Gut health has become something of a hot topic in the wellness world over the last few years with #guttok and #guthealth trending over on social media it’s easy to get lost in what’s based on facts and what’s not.
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I’m not surprised in the rise of awareness of this topic. Food sensitivities are on the rise and your gut health plays a pivotal role in overall health.
Increasing stress levels, decreasing quality of food, decrease in soil quality, more people relying on ultra processed foods as the bulk of their diet. Plus increases in medication consumption, particularly the use of antibiotics (which kills off the good as well as the bad bacteria) among many other causes, we are seeing more instances of poor gut health.
With my own recent diagnosis of PCOS, gut health is something that I am having to focus more on too as with many of the other joys that come for midlife women who are also facing menopause.
Research shows that there is an increase of gut health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, constipation and acid reflux are on the rise affecting as many as 40% of adults and it may be time to take our gut health a little more seriously.
In this article, I will take you through a no BS gut health protocol that will help you learn more about the underlying causes of your gut issues and what you can do about it. From understanding the gut-brain connection to making dietary and lifestyle changes that you can actually stick to, I’ve got you covered.
Understanding gut health and its impact on overall health
The gut, often referred to as the “second brain,” is home to trillions of microorganisms collectively known as the gut microbiota. These microorganisms play a crucial role in maintaining the health and function of our digestive system and the digestive tract. When the balance of these microorganisms is disrupted, it can lead to health issues.
An unhealthy gut can manifest in several ways, including bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, and food intolerances.
Additionally, a compromised gut can affect your mental health, leading to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
To restore balance and achieve optimal gut health, we need to understand the factors that contribute to an unhealthy gut. Poor dietary choices, stress, lack of sleep, and certain medications can all disrupt the delicate balance of the gut microbiota.
Gut health is not just about digestion though, the diversity of your gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in various aspects of your well-being, including:
- Maintaining a Healthy Bodyweight: A balanced gut microbiome is essential for regulating metabolism and ensuring your body can efficiently process the nutrients it needs while minimising fat storage and supporting weight loss efforts.
- Supporting a Strong Immune System: Did you know that approximately 70% of your immune system resides in your gut? A healthy gut microbiome can boost your body’s defence mechanisms, helping you stay resilient to illnesses.
- Supporting Mental Health and Mood: The gut-brain connection is fascinating. Research shows that a healthy gut can positively impact mood and cognitive function, reducing the risk of stress, anxiety, and depression. The gut-brain connection refers to the bidirectional communication between your gut and your brain. This connection plays a crucial role in both your physical and mental well-being. The gut contains millions of neurons that produce neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These neurotransmitters are primarily responsible for regulating mood, sleep, and overall brain function. When your gut is unhealthy, it can disrupt the production and balance of these neurotransmitters, leading to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, the gut-brain connection can also influence cognitive function and memory.
- Heart Health: Emerging studies suggest that gut health influences heart health. A balanced gut can help manage cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation, contributing to a healthier heart.
Signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut
Recognising the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut is the first step towards healing and being able to do something about it. Some common indicators include:
1. Digestive issues: Chronic bloating, gas, diarrhoea, or constipation are all signs that your gut may be out of balance. Whilst some gas and bloating is completely normal it’s important to pay attention to the frequency and severity of these symptoms.
2. Food intolerances: If you find yourself reacting negatively to certain foods, such as gluten or dairy, it could be a sign of an unhealthy gut. These reactions can range from mild discomfort to severe allergic reactions. With some work it doesn’t have. to mean that these foods are off the table for good.
3. Skin problems: Acne, eczema, and other skin conditions can be linked to gut health. When your gut is inflamed, it can manifest as skin issues.
4. Low energy levels and fatigue: If you constantly feel tired, even after a good night’s sleep, suffer with brain fog, it could be due to poor gut health. The gut is responsible for absorbing nutrients that provide energy to your body.
5. Weakened immune system: A significant portion of our immune system resides in the gut. When your gut is unhealthy, it can compromise your immune function, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
Yet, with the growing body of information and emerging science has come with a boat load of wellness shots, cleanses and fasting protocols, all promising to heal your gut. Whilst they made have helped some people, I just feel like the wellness world has massively overcomplicated things.
