Gut health isn’t just about taking probiotics. It’s about creating the right environment for your microbiota to thrive.
Did you know that you have a collection of gut microbiota as unique to you as your fingerprints?
Did you also know that this includes at least 1,000 different species of bacteria, good and bad, with more than 3 million genes, weighing up to 2kg?
Some experts now consider this colony of microbiota to be an organ in its own right – and for good reason.
If you want to feel good, and keep your gut health and immunity tip-top, read on.
The duties of gut microbes
The fantastic microorganisms to which we refer perform many functions that are crucial to your health such as aiding digestion, vitamin production, offering protection from harmful microbes, maintaining gut integrity and safeguarding immunity.
Although research is continually changing, experts are confident there are particular species, and combinations of species, found in healthy people.
What constitutes a healthy gut environment?
To be healthy, we need a diverse range of microbiota. How we look after ourselves and what we eat has an enormous influence on that.
For these microorganisms to flourish, we must prime the gut, creating and maintaining the correct climate.
There are seven areas we feel are critical when it comes to nurturing the perfect environment for your healthy gut bacteria to thrive.
These are PH balance, electrolyte balance, body temperature, circulation and oxygenation, nutrient flow, vitamin D level and omega-3 status.
1) PH balance
Many healthcare practitioners acknowledge the importance of having an acid/alkaline balance in the blood. In the absence of too much acidity, disease is less able to take hold and thrive.
Poor gut health contributes to excessive acidity, and when you consider that over 70% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract, it is easy to see the importance of looking after gut integrity.
However, it’s not just about PH levels in the blood. It is equally important to maintain a healthy PH throughout your GI tract. Without this, you cannot sustain the delicate equilibrium of digestive enzymes and microbiota needed to keep your digestive system working, and keep you healthy.
As ever, balance is crucial. It’s important to note that not only is too much acidity detrimental to overall health and gut integrity but if your GI tract is too alkaline, you are unable to break down and digest your food adequately.
You are also less able to absorb all the valuable nutrients from your diet. Without maintaining acid/alkaline harmony, compromised gut integrity leads to chronic inflammation, reduced immunity and increased susceptibility to illness and disease.
• So how can you nurture a healthy acid/alkaline balance in your gut?
Many factors can contribute to a lack of PH balance such as stress, lack of movement and exercise, exposure to environmental toxins, and taking unnecessary medications. Therefore, finding ways to manage these sufficiently is essential as part of your health regime.
What you eat is also vital when it comes to maintaining healthy gut balance, and you need to ensure a varied, anti-inflammatory diet with a focus on alkaline foods.
Include an abundant and diverse range of bright, rainbow coloured vegetables, and a little fruit (not too much because of the fructose which our bodies read as sugar).
Eat whole foods, with a healthy mixture of both raw and cooked vegetables. Consume lots of dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, other healthy fats, and fresh juices and smoothies.
Also include healthy oils such as organic cold-pressed olive oil, coconut, avocado and linseed oil. Only cook with oils that can tolerate high smoke points such as coconut and avocado oil, and leave the others for drizzling over salads and cooked vegetables.
Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine, as well as processed, junk, pre-prepared and high sugar foods. Eat healthy plant protein foods, and only eat organic, free-range, grass-fed meat. For some, avoiding dairy can also be beneficial.
Green powders containing alkalising superfoods such as spirulina, chlorella, sprouts, and grasses can also promote acid/alkaline balance in both your GI tract and blood.
You can also take other PH balancing supplements to help optimise stomach acid/alkaline levels, and promote gut balance. A natural one containing electrolytes can be particularly useful if you have been struggling to absorb minerals such as calcium and magnesium from your food due to compromised gut function.
2) Electrolyte balance
Maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance is essential for our health and performance.
Electrolytes are chemical elements or minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphate, chloride and sodium.
They have a slight electrical charge, power our cells and are imperative for a whole host of physiological processes that allow our bodies to function.
The GI tract and electrolytes work symbiotically, needing each other to perform. Poor gut health results in impaired absorption of electrolytes and insufficient electrolytes contribute to low stomach acid (HCL).
Reduced stomach acid is not strong enough to efficiently break down your food, or kill any harmful bacteria it may have brought with it.
Impaired digestion creates adverse conditions for our microbiota, and they are unable to thrive, resulting in gut disorders and lowered immunity.
• How do I replenish and maintain my electrolyte stores?
Avoid unnecessary medications and antibiotics. Be sure to replenish electrolytes after bouts of illness, or heavy exercise.
Eat a diet rich in whole foods including rich electrolyte sources such as bone broth, broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens including spinach, swiss chard and lettuce, celery, watercress, cucumber, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, avocados, bell peppers, carrots, kiwi, watermelon and bananas.
Drink coconut water, and season your food with Himalayan salt which has a comprehensive electrolyte profile.
