Your digestive system is an amazing thing. A complex system which processes the foods you eat, extracts the nutrients your body need to function and discards the waste, it’s essential for your gut to be in good working order for you to feel healthy.But there are many factors which can throw off the balance of the gut, leading to a range of unwanted side effects.For World Digestive Health Day, we’re looking at the things that upset the gut, and what we can do to help keep it happy and healthy.
Symptoms of an unhappy gut
The various organs and systems in your body constantly send you signals about how they’re performing, and the gut is no exception. When under stress, either physically or emotionally, the gut will let you know and you may notice several warning signs, including:
What can upset your gut?
The gut relies on balance to keep it functioning properly. Too much or too little of certain factors can upset this, leading to digestive problems and other issues. While there are many things which can impact on the function of your gut, some of the most common variables include:
Stress. When we’re stressed, we produce a hormone called cortisol. Too much of this can affect the way the gut functions, resulting in symptoms like diarrhoea.
Diet. Eating a healthy, nutritious, and balanced diet is important to maintain healthy gut function. But with busy lives and many unhealthy options to tempt us, that’s often easier said than done.
Too much alcohol. A little tipple now and then doesn’t cause too much harm. But excessive drinking can cause plenty of gut trouble, both directly and indirectly. While the alcohol itself or the yeast in the alcohol can upset the gut bacteria, the lack of quality sleep brought on by drinking too much can also disrupt your digestive system if it becomes a regular habit.
Lack of exercise. Keeping moving isn’t just important for your heart health, your gut also benefits when you exercise. When you get moving, so does your digestive system, processing waste more effectively. Being too sedentary can lead your digestion to slow down, causing a range of knock-on effects.
Dehydration. Drinking enough water is important for all systems in your body, particularly your gut. As your digestive system processes your food, it needs water to help pass the waste through the large intestine. But, if you’re dehydrated, your body will take water from there, leaving you with hard-to-pass stools which take much longer to move through the colon.
Encouraging a happy gut
While there are lots of factors which can influence the function of the gut, the key things that cause the most impact are easy to monitor and manage on a daily basis with a little effort. Here are some things you can do:
- Get enough sleep.
Making sure to rest well and keep to a regular, consistent sleep schedule will help to encourage healthy rhythms in your gut. Be sure not to eat too soon before you sleep to avoid placing extra stress on your digestive system which can also lead to poor sleep.
- Keep moving.
Taking regular exercise helps keep your gut moving. And it doesn’t have to be vigorous. Yoga, swimming, or a gentle daily lunchtime walk will all help keep your gut happy.
- Eat a balanced diet.
Make sure that you eat a wide range of foods, including plenty of fibre, protein, fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains.
- Avoid trigger foods.
Around 45% of the population has a food intolerance. This reaction to the proteins in particular foods can cause a host of symptoms, including digestive problems like IBS, bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea. Understanding the foods which work for and against you is a great way to empower you to make the right dietary choices for your body.
- Steer clear of sugar.
A little sugar now and then is fine. But unfortunately, we find high levels of sugar in a huge range of foods we eat every day. Too much of this can upset the gut microbiome, leading to digestive disorders.
- Include fermented foods.
Pickled and preserved foods are excellent for keeping the gut healthy, encouraging good bacteria in the gut. Try including foods like kefir, sauerkraut, or kimchi in your diet.
Listen to your gut
The gut is often referred to ask the “second brain” and with good reason. It’s a vital hub of information about your health and it’s sensitive, reacting to everything from stress to the food you feed it, medications, and lifestyle choices. If you’ve noticed changes to your bowel habits, or your curious about whether your digestive system is working as efficiently as it should, you may want to take a closer look at your gut health with private testing.