What is gut health and the microbiome and how can I look after it?

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There is much talk of the gut and the microbiome, with many claiming it’s the next frontier in health and wellbeing. In my recent podcast episode with Dr Becca Moore, it was even suggested that some scientists and doctors refer to the gut as the first brain (formerly known as the enteric nervous system). The interaction between the gut and the brain is fascinating and profound; it is usually referred to as the gut-brain-axis, which is the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) and the central nervous system (CNS).

Our gut is colonised by bacteria – in fact, we are more bacterial than we are human. First, a couple of definitions: the microbiota refers to the micro-organisms and viruses associated with the GI tract. The microbiome refers to the genetic make-up of the whole of the microbiota, i.e. the genes from all the bacteria and viruses, etc.

We get our first dose of microbes from the bacteria in our mother’s vagina during birth, and even more from breast milk – as well as everything else we come into contact with when we’re born. Among other benefits, microbes and bacteria help us to extract energy from food and can protect against infection.

Some fun facts: a typical adult has:

  • 10 x more microbial cells than human cells
  • 100 trillion bacterial cells (across 4000 species)
  • Around 1 trillion of these cells are in the colon
  • The total weight of the microbes is 3lbs – about the same as the brain
  • The human gut has more immune cells than the rest of the body

We are now just realising the significance of having a wide range of gut microbes on our health. For example, scientists believe that bacteria are connected to conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and there are even links to autism. There are several conditions which appear to have become the new normal – but are they? Consider autoimmune conditions like MS, allergies (peanuts, asthma, eczema, hay fever), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (including Crohns Disease and Ulcerative Colitis); some scientists now think this is down to gut dysbiosis – a lack of good bacteria or presence of damaging bacteria or a lack of diversity in the gut. Not only is our physical health affected by our gut, but mental is as well – most of our serotonin resides in the gut and it’s serotonin that is believed to contribute to positive mental health.

Tips for protecting your gut and microbes:

  • Include plenty of variety in your diet
  • Consume fermented foods
  • Only use antibiotics if you really have to
  • Avoid inflammation – eat a personalised diet, based on your DNA
  • Limit refined sugars to a minimum (cause inflammation and bacterial infections)
  • Consume minimal amounts of caffeine and alcohol
  • Moderate stress levels
  • Cycle your system with pre and pro-biotics every month

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Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email info@bodyshotperformance.com to register your interest in our services and connect with us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.