Avoid processed foods that are high in sodium but low in other electrolytes, causing an imbalance. Reduce your consumption of pre-packaged meals, takeaways, junk food and restaurant dinners, preparing food at home.
You could also consider taking an electrolyte supplement to ensure adequate levels.
3) Body temperature
Did you know that your gut microbes need a ‘normal’ body temperature to grow well and maintain a healthy balance?
In an interview published in Everyday Health in 2013, Mark Mattar MD, a gastroenterologist at The Georgetown University Medical Centre, discussed how optimal digestion occurs at the ideal core body temperature (between 97° to 99° depending on the person).
Mattar suggests that warm is better, stating how gut microorganisms thrive in incubation. However, if it becomes too hot, your gut microbes will suffer, so your body will always strive to regulate your body temperature.
A study conducted in 2016 monitored the effect of exercise on leaky gut symptoms. It showed that it causes several physiological changes including an increase of leaky gut and body temperature.
Additional in vitro studies demonstrated that increasing the temperature by just 2° reduced epithelial resistance. In other words, it weakened gut tissue. This suggests that raised body temperature plays a significant role in our gut integrity and can contribute to a leaky gut.
Research in mice has also shown that some gut bacteria flourish more than others depending on the external temperature. A hypothesis is that this is done to affect thermoregulation and our gut microbes play a vital role in this.
Therefore, it could be argued that if you are less tolerant to the cold, your gut microbes could be deficient and less able to adapt to differing temperatures.
• I am sensitive to the cold and worried it’s linked to my gut health. How can I improve this?
If this is a significant concern, it may be beneficial to seek the help of a nutritional therapist, naturopath or functional medicine practitioner.
If you have any digestive issues, be aware of what foods aggravate your symptoms and avoid them. Also eliminate inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy and grains and see if this makes a difference to your symptoms.
Cut out processed, sugary foods and focus on eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables to encourage gut biodiversity.
Eat plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods. Include raw fermented foods daily such as sauerkraut, raw fermented gherkins, kimchi, kefir or kombucha. Eat lots of garlic and leeks (including raw), onions (raw and cooked), cabbage, asparagus, sweet potatoes and yams, beans and pulses, oats, Jerusalem artichokes, apples and the odd banana (slightly under-ripe).
You can also try taking a high-strength probiotic supplement such as this one made from innate human probiotic isolates identical to those found in the human gut since birth.
4) Circulation and oxygenation
Circulation is one of our most vital functions and needed for all manner of physical processes. It carries oxygen to all our cells and organs, making our bodies work. It is also crucial for temperature control, the importance of which has already been mentioned in this article.
The circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems all work cohesively together, relying on each other.
Respiration brings oxygen into your lungs. Your blood then carries that oxygen to where it is needed.
An efficient circulatory system delivers this oxygen to your GI tract, feeding your gastrointestinal tissue.
Your digestive system needs this oxygen to function correctly and contract muscles to break down food. Your blood then sweeps up any waste for excretion.
Respiration needs a fully functioning digestive system to obtain the nutrients it needs to run efficiently. It also relies on a healthy circulatory system to supply these via the blood.
Without this constant cycle, your gut simply cannot function efficiently. So you can see how lack of circulation to, and oxygenation of the gut causes intestinal distress, slowing and inhibiting digestive processes.
Over time this weakens your microbiota and gut. It also impacts on your overall health and immunity as a compromised digestive system cannot adequately absorb all the vital nutrients needed to keep your body running.
• How can I improve my circulation and look after my respiratory system?
You need to move as exercise gets the blood pumping, reduces stagnation and improves oxygenation.
Managing stress is also essential as increased stress hormones pull on your oxygen bank. It can also inhibit circulation. Try to find ways to cope with anxiety and stress effectively. Consider mindfulness, or try yoga or walking in nature while breathing deeply.
Reduce your exposure to toxins and consider taking a supplement to help you eliminate them while boosting your immune system.
Eat a balanced whole food diet including vitamin B12, iron and folate-rich foods such as mackerel, organic, free range, grass-fed beef, organic grass-fed liver and kidneys, eggs, sardines, fortified nutritional yeast, wild salmon and trout, lentils, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, avocados, mangos, sweetcorn, beans, dried unsulphured apricots, quinoa, mushrooms, and pumpkin seeds.
You could also try taking some proteolytic enzymes.
5) Nutrient flow
For healthy gut bacteria, we need our food to flow through our digestive tract efficiently (hence the need for circulation and oxygenation, aiding peristalsis).
If you suffer from a sluggish digestive system, or constipation, the transit time of your food will be slow. Your gut health will be affected as unprocessed food sits in your GI tract spawning a toxic environment.
