Why good overall wellbeing may all start with gut health
One of the most interesting areas in personal health right now relates to the gut microbiome. While our understanding of this is still developing, it essentially refers to the 90% of our cells in and on the surface of the body which are made up of bacteria, virus and fungi.
In lay terms, the ‘non-human’ stuff. There’s 100 trillion of these micro-organisms in the body, mostly living in our digestive tract, where they help to digest food, regulate our immune system, protect against other more harmful bacteria and produce vitamins, including B vitamins, B12, thiamine, riboflavin, and Vitamin K. The bacteria are essential for the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which help to ward off obesity and insulin resistance, while other studies are suggesting that the use of probiotics – or ‘good’ bacteria taken as supplements – can build general health against a range of non-gastric conditions.
We sat down for a chat with (med)24’s Dr Riz Khan to find out about maintaining good gut health and sorting the good advice from the diet hype...
What’s the main thing that people need to be aware of with probiotics and maintaining good gut health?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that can be taken as a food supplement or sourced naturally from food itself. We now know that having a good balance of diverse healthy bacteria in our gut is beneficial to your health. It is not certain whether otherwise healthy individuals benefit from taking a probiotic supplement, however, a growing body of evidence has suggested that it can prevent diarrhoea, upper respiratory tract infections like the cold, necrotising enterocolitis (a serious gut condition) and eczema. There are also studies that show that probiotics may be able to ease some of the symptoms of irritable bowel disease.
What do you offer at the clinic that can help people with this?
We do not offer any probiotic supplements but the two supplements I recommend is VSL3 and Symprove, as both have good evidence for effectiveness.
What’s a simple lifestyle change that people should be making every day to aid with this?
There is very strong evidence that increasing your dietary intake of fibre has beneficial effect on our gut bacteria by promoting a diverse number of healthy bacteria species. Conversely, a diet rich in high amount of fats and heavily processed foods will lead to the opposite. In summary, incorporating a good amount of fruits and vegetables and reducing your intake of processed and fatty foods will keep your gut bacteria in good shape and balance.
If someone doesn’t want to take an additional supplement, is there a naturally occurring way of boosting their gut health?
If you don’t want to take a probiotic supplement, there are many examples of natural probiotics in fermented foods – such as yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and kombucha.