By lifestyle medic Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi (Royal college of GPs Lifestyle Lead)
Pure & simple bacteria are the reason you & I are here today. Because of them we have oxygen forming photosynthesis & complex species like the genus Homo (our ancestors). In your gut right now there are around 100 trillion microorganisms. They form what is called your microbiota and consist of bacteria, viruses & fungi. This genetic pool dwarfs our own with 9 million & 24,000 genes respectively.
Your gut microbiome plays a HUGE role in our health. It can be considered as another organ in the body ‘microbe organ’ because of its crucial role in nearly every single body system. During the evolutionary process complex organisms like our own have utilised this community of bugs to help us process a number of key jobs. From absorbing essential vitamins & nutrients to assisting our immune system defend us from attack. This is thanks to the rapid ability for our gut microbiome DNA to adapt compared to our own which takes generations. Recent research has shown how assessment of our gut health can be an effective way of assessing our overall health (1).
From the early 2000s our understanding of the gut microbiota has evolved. A research group in Stanford University USA explored the difference in composition of the gut microbiota between lean & obese mice. The results were fascinating. They found a significant variation between the two groups & furthermore, on transferring the gut microbiota from obese to lean mice it resulted in weight gain in this group. Based on your gut microbiome alone scientists can predict to 90% accuracy whether the individual is overweight or not.
This evidence illustrates the key role gut health plays. From weight to energy levels, mood to immunity making sure it is healthy is fundamental to ensuring overall good health. Poor gut bug health is associated with type 2 diabetes, IBS, allergies & cancer. But how do we make our gut bugs health-promoting (eubiotic) rather than disease-promoting (dysbiotic).
How can I improve my gut health?
Re-wild your gut: 50% of the food we eat in the UK is ultra-processed. This is compared to 10 to 15% in Italy & France. There are a million & one things wrong with ultra-processed foods but one of them is the lack of microbiological diversity. They simply do not feed our gut with the friendly bacteria, viruses & fungi to help form a healthy gut microbiota. It is therefore important to re-wild your gut by avoiding ultra-processed foods and increasing your nutritional diversity. This means having a varied diet rather than repeating the same meals weekly. Including a wide range of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds & protein sources will provide you with the genetic soup you need. Essentially a rainbow diet! Each colour found in foods constitutes a different nutrient, therefore make sure your plate is not beige.
Often a good way to think about how best to prepare our bodies is to consider how we lived for the last 200,000 years. For the vast majority of our existence on this earth we have been hunter gatherers. This naturally meant we by survival ate a wide range of different kinds of food sources. Baggers can’t be choosers! It is only since the 20th century and the invention of mass food production & refrigeration that we have had a huge food revolution to processed food sources. Simply our bodies are not designed to run effectively on this fuel source. It is linked with the increased rates of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, IBS, obesity, fatigue (feeling tired all the time), & cancer amongst many others.
Communities in remote parts of the world which still practice a hunter gatherer lifestyle have been shown to have far greater levels of gut health in comparison to those on a western diet. In addition it has been shown that we are able to vastly improve our gut health by increasing our nutritional diversity & the associated improved health outcomes that follows. Although not instant many effects can be seen within the first few weeks but often full benefits can take months. Remember this is not a temporary change but a permanent lifestyle move as once you revert to your old diet your gut microbiota will quickly narrow and with it the health benefits.
Eat more Prebiotics
This is specialized plant fibre that acts as food for the good bacteria. It stimulates growth among the pre-existing good bacteria. Examples include:
Vegetables: Onions, leeks, dandelion greens, peas, Jerusalem artichoke
Fruit: Apples, bananas, kiwis
Carbs: Lentils & oats
Seeds & herbs: Garlic, chicory, seaweed, burdock root
Eat more Probiotic
Living strains of bacteria that add to the population of good bacteria in your digestive system.
- Miso soup
- Kefir (dairy and non-dairy)
- Pickled vegetables
- Yakult & Actimel
- Eat diverse range of fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts & protein sources (Rainbow diet)
- Avoid ultra-proceed foods
- Consume pre & probiotics
What to do if you have IBS?
Restrict your diet
Unlike other groups restrictive diets perform much better than high-fibre, high-prebiotic diets for resolving the symptoms of IBS. The easiest way to achieve this is to reduce carbohydrates, fibre & prebiotics (see list above). Don’t worry this is not forever!
You can try plans like the low-FODMAP diet, elimination diet or the low carb diet during this time. By adopting this strategy you starve out the bad bacteria. This results in reduced levels of inflammation & brings back gut barrier integrity. You should then start to notice an improvement in your symptoms. Once this has occurred and persisted for 1-2 months you should then start to incorporate both pre & probiotics, keep processed food to a minimum and slowly incorporate a wide range of fruit & vegetables.
Stress plays a huge role in our gut health. Have you ever noticed that your IBS symptoms can play havoc when you are going through stressful periods. Have you ever wondered how?
There is a two way communication between your brain & your gut bugs. This includes the vagus nerve & your immune system. Strong emotions like stress, anxiety & low mood trigger chemical responses which results in stimulation of these communication pathways & activates the gut to spasm. This is all part of a protective short acting response to help you ‘run away’ from your stressor. However, in these situations this stress is more chronic & therefore the body cannot go back to its previous state. Resulting in more persistent symptoms.
Therefore it is key to understand this & focus on your mental health. There is a wide range of activities that you can undertake to improve it including breath work, meditation, gentle-stretching, walking in nature & talking therapies. For more information see our mental health zone.
Help with Food costs
Lillington Community Pantry
If you are a local resident in Lillington, or the surrounding area, struggling to make ends meet they can provide help with food and other essential items. Their friendly and supportive team will also be on hand to help and signpost you to local support services, giving you the additional guidance required to overcome your individual situation.
You can request to join The Lillington Community Pantry by calling 01926 350 800 or emailing email@example.com. You will be contacted by a member of their team and invited to visit the Pantry to complete a Membership Application.
Our team will help you complete the Application Form, and you'll be informed before you arrive of any documents that you'll need to bring with you. After you've completed your Membership Application, you'll be given a Membership Card and can start shopping at the Pantry.
You can visit the Pantry once a week. It costs £5 each time you shop at the Pantry. If you require extras, such as toiletries, there will be a small additional cost.
Every 3 months, you'll be invited to a review with a member of our team. Your Membership runs for 6 months and can be renewed.
What sort of food do they provide?
They aim to provide food from across all food groups including a wide selection of store cupboard essentials, chilled, frozen and fresh fruit & vegetables. A small selection of cleaning products and toiletries will also be available for a small additional charge.
SYNDI Centre: Community Veg Bags
Collection from 12.30pm
Order a Large Veg bag for £5 or small for £3.50 on of before Tuesday each week for collection on a Thursday. Huge value for money food co-operative.
1.Anastassia Gorvitovskaia, Susan P. Holmes, & Susan M.Huse, “Interpreting Prevotella & Bacteroides as biomarkers of diet & lifestyle,” Micorbiome 4, no. 1 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-016-0160-7