A hostile terrain not only destroys healthy microbiota and encourages unhealthy bacteria to thrive, but you become less able to get decent nutritional value from your food. Compromised gut health impacts on your body’s ability to function, creating a vicious cycle.
• What can I do to improve my sluggish digestion and constipation?
There are several things you can do to improve your digestion.
In a nutshell, reduce stress and work on any emotional trauma, eat a balanced whole food diet with lots of fibre, avoid processed and sugar-laden foods, ensure you are drinking adequate amounts of water, exercise, and eat lots of prebiotic and probiotic foods.
Also, consider taking supplements to encourage the growth of healthy gut flora. A high-quality prebiotic is a wise choice.
6) Vitamin D
Vitamin D has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory properties and a positive effect on the gut.
According to the Vitamin D Council, recent research supports the fact that vitamin D supplementation regulates our gut microbiome in the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Ongoing research is linking healthy vitamin D levels with a reduction of the symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Studies have also shown that IBD sufferers with insufficient Vitamin D have a higher risk of disease complications and more adverse symptoms.
There is even a link between vitamin D supplementation and a decreased duration of the commonly used anti-TNF treatment for IBD, with a higher chance of remission.
• How do I get enough vitamin D?
During the summer months, you need to ensure adequate skin and sun exposure at the right times of the day. For further information, visit the Vitamin D Council.
From autumn onwards in the UK, we cannot get what we need from the sun, and it is essential to supplement. Public Health England recommends adults and children over the age of one take over 10mcg of vitamin D.
The Vitamin D Council recommends a supplement of 5000iu daily. Always take a supplement in the form of D3, which is the preferred form.
7) Omega-3 fatty acids
These essential fatty acids are well known for their vast anti-inflammatory health benefits. Lately, new research has strongly associated DHA (a form of omega-3) and raised omega-3 levels with microbiota diversity and proliferation of healthy gut bacteria.
Interestingly, this research also noted a correlation between people with higher levels of omega-3 and increased anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity bacteria strains.
Further inspection also found that high omega-3 corresponded with a substance called N-carbamylglutamate (NCG) in the gut.
According to the author of the study, Dr Cristina Menni, NCG in animals is associated with lowered oxidative stress in the GI tract.
She hypothesises that somehow, omega-3 encourages our gut bacteria to produce it.
• How can I ensure healthy levels of omega-3 fatty acids?
This study focused on DHA, most readily absorbed from fish. To maintain healthy levels, you can eat oily fish twice to three times a week (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring), or take a daily, supremely high-quality fish oil supplement. If you are vegan or vegetarian, opt for marine algae.
Other foods that can provide you with omega-3 oils (although less of the EPA/DHA supplied by fish oils) are walnuts, linseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, egg yolks and dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach.
Progurt Probiotics for gut health and immunity
We believe that the most advanced probiotic on the market today is Progurt.
This clinically tested super-strength supplement delivers an unprecedented 1 trillion CFU (colony forming units) to aid digestive health and rebalance gut microflora.
Not only that, but the Progurt probiotic strains have been proven to reach where they are needed alive, in the small intestine and colon.
We like Progurt because they consider the gut environment as a whole and have produced a holistic supplement range focusing on PH and electrolyte balance, immunity and digestive support.
And there’s something else that makes Progurt Probiotics special.
Most probiotics on the market come from bovine strains which are not indigenous to humans. Progurt uses human probiotic isolates (HPI) instead, which they believe are more intuitive and better for us.
The reason for this is the fact that they are identical to the microflora found in the human intestinal tract itself, and therefore Progurt supplements are more specific to us than those derived from an animal source.
Bovine probiotics also tend to be more transient (don’t stay in the gut), whereas human probiotics remain, as our body responds to them more instinctively.
The beauty of taking the HPI strains is that once you have populated your gut effectively, they remain established, and you don’t have to keep supplementing.
However, should your healthy gut environment be disrupted due to ill health and the need for medication, for example, you will require a maintenance dose to re-colonise.
Each Progurt probiotic sachet contains HPI identical to the strains found in a healthy gut from birth. Innate and non-transient, the human strains in Progurt feature a unique combination and ratio that have been specially chosen to colonise in your GI tract and replicate.
They include missing, colonising, upper and lower gut, fragile, synergistic, replicating, migrating, and birth strains.
Wow. Pretty good, right? We think so. 100% natural, super strength, and innate.
It can even be used to make your own probiotic yogurt.
If you’ve gotten to the end of this rather lengthy peroration, congratulations! We hope you find the information valuable, and that you’re now better aware of the myriad factors influencing gut health.
You can find more information about the Progurt range here. And remember, maintaining a healthy gut is all about nourishing the proper environment.
Use this article as a guide, look after your GI tract and it’ll look after you.
This article was written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium: @rebeccabitesback.
Did you know that you have a collection of gut microbiota as unique to you as your fingerprint?