06 Dec 5 Simple Tricks to Boost Gut Health
Over the last five years or so, gut health has become more and more talked about in relation to body composition. And with good reason.
It’s estimated that around 80% of your immune system is found in the gut itself. Without stereotyping, it’s quite clear to see that low income households that have access to poor quality foods (and by correlation, lifestyle) seem to get ill more frequently. Back when I was working with ‘high end’ clients in London (CEO’s, partners of law firms, IT consultants and so on), they would rarely get ill. My theory is that for the most part, this particular populous paid attention to what they put into their bodies and had the financial means to do so. At least in terms of quality, though perhaps not quantity.
The gut can also positively or negatively effect your mood. As another percentage example, Dr Rangan Chatterjee (Doctor in The House, BBC1) suggests that 90% of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, is produced in the gut. Serotonin is known as one of the ‘happy hormones’ and can play a major role in how we feel.
Another area now being heavily researched into is the gut’s role on appetite hormones and as a by-product, weight management. Varying strains of gut bacteria seem to influence peptides that are intimately involved in appetite regulation, such as GLP-1 and PPY.
So, what can we do about it?
Whilst all of the research above is in it’s relative infancy, there are a few solutions that appear to be promising:
- Supplementing with a high quality probiotic. By high quality I mean one that has multiple strains, in research proven dosages and that has been kept refrigerated. Probiotics are live cultures and exposing them to heat means that they may ‘die’ before ever reaching the gut. VSL#3 is my go-to probiotic, but I recommend most clients just take ½ sachet every day to every other day.
- Including sources of prebiotic rich food in the diet. With probiotics you are putting specific strains of bacteria into your system directly. Prebiotics work a little differently in that they encourage your body to produce its own ‘good’ bacteria. Fermented foods such as Kimchi, Sauerkraut and Kefir are all great choices here.
- Getting a good balance between soluble and insoluble fibre. This is critical for keeping things ‘regular’ and moving through the colon efficiently. I’ve found a good balance for me is green vegetables (insoluble) with 2-3 of my meals per day alongside psyllium husk (soluble) at around 1 teaspoon per day.
- Use a well rounded digestive enzyme. Especially important in mass gaining phases when calories are being pushed higher and higher. The more food we eat, the larger the burden on the digestive system. Using digestive enzymes with our largest and/or tougher to digest meals (think, red meat) can help alleviate gas/bloating by providing a ‘helping hand’. Each of the three macro-nutrients will require different ezymes to break them down. As an over-simplified guide; proteases will help break down proteins, forms of amylase will help to break down starches (carbohydrates) and enzymes such as lipase will assist in the break down of lipids (fats). My favourite here is Ravenous by Project AD.
- Control your stress. This one is of course easier said than done. But, stress really does play a huge role in gut health. We now know that something known as the gut-brain axis exists – and is the pathway for communication between the central nervous system (brain) and the enteric nervous system (gut). I have experienced this first hand this past few months. Various stresses have absolutely killed my appetite completely, as well as impairing my digestion and even effecting my regularity. The difference in my whole digestive process recently compared to 6 months ago is night and day. Whilst stress is a tough one to completely eliminate, three things that have helped me are:
- Sleep. Massively under rated, but hugely effective at reducing stress & anxiety.
- ‘Me time’. Most of us are guilty of focusing purely on either work or others – but rarely do we carve out specific time for ourselves. For me, music has always relaxed me but I’ve made little time for it over the past 6-7 years. So, two weeks ago I bought myself a new DJing set up, and whenever I get some down time I spend 60min or so on that, with zero temptation to reach for my phone or laptop. The difference in only a couple of weeks is noticeable.
- Supplementing with Phosphatidyl Serine. My preferred product is Cortisolve by MPA Supps as it’s dosed at the research proven 800mg. This supplement isn’t a miracle worker, but may help to bring cortisol levels back into ‘normal’ ranges.
I think it’s important to note that this whole topic is still in its infancy, but over the next 5-10 years I believe we’ll have a much deeper understanding into the role that the gut has in both health and body composition. I’ll be sure to keep this updated as we get more answers!