Did you know between 70 and 80 per cent of your immune cells are in the gut? This emphasises how closely linked gut health and the immune system are, and when out of balance, it is harder for the body to fight infection.
While you can boost a weakened immune system, gut health experts say it is all about maintaining a good balance of bacteria for a healthy gut and overall health.
How gut health works
The gut microbiome is the foundation of health, where the body gets rid of waste and toxins. However, if the gut is unhealthy the body will struggle, and toxins will build up. This can have harmful and long-term effects. “An unhealthy gut can cause health issues such as chronic fatigue, chronic illnesses, and inflammation,” says Willco Janse van Vuuren, Managing Director for Releaf Pharmaceuticals, a leading Complementary and Alternative Medicines pharmaceutical manufacturer of a range of scientifically proven vitamins and supplements. “A healthy gut talks to the brain through nerves and hormones, so when it isn’t working as it should, the brain is also affected.” This is why people with an unhealthy gut experience symptoms such as brain fog, headaches, poor concentration, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.
What can affect gut health
The most common factors that contribute to poor gut health are stress, poor nutrition, and long-term use of antibiotics and antacids. That said, everyone can have a healthy gut. The experts agree that lifestyle changes can make a significant difference.
Keeping your gut happy and healthy
Certain foods and a healthy lifestyle can improve gut health. Science, and dieticians, recommend the following:
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
Leafy greens and fresh fruits are the best sources of nutrients for a healthy microbiome. “Good nutrition is the easiest way to influence the gut microbiome. Add high-fibre foods, such as raspberries, artichokes, green peas, broccoli, bananas, and apples. Studies also show that the body can prevent the growth of disease-causing bacteria when you eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables,” said Lelani Rautenbach, Head of Marketing for Releaf Pharmaceuticals.
- Eat prebiotic foods
Many foods naturally contain prebiotics, which promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotic foods can include onion, ginger, and garlic. Popular South African flavours like black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, and turmeric can also positively impact the microbiome.
- Stay hydrated
Water has several health benefits — it supports skin health and helps with brain function. Your water intake influences your gut microbiome. “When you drink enough water, the gut will absorb important nutrients like electrolytes and vitamins, helping to keep a healthy gut,” Rautenbach added.
As mentioned above, stress negatively impacts gut health, and while it is impossible to live a life without stress, there are techniques to manage it better so that it does not affect your overall health. “Manage stress by practising mindfulness, eating healthily, getting enough sleep, and doing light exercise. Getting outside for a walk for just 30 minutes will do wonders for your body and help you to de-stress,” Rautenbach said.
- Increase probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods and supplements, and they improve health by supporting the metabolism. Some studies also show that probiotics can restore the gut microbiome to a healthy state. Find probiotics in fermented foods like kimchi, yoghurt, and sauerkraut. Alternatively, you can use a quality and scientifically proven probiotic supplement.
“Some people cannot tolerate fermented foods and should use probiotics to get the vitamins and minerals their bodies need,” said Janse van Vuuren.
When selecting a probiotic to support your gut health, the experts recommend a brand known to have high-quality ingredients and that has been through rigorous testing. This way, you will get the health benefits you are looking for. “There are specially formulated probiotic supplements designed for adults and children to improve their gut health and its functioning. However, it is important to talk to your doctor before adding a probiotic supplement to your diet,” Janse van Vuuren concluded.