Trust Your Gut!

November 11, 2022

There’s a reason we use the expression ‘trust your gut’ and it’s because our gut is such an important part of our bodies. Its condition can have an impact on not just on our digestive systems, but on our mental health, skin and many other things. 

After the age of 60, the diversity of our gut microbiome starts to decrease and this could have an impact on our frailty and overall physical health. In fact, the health of our guts is linked to a variety of associated ageing illnesses, which is not surprising when you realise that around 75% of our immune system is in our digestive tract. A recent study [1] has shown that people whose gut microbiomes had grown more unique with age had better overall mobility, so it’s really important to consider the health of your gut as you get older. But don’t worry - there are lots of simple things you can do to improve your gut health and optimise your age today. 

There are over 40 trillion (!) bacteria in your body and most of these are found in your gut. Collectively, these bacteria are known as the gut microbiome. The more diverse our microbiome is, the healthier we are likely to be, as the greater variety of bacteria you have, the more health benefits you will have too. The easiest way to increase the diversity of our gut microbiome is by eating a diverse diet. 

Firstly, make sure that your diet is high in fruit, veg and whole grains, as these are some of the best sources of nutrients for a healthy microbiome. Prebiotics are foods that ‘feed’ our good bacteria. They have been shown to reduce insulin, triglyceride and cholesterol levels in those with obesity, as well as helping reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

More than a century ago, Nobel prize winning biologist Elie Metchnikoff created a demand for yoghurt after claiming that ageing was caused by harmful bacteria in the intestines, and that the best way to increase good bacteria was by eating yoghurt. More recent research [2] shows that those who eat a diet high in yoghurt have less Enterobacteriaceae in their intestines. This type of bacteria is associated with inflammation as well as a number of other chronic conditions. Sugar is often added to flavoured yoghurt, so make sure you choose plain yoghurt with live active cultures. I love to add yoghurt to my morning smoothie, or I treat myself to a small bowl of yoghurt and blueberries as a post-dinner treat. 

I have talked before about polyphenols. These clever little plant compounds are really good for us, and may help to reduce blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol levels. When digested, they make their way to the colon, where they are digested by our gut bacteria. Luckily for us, you can find polyphenols in red wine and dark chocolate, so when you are relaxing with a glass of wine in the evening, you can know that you are looking after your gut - just maybe stick to one! 

Bad bacteria feed on sugar in the gut, so reducing your intake of sweet treats could be a really easy way to improve your gut health. A diet high in processed meat may also contribute to gut inflammation, which in turn leads to poor nutrient absorption, so Jon and I try to limit the amount of meat we eat each week. But with such amazing plant-based recipes out there, we don’t find this a problem at all. 

A happy gut is easy to see in your skin. Skin irritations may be caused by an imbalance of your skin’s pH levels and the most common reason for this can be your gut. If your gut isn’t functioning optimally, then it can’t absorb the vital nutrients the skin needs to thrive. So if you suffer from a dull complexion, blemishes or breakouts, why not try seeing if there’s a change by improving your gut health? I would love to hear if you see a difference. 

I am a huge advocate for good sleeping habits as I know just how important sleep is for our health as we age, so I was very interested to read that there is growing evidence [3] to suggest that our gut microbiome could influence the quality of our sleep, and of course a lack of slumber has been linked to everything from heart disease to diabetes. 

You may have heard your gut described as your ‘second brain’. Often when we are anxious, we feel like we have butterflies in our tummies. This is because stress can send our digestive system into overload. But it works both ways. At the beginning of the 20th century, George Porter Phillips observed that his patients at the Bethlem Royal Hospital who suffered with ‘melancholia’ often also suffered from constipation. The usual explanation would be that the depression led to the tummy issues; however, Phillips wondered if it was the other way round. He altered his patients' diets by removing meat and adding kefir (a fermented milk product rich in friendly bacteria), and out of 18 patients, 11 were cured completely [4]! This suggests a healthy gut could be the first step towards a healthy mind as well as a healthy body. 

So with all the indulgence of Christmas just around the corner, get started now and make some small changes to improve your gut health and see just how easy it is to optimise your age. 

Jon & Sally x