Gut Health

The gut is extremely complex and is the root of many of our health complaints. It is now believed that the gut can affect other areas of the body such as skin conditions, cancer, mental health and the immune system[1]. Quite impressive for a place where food digests and poop comes out.

Bacteria
Our guts are alive with bacterial communities.

Our guts are filled with microorganisms known as ‘the gut microbiome’. There are between 300 and 500 types of bacteria living within the digestive system[1]. The majority of these bacteria are actually beneficial to our health, which is why it is important to feed and support our gut with a good diet.

The gut is known as the second brain.

How do you know if there’s a problem?

Identifying issues in the gut can be as simple as assessing your diet and lifestyle. Sometimes, however, there may be underlying causes such as food sensitivities.  Read on to see if you have dis-ease in your gut.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle factors can either damage or heal the gut. Even actions such as taking antibiotics, too little sleep and not exercising can harm the gut and affect its potential to absorb nutrients and discard toxins.

Supermarket trolley and processed food display
The Western diet and lifestyle could be harming our gut health.

Upset Tummy

One of the easiest ways to discover a gut problem is if you’re suffering from bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhoea. These are all symptoms of an imbalance in the gut which inhibits waste and toxin removal from the bowel.

Weight

Both losing and gaining weight without any changes to your lifestyle can suggest an unhealthy gut.

Fatigue

Girl sleeping in bed
Too much or too little sleep can affect gut function.

Sleeplessness and fatigue can be linked to gut problems. Serotonin, the feelgood hormone, is made in the gut[1]. The amount and quality of the hormone are affected by how the gut is functioning.

Skin Conditions

From acne to eczema, skin afflictions could be a way of telling you something is wrong with your gut. Sometimes this is a result of allergies or simply poor nutrition. Skin conditions are a symptom of what is known as a ‘leaky gut’. This is where the toxins leak out of the gut to irritate other areas of the body[2].

Spots on face and neck
Sometimes a problem with a gut can show on our skin.

Dysbiosis

Dysbiosis is a problem in the gut linked to the microbiome which then leads to illnesses such as IBS, gastritis and peptic ulcers[3]. The imbalance in the gut bacteria can eventually lead to disease such as cancer. The Western diet, which is high in fats, sugars and processed foods, is believed to contribute to gut problems.

On a positive note, all these factors and illnesses can be improved by simple changes in the diet and lifestyle.

Healing the Gut

There are many ways to improve gut health. Simple acts such as walking more and regular sleep patterns can dramatically improve things. Even limiting the use of soap and reducing sugar consumption can help.

Green foods into smoothies
Seeing green: a healthy diet can do wonders for the gut.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Many people have heard of probiotics as during the past 30-odd years there has been a surge in ‘health foods’ such as yoghurt drinks which claim to improve digestive function and support the bacteria within our guts. The probiotic market is reckoned to be worth around £20 billion[4]. This shows how much trouble our guts are in.

There are several differences between prebiotics and probiotics; both of which are necessary for a healthy gut.

Prebiotics are non-living fibres that feed and support good bacteria in the gut only[5]. Prebiotics can be found in some carbohydrates fruits and vegetables. You can also take supplements.

Good prebiotic foods include whole grains, raw garlic and onions, raw chicory root, raw honey and green bananas. Prebiotics include inulin, beta glucans and lactulose[6].

Red onion, white onion, garlic bulbs
Eating members of the allium family raw can be a natural source of prebiotics.

Probiotics, on the other hand, are living bacteria. You may have heard of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli which are types of probiotic bacteria[5]. Unlike prebiotics, they can be affected by levels of acidity in the gut and can be destroyed[5].

Changing your diet is perhaps the quickest way to see noticeable changes in your gut health. Try these local foods and drinks to try and heal your gut.

Please note that if you are taking prebiotic supplements, you need to balance it with probiotics otherwise you will increase your abdominal discomfort. Starting with smaller quantities is best. Too much fibre can seriously harm the gut.

Foods for your gut from Local Producers

Kombucha

The fun and slightly fizzy, fermented tea drink is making waves through popular culture. Why? Because it is a fantastic health tonic. Fermented foods such as kombucha, and other foods such as sauerkraut, sourdough bread and some dairy products, all act as powerful gut enhancers through the fermentation process. Not only are they easier to digest, but they are also filled with good bacteria.

Try kombucha from Left Field Kombucha‘s 4 flavour range.

