We all have different bowel habits, some go every day and some three times a week. Just as we are all unique in different ways, what is a NORMAL bowel habit differ for each individual. Having said this, having a relatively slow bowel emptying habit is what I will refer to as a sluggish or lazy bowel, which some of us can resonate with. What is more important for each individual is to recognise when there is a deviation from their own NORMAL bowel habit as well as other symptoms that may indicate an issue with our gut health. Experts say that around 4 in 10 people have at least one digestive complaints (constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, stomach ache and heartburn) at any one time.
Even as a doctor, my personal experience of minor digestive complaints didn’t seem to catch much of my attention till I started noticing the same trait in one of my children, then I remembered growing up my dad had similar. So I thought I research this a bit to help my child, and also realising that this is a common issue for many people; I felt this might help so many others too! And I am positive it will.
So let’s jump straight in:
So why Gut Health?”
What we take in which consequently affect our gut health affects everything from our digestion, immunity, metabolism, body weight , physical and mental health. In other words paying attention to our gut health not only helps with symptoms directly relating to our guts like constipation, diarrhoea or bloating, but what is good for our gut is also good for our heart, kidney, liver, brain function and skin. Our diet impacts our gut health which in turn impact our overall health and well-being .
Our gut has several trillions of healthy gut bacteria which helps the body to digest food and ensure proper digestive functioning. It is therefore important to consume gut healthy food in the right proportion to maintain the gut healthy bacteria balance and in turn maintain our gut health which in turn reduces the risk of numerous gut problems.
How to improve our gut health:
- Eat more fibre to aid digestion and prevent constipation. Foods such as whole grains found in whole-wheat bread and whole wheat pasta, brown rice and oats. Fruits such as Apples, Berries (blue berries, black berries, straw berries and raspberries), Avocados, dried fruits like prunes, apricots and dates. A lot of these fruits can be added to breakfast cereals, as a side during a main meal or taken as snacks. Vegetables such as Broccoli, beans, all kind of potatoes (red, purple, white & sweet) when not fried. Nuts are a good source of healthy fats, protein and high fibres. Raw or dry-roasted nuts are preferable. It may help to look more into fruits, veggies and foods with high fibres and pick your favourites from them.
- Drink plenty of fluids to aid digestion and soften your stool. By this, I specifically mean more water rather than other drinks. Some advocate having a glass of water first thing in the morning.
- Cut down on fatty foods, eg fries/chips, burgers, whipped cream, fried foods, processed meats like sausages, desserts, beef ribs, etc, they are harder to digest and can cause stomach ache and heartburn. Less of greasy fried foods ease your stomach’s workload.
- Determine your gut’s tolerance to spicy foods eg curries, peppers, garlic, hot sauces etc and cooperate with it.
- Be sensitive to your gut symptoms triggers and avoid them. Common triggers are fizzy drinks, caffeine, acidic fruits eg citrus fruits and salad dressings, wheat and dairy. If you avoid a variety of food that troubles your gut then be sure to get dietary advice on healthy alternatives so you can maintain an adequate nutrient balance.
- Probiotics: Consider tummy-friendly yoghurt and drinks called probiotics which contains gut-friendly bacteria that has been proven to have digestive gut benefits and thought to improve some common tummy troubles. Eg Activia, actimel, kefir, Yakult, benecol and a host of others.
- Exercise regularly, as the movement of our muscles also helps to keep the gut moving.
Negative effects of lifestyle choices on gut health.
Poor sleep disrupts the healthy cycle of the gut bacteria which can cause tummy problems.
Stress reduces appetite, digestion, nutrients absorption, and can cause bloating, pain, constipation or diarrhoea. It can worsen condition like stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.
Excessive alcohol intake encourages overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria and reduces helpful bacteria which increases risk of infection.
Smoking disrupts gut health and increases the risk for serious diseases of the gut including cancers. It can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of the food pipe allowing stomach acid to travel back up in the wrong direction causing reflux and heartburn.
A lot of digestive problems and stomach upsets can be prevented and relieved by simple lifestyle changes.
Report any changes in your bowel habit, persistent or worsening indigestion, unexplained weight loss, blood in the stool or any tummy concerns to your Doctor.
The popular proverbial saying “you are what you eat” says it all.
Follow your guts 😊