Not to mention that all of these so called miracle protocols are incredibly hard to stick to as they can become so restrictive. An elimination diet is the usual go to in order to help discover the root cause or trigger foods, but it’s often too difficult for many people to stick to.
We all know that any diet that becomes overly restrictive just isn’t sustainable for the long term.
My whole ethos as a health coach is about progress over perfection.
This gut health protocol is actually more of a guidance. It’s not about having to get everything right from the get go or super restrictive meal plans, but more as a guide to help you decide what you can implement straight away and what you can add in over time.
Step 1: Reducing Gut-Damaging Foods Or Trigger Foods
The first thing to consider in a gut health protocol is to remove or at least reduce gut-damaging or trigger foods. Certain foods can disrupt your gut microbiota and contribute to inflammation and digestive issues in the intestinal tract.
Processed foods, refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats are among the worst culprits when overly consumed. These foods can promote the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast, leading to gut dysbiosis.
To restore balance, it can be helpful to limit or at least reduce gut-damaging foods from your diet.
It’s also a good idea to become even more in tune with your body and your gut. We are all very unique and individual and you may have trigger foods that you know your digestive system doesn’t do well with. Other foods may be just fine for you, every body is different so please keep that in mind.
Most common foods that can cause digestive triggers for some people are:
- Egg yolks
- Nightshade vegetables
- Refined flours and sugars
Reducing gut-damaging or trigger foods may require some adjustments to your eating habits, but the benefits are well worth it. Over the next few days keep a food diary or use some sort of food tracker to keep note of everything you consume. Notice what goes on in your body and how you feel in and around those meals/foods.
You’ll start to notice patterns or any sensitivities you may experience and this awareness can help you form better food choices for you and your body and have a positive impact on your gut.
Toxins are another consideration that can be beneficial to reduce. This is not always easy, let’s face it, toxins are everywhere. But I come back to the saying of ‘improvements over perfection’
As I too am working on improving gut health right now, here are some of my personal favourite toxin-free products. There are tonnes out there on the market now, and yes, pricing is an issue here but start small with the things that you use most often.
I have used the makeup brand PHB Ethical Beauty for quite some time now. I love their pressed powder foundation and also the mascara.
A recent discovery with cleaning and a new favourite is Purdy & Fig. They use amazing smelling oil concentrations that you mix with water. It also comes in a reusable glass bottle, so it’s good for the environment too.
I’d really love to find a natural deodorant that I like. As I’m not really a fan of putting toxins straight onto my lymph nodes. But I’m yet to find out that doesn’t leave me smelling like beef monster munch, so if you have found one that you love please let me know. I want to try Wild next, but I have heard mixed reviews.
I have just seen that Mitchum (which is my favourite deodorant brand) now does a vegan and aluminium-free stick and it’s only £4, so this one is going straight into my basket to test out.
Step 2: Incorporating Gut-Healing Foods Into Your Diet
After reducing gut-damaging/triggering foods, it’s time to look at adding in more gut healing and supporting foods. These foods are rich in nutrients and compounds that support optimal gut health.
Fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, are great at promoting a healthy gut. Fiber acts as a prebiotic, providing nourishment for beneficial gut bacteria.
Dietary fibre intake has reduced significantly over the last few centuries and could be one of the key players in improving overall health and weight management.
So take a look at your current fibre intake and see if it reaches the recommendation. Most people can easily increase it by upping the amount of fruit and vegetables that they eat. I personally also like to add some Psyllium Husk to my morning smoothie to make sure that I keep my own fibre levels topped up.
Additionally, gut healing foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce gut inflammation.
Protein-rich foods, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, and plant-based sources like beans and lentils, are also important for gut health. Protein is essential for repairing and rebuilding the gut lining.
Incorporating these gut-healing foods into your diet can support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, reduce inflammation, and promote overall gut health.