The 4 varieties by Left Field: yunnan black, sencha green, oolong and darjeeling
Find your kombucha style with Left Field Kombucha

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish, like salmon, herring and sardines, are believed to be beneficial to the gut microbiota[7]. Research suggests that the high content of omega-3 fatty acids may encourage the development and help to sustain the levels of bacteria within the gut[7]. Higher levels of microbial diversity are believed to lessen the chance of suffering from symptoms of IBS and the risk of bowel cancer[7]. As the gut is known as the 2nd brain, it comes as no surprise that a diet rich in omega fatty acids can also help keep the bowel healthy and happy too.

Craster kippers curing
Craster Kippers are a great locally caught fatty fish!

Find local fatty fish from L Robson & Sons, Swallow Fish Ltd, Ross Dougal and D.R. Collin.

Butter

Real butter, like the farmhouse butter from Stichill Jerseys in Kelso, is a great way to improve gut health.

Block of butter
Butter is a health food.

Butter, especially if it is made from milk from grass-fed cows, can help support gut health because of a type of fat called butyric acid[8]. Interestingly, our bodies naturally produce butyric acid, but a damaged gut has a limited supply and ability to digest indigestible fibre and this can lead to what is known as a ‘leaky gut’[8]. Eating foods which naturally contain butyric acid can help combat this problem. It has been scientifically proven that butyric acid in the gut can suppress the growth of bad bacteria[9].

Sea Buckthorn

Sea Buckthorn is a prebiotic source which can repair mucous membranes. This is particularly important for those with major dysbiosis problems. One of the major problems when trying to heal dysbiosis is that the pathogen affects the intestinal lining, making it thin, and permeable. Sea buckthorn helps your intestine heal faster whilst killing bad bacteria and yeast and can help sufferers with chronic constipation[10].

Sea buckthorn berries
Bright berries of Sea Buckthorn are powerful and nutrient-dense.

Only seasonally available, keep your eyes peeled for local sea buckthorn juice from Wild & Scottish based near Duns.

Sourdough

Sourdough bread, made from whole grain flour, is a fermented food which can support the gut. The probiotic found in sourdough is known as lactobacillus[11].

Be aware, however, that some sourfaux loaves do not contain this probiotic. It is only through a properly made sourdough starter, which is left to ferment, that you can benefit your gut. You can learn these techniques on bakery courses held at Bread & Roses and Savour the Flavour.

Artisan loaves
Seeded Levain loaf from Bread & Roses

Yoghurt

Yoghurt is an easy-to-digest dairy product. Plain, natural or Greek-style, yoghurt is the best way to consume this much-adored food. Most yoghurts contain ‘live cultures’ which benefit the gut.

Try Blue House Goats Greek-style goats yogurt.

Blue House Goats yogurt
Top up good bacteria with Blue House Goats Greek-style yogurt.

Honey

Raw honey, and even better local, raw honey, is one of the best health tonics out there. Raw honey goes through little treatment and therefore retains the majority of its health properties. This includes supporting gut health.

Raw honey is a great source of prebiotics. They can feed the probiotic foods and drinks which are included in this list. Raw honey is a fantastic veggie-friendly and dairy-free source of prebiotics.

Try some honeycomb honey from Chain Bridge Honey Farm to support the gut.

Bespoke Heather Comb Honey by Chain Bridge Honey Farm is honey in its most natural form
Authentic Heather Comb Honey: a top health food

Raw Milk

Raw milk is milk which hasn’t been treated to remove anything that naturally occurs in milk. This includes its probiotic bacteria levels. Raw milk can also be used to make kefir, a fermented raw milk drink. You can source local raw milk from Wheelbirks or Morwick Dairy both in Northumberland.

Milk bottles
A refreshing glass of raw milk from Wheelbirks can help support the good gut bacteria.

Drink water

Drinking at least the recommended 8 glasses of water a day should help things move along nicely in the gut. Interestingly, it is better to drink warm or room temperature water rather than cold or iced water. If you are consuming more fibre or it is a hot day, refresh with some Northumbrian water from Marlish Water.

Glasses of water with various fruits
Hydrate with Marlish Water

Geared Up For A Healthy Gut?

Feed the bacteria in your gut a healthy diet and feel the benefits across all parts of your life from sleep, to energy and even your skin. Consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha, sipping green tea and consuming bone broth can also help heal the gut.

Finely sliced white cabbage
Make your own sauerkraut with locally grown cabbage.

Join the conversation on social media. Follow Foodful on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Disclaimer: If you’re having gut problems the ideal solution is to seek medical advice. The article written here is not intended for medical diagnosis.