So, following on from last week’s post on mental health, I thought it was a good time to dive a little deeper into the world of gut health.
Gut health and mental health are closely linked. There’s a direct line of communication (the vagus nerve) running from your gut to your brain, so focussing on improving your gut health can have a widespread, positive influence on your overall health.
The only problem is, the amount of incorrect information out there regarding gut health is terrifying. I heard someone describe it as “The Wild West” and that’s a pretty accurate description of the current state of affairs.
Basically, when someone is referring to gut health, they’re referring to the types and amounts of different species of bacteria that are hanging out in your gut. These gut bacteria can account for up to 2kg of your body weight. They’re kind of a big deal.
Just to clear the air (and to stop this turning into a novel) I’m going to rattle off some of the biggest myths. If you want more background on this in a future post let me know, otherwise you’re just going to have to trust me.
1. Although we have a few ideas of what it’s not, we don’t actually have a proper definition of what “optimal” gut health even IS. This means someone offering to fix, reboot, reset or restore your gut health doesn’t know what they’re talking about
2. Poor gut health doesn’t cause weight gain. It actually causes weight loss
3. Probiotics (more on this below) can be beneficial, but only if they’re very specific types of bacteria used for specific conditions. Broad-spectrum or everyday probiotics have 0 evidence to suggest their benefit
So what do we know?
Probiotics are microorganisms that we eat that are beneficial for the host (us.) Basically, these are either bacteria or precursors of bacteria that can take residency in our gut and help. Because there is an insane amount of species of bacteria out there, it’s not as simple as saying “probiotics are good for your health”. This is why we need to be wary of what our probiotics actually contain, to ensure the specific bacteria species we’re swallowing has been shown to improve the condition we’re trying to treat.
These are indigestible carbohydrates (AKA fibre) that our gut bacteria love to feed on. Basically, taking all the probiotics in the world isn’t going to do anything if your diet doesn’t contain enough prebiotics. You wouldn’t buy fish and then not feed them, right?
That One Weird Trick
I know this is what you were all waiting for. The golden bullet for gut health!
Eat your fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eat a wide variety of them. Eat them every day.
This variety ensures we’re providing all of the food required by the many different types of gut bacteria that we host. There’s also evidence to suggest that limiting saturated fat, alcohol and smoking can all improve our gut health, as can exercise and getting outdoors.
No, these recommendations are not particularly cool, nor do they come in some shiny container with a fancy name, but they’re going to do a much better job of keeping your gut bacteria happy. And considering they outnumber us tens of trillions to one, we should probably do what they want.
We would love to answer your questions, simply shoot an email through to firstname.lastname@example.org with those burning questions.