Gut healing food list includes:
- Bone broth (My top choice for those that don’t want to spend hours boiling bones. You can also use bone broth to cook your rice in. It adds more flavour as well as adding more protein to your meal)
- Collagen powder – Add to water or even your coffee (my favourites are Vital Proteins and Collagen Creamer that I add to coffee)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Dandelion greens
- Healthy fats
Step 3: Restoring Gut Flora With Probiotics and Fermented Foods
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help restore the balance of your gut microbiota. These live microorganisms can be found in certain foods and supplements. However, the jury is still out on whether probiotic supplement are actually beneficial. There are hundreds of strains of gut bacteria. And if consumers don’t choose the right probiotic for the right ailment, they’ll get no benefit. (That’s according to Gabrielle Fundaro, PhD, who’s one of the world’s foremost experts on gut health and probiotics.)
In fact, based on research, there are only a few known conditions that probiotics help with. So my recommendation is to come from a food first approach when it comes to probiotics.
Consuming probiotic-rich foods such as:
These foods can introduce beneficial bacteria into your gut. My own personal favourite is Kefir as it’s pretty easily available to buy from the supermarket these days if you can’t be bothered with making your own. These foods can help populate your gut with diverse strains of bacteria, improving gut health.
Fermented foods, such as:
Are also rich in probiotics. In addition to their probiotic content, fermented foods can improve digestion and nutrient absorption.
Probiotic foods include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Chicory root
Restoring your gut flora with probiotics and fermented foods can help to support the gut healing process.
Step 4: Managing Stress And Its Impact On Gut Health
Stress has a significant impact on gut health. When you’re under stress, your body releases stress hormones that can disrupt the delicate balance of your gut microbiota.
Chronic stress can lead to increased gut inflammation, impaired digestion, and compromised gut barrier function. It can also worsen existing gut issues and contribute to the development of new ones.
To manage stress and support gut health, it’s essential to incorporate stress-reducing practices into your daily routine. Regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and spending time in nature are all effective stress management techniques. In fact it’s always a top recommendation for many aspects of health for the midlife woman and yet one that so many of us struggle with. So self-care practices should always become a priority for a happy gut.
Sleep is often overlooked when it comes to gut health, but it plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy gut. Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of your gut microbiota and contribute to gut inflammation.
To support optimal gut function, aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and create a sleep-friendly environment in your bedroom.
Avoid caffeine after mid-day, reduce screen time before bed, and stimulating activities close to bedtime, as they can interfere with your sleep quality. Instead, opt for calming activities such as reading a book, practicing relaxation/breathing techniques, or taking a warm bath.
See the post below on more tips to improve sleep.
Step 5: Implementing A Regular Exercise Routine For Gut Health
Regular exercise is not only beneficial for your physical health but also plays a crucial role in gut health too. Exercise can improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and enhance the diversity of your gut microbiota and exercise is the final step of this protocol.
Engaging in moderate-intensity aerobic activities, such as walking, jogging, or cycling, for at least 30 minutes a day can support a healthy gut. You get extra bonus points if you can do some of that exercise out in nature too. Strength training exercises, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, can also be beneficial.
It’s always important to find an exercise routine that you enjoy as that will be the one that you are able to stick with more consistently. Remember to listen to your body and start slowly if you’re new to exercise. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as you build strength and endurance.
By implementing a regular exercise routine, you can promote healthy digestion, reduce gut inflammation, and support optimal gut health.
For more help getting started with exercise and all of your health habits CLICK HERE and join my 5-day Better Body Kickstart challenge.
Conclusion: Taking The First Steps Towards A Healthier Gut & Improved Overall Health
Restoring balance to your gut is something that is going to take time. Remember that there is a lot in here and you don’t have to get it right all at once. Following these steps in this gut health protocol, you can take it one step at a time and start to address the underlying causes of your gut issues and work on a transformation from the inside out.
Understanding gut health and its impact on overall health is crucial for making more informed decisions about your diet and lifestyle. By reducing foods and toxins that could be knocking your gut health off balance, incorporating gut-healing foods, restoring gut flora with probiotics and fermented foods, managing stress, implementing a regular exercise routine, and getting enough sleep, you can support optimal gut function and improve your overall well-being.
Remember, healing from within takes time, so be patient with yourself implement these lifestyle habits one at a time and celebrate each small step towards a healthier gut and better health.
Any change can feel challenging at first, but if you take your time with these steps you can implement them as habits into your everyday routine and lifestyle.
If you are overly concerned with your gut health or other health conditions it’s always advised to speak with a registered dietitian or medical professional before changing major lifestyle factors, especially if you are already on any type of medication.