

‘Bad’ bacteria cause infections such as food poisoning or cholera and typhoid, and ‘good’, probiotic bacteria prevent the growth and spread of disease, improve overall immunity and help to reduce chronic inflammation, which occurs when our bodies mistakenly react as if they are permanently under threat from disease.  

Good bacteria have a vital role to play in the effective functioning of the immune system, helping our bodies detect and destroy early cancer cells more efficiently, as well as dealing with nutritional and environmental carcinogens.

Digestive problems and chronic inflammation

Poor gut health contributes to numerous digestive problems including bloating, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea, food allergies and intolerances. These can lead to damage or thinning in the gut walls which normally prevent toxins, including carcinogens, from entering the blood stream, allowing toxins and bacteria to cause inflammation all over the body. This is commonly known as ‘leaky gut syndrome’.  

Inflammation is now also being implicated as a ‘trigger’ for type 1 diabetes because the body becomes confused by toxins in the blood stream, and starts inadvertently attacking its own pancreas.  This chronic inflammation also helps to explain why the tumours associated with poor gut health are not just restricted to bowel cancer.  In addition, an inflamed gut wall makes the body less efficient at absorbing the vital nutrients it needs from food, particularly vitamins A, D and zinc, our critical defences against disease and cell damage.  

Food quality for gut and general health

Avoiding alcohol and processed food, eating plenty of unprocessed live (unpasteurized) fruit, vegetables, pulses and legumes, and drinking plenty of water should keep your gut healthy and your bowels regular, but if you suffer from constipation, try taking some flaxseed, also known as linseed.   

A good-quality probiotic supplement – especially after a course of antibiotics which can cause an imbalance in gut bacteria – will restore and enhance your biome, and also help protect you from unfamiliar pathogens when travelling.

Organic and ideally home-grown fruit and vegetables are free from the pesticides and other chemicals found in the ordinary food chain, which can cause cells to mutate, and promote development of cancer tumours. Organic meat contains lower levels of additional potentially harmful contaminants, as livestock is not given growth hormones or antibiotics, so it is worth buying organic whenever you can. 

Cow’s milk is a common cause of allergies and digestive problems, which can usually be diagnosed with tests or elimination. Fermented products such as kefir and live yoghurt are the healthiest ways to consume dairy, provided you are not lactose intolerant.

Poor dental hygiene, caused by not brushing your teeth or not flossing correctly, can upset the bacterial balance in your mouth and cause gum disease and tooth decay. Chronic inflammation of the gums (or gingivitis) is linked to a higher risk of chronic diseases elsewhere in the body, particularly dementia, diabetes, heart disease and emphysema. 

The Gut and Covid

The consultant oncologist Professor Robert Thomas conducted a year-long study after researchers found that Covid patients were suffering a disruption in the ratio of friendly to unfriendly bacteria in the gut, called dysbiosis. This was especially true of those with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as nausea, indigestion, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. London’s Kings College also developed an app-based study, involving over 400,000 people, which showed those who took regular probiotic supplements had a lower risk of catching Covid.

The Thomas study involved 126 people, a third of whom had an acute Covid infection, with the majority reporting a wide variety of longer term symptoms lasting over 100 days. Results showed cough, fatigue, gut and wellbeing scores improved with the probiotic supplementation. Many said gut symptoms suffered for years were resolved. Interestingly, those with lifestyle conditions such as overweight, high blood pressure and lack of fitness benefitted most rapidly.

Professor Thomas said: “Such a rapid improvement in the majority who had been experiencing symptoms for over eight months was clinically relevant and welcomed, especially among those more likely to have pre-existing gut dysbiosis. The authors believe that the importance of interventions to improve gut health should be emphasised to people with Covid.”

Healthright’s aim for 2022 is to help you improve your health naturally and safely.  

Come and ask us how. We look forward to seeing you very soon.