For good health, focus on gut health
by Colm O'Sullivan, on 06/04/21 09:11
Did you know that at least 70% of our immune system is in our gut? We explore the critical link between our health and our gut microbiome.
If you looked at our bodies under a microscope you would see we are in fact crawling with bugs. There are trillions of them covering every surface, both inside and out. If we’re honest, that actually sounds a bit creepy…but the good news is that most of those bugs are doing us a world of good.
We chatted to Eileen O’Herlihy, a research and development scientist at PrecisionBiotics, who has been working in the field of microbiome for the last 15 years.
She explains that while we are covered from head to toe in bugs (or “microbiota” if you want to get technical) by far the biggest population of them - about 90-95% - is in our gut.
The connection between our gut and our health
‘What we are discovering is that each of these bugs are performing a different function,’ explains Eileen. ‘They help us to digest food and absorb nutrients as well as influence our blood sugar levels and metabolism.’
They can also help us fight disease. ‘At least 70% of our immune system resides in our gut – and our microbiota can train and trigger our immune response,’ says Eileen. It’s perhaps not surprising then that scientists are currently researching the potential influence of our gut microbiota on our response to Covid-19 infections.* In fact, it’s thought some 90% of disease can be linked back in some way to our gut and the health of our microbiome**.
It’s a relief to know that most of our microbiota are doing good things for us. ‘We do all have some not so good bugs in our guts too but for most people these are kept in check by the good ones,’ says Eileen.
There are, however, occasions where the balance of good and bad bacteria is thrown off – in particular as a result of an unhealthy diet or significant antibiotic use – which can negatively impact our health. Some tell-tale signs that your gut microbes might be off balance include:
- Digestive issues such as changes to bowel habits, bloating or abdominal pain,
- Being more prone to sickness and taking longer to recover,
- Feeling sluggish or lethargic,
- Disturbed sleep, and
- Low mood
How to support the bugs in your gut
So what can we do to look after our microbiota? While many aspects of our diet and lifestyle are thought to have an impact – including exercise, stress and antibiotics - one of the most effective ways to support your microbiota is to eat lots of fresh, healthy, plant-based foods. ‘The fibre will feed the good bugs and encourage them to thrive,’ says Eileen. ‘By contrast, eating lots of highly processed, sugary and fatty foods will give the not so good bugs a boost.
Put simply – it’s thought that the more diverse the population of bugs in our gut, the healthier we are likely to be. So those microbes are worth taking care of.
References: * https://gut.bmj.com/content/70/4/698 **https://worldmicrobiomeday.com/resources/