How to have a happy gut

Good’s nutrition columnist Ben Warren explains how to look after your gut and achieve optimum gut health 

Words Ben Warren. Illustration Makers MGMT

When people talk about ‘gut health,’ they are really talking about having a healthy digestive system. Your digestive system is essentially a tube 20-30ft long that is comprised of different compartments with different roles. Starting at the top is the stomach, where your body makes and releases hydrochloric acid to break down proteins into amino acids to be absorbed later. Then there’s your small intestine where much of the absorption of nutrients takes place; finally, in your large intestine beneficial bacteria break food remains down further into specific fatty acids, and produce extra vitamins for your body.

A healthy digestive system is key to good health, and there are a couple of reasons why… 

80 per cent of your humoral  immune system (a part of your immune system that protects you from the outside world) if located around your digestive system.

Firstly, if you can’t break down and absorb the food you are eating then it’s going to be very difficult to maintain the trillions of cells that require those nutrients to function on a daily level. The second reason is 80 per cent of your humoral immune system (a part of your immune system that protects you from the outside world) is located around your digestive system. So the digestive system is literally the ‘home’ of your immune system.

There are many conditions that can affect your digestive system from constipation to peptic ulcers, and generally if you’ve got a problem in one part of the tube, you’ll have problems elsewhere as well.

One of the biggest problems we see at the BePure Clinic is something called ‘leaky gut syndrome.’ This occurs when the junctures between the cells lining your digestive system become too loose. This allows half digested proteins to pass into the bloodstream where there is an increased immune response.

Leaky gut syndrome is associated with a number of digestive system complaints from constipation to indigestion and bloating. However, it’s the effect on the immune system which drives most people to our door. Leaky gut syndrome will often elevate people’s immune systems, leaving them hypersensitive to external proteins such as pollen and dust mites, leading to allergies and asthma. We’ve also found that most people with autoimmune conditions have some degree of leaky gut; reversing the leaky gut often results in marked improvement in their health and overall immune strength.

Here are my top 5 tips for helping with leaky gut… 

1. Eliminate or at least minimise your food intolerances The biggest culprit, by far, is gluten, followed by a distant second, dairy products. Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat and a few other grains and for many people their body’s immune system is tagging the protein as an invader causing increased immune reactions and leaky gut. Swap gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley and rye for gluten-free grains like buckwheat, quinoa, millet and rice.

2. Add probiotic foods Supporting the beneficial bacteria in your gut will directly support your immune system and absorption of nutrients. Add fermented foods to your daily eating such as sauerkraut, yoghurt, kefir and kombucha.

3. Manage your stress The vagus nerve that controls your digestive system only works when you are relaxed; it controls the release of enzymes and production of hydrochloric acid. Too much stress means not enough enzymes and hydrochloric acid and this can lead to poor digestion. Focus on breathing into your stomach (diaphragmatic breathing) and relaxing before and during eating. 

4. Heal your gut with broth Broth contains high levels of glycerine, glutamine and glycoaminoglycans, which all contribute to healing and repairing the cells lining your intestines. Start off with chicken or duck broth and progress to bone broths (see bepure.co.nz/blog). 

5. Start your day off right – with a large glass of warm water with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. The acid from the lemon or vinegar will help kickstart your digestive system before breakfast and the warm water will be released from the stomach quickly, stimulating a bowel movement for many people.

Ben Warren is a nutrition and holistic health expert. For more visit bepure.co.nz

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