Digestive Health

Digestive Health.jpg

April is IBS Awareness month and this seems a good time to write about digestive health. IBS is really an umbrella term for various digestive symptoms. It is a condition that affects about 1 in 10 people and is becoming increasingly common. It can be an embarrassing and limiting condition due to symptoms such as flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and a generally noisy digestive system.

There are many contributory factors to IBS. Inflammation is an important one and something that can often be linked to diet, particularly a modern day western diet that is high in refined foods such as sugar, white flour and large amounts of alcohol and red meat. People suffering from IBS have been found to have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their intestinal lining[1].

The lining of the intestine plays an important role in maintaining our health by allowing proper absorption of nutrients as well as preventing allergens and aggravating substances entering the bloodstream. Inflammation can damage the lining of the intestine and it is at this stage that we often start to experience symptoms beyond IBS. This can result in allergies and intolerances as substances get through a ‘leaky gut’ as the lining becomes exactly that and allows not only the wrong stuff through but prevents proper absorption of nutrients which can lead to deficiencies that can cause further symptoms. It is often common to feel tired and lethargic as the body works to fight this inflammation.

Stress is another very important factor when looking at gut health and IBS. The term ‘microbiota’ is becoming more widely used and refers to the community of bacteria in our body. There is a very strong link between our gut and our brain and scientists are discovering more and more about this fascinating interaction. The gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’ and gut bacteria manufacture several neurotransmitters, including serotonin[2], also known as our ‘happy hormone’. Therefore, if our gut bacteria are out of balance it stands to reason that this will affect our mood, and vice versa. An easy way for us all to think of this is the ‘butterfly’ feeling we get when we are excited or nervous. Our gut and our brain/nervous system are inextricably linked.

When we think about healing the gut, one of the most important elements is balancing the gut bacteria. This is through the use of both pro and prebiotics. We have all heard of prebiotics, the so called ‘good bacteria’ that populate our digestive system. It is very important to have a good balance of these bacteria as they help fight infection, improve digestion and prevent the overgrowth of the ‘bad bacteria’. There is much evidence to support their use in IBS as they can help to eliminate many of the associated symptoms[3]. The best way to take probiotics is either in supplement form or by eating fermented foods such as natural bio live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchee.

Prebiotics are foods that encourage the growth of the good bacteria. These are typically those that include fructooligosaccharidesor (FOS) or inulin such as green bananas Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, leeks and onion. Care should be taken with these foods as they can cause bloating and flatulence in some people.

Avoiding inflammatory foods such as sugar, wheat and some dairy is also important in order to reduce inflammation and promote good digestion. Eating in a relaxed environment, at the table and chewing your food properly are all important factors when promoting digestion.

Stress management is vital when considering digestion and IBS and I always discuss this with any client who is experiencing digestive discomfort. Exercises such as yoga and pilates can be very beneficial. Yoga is particularly helpful as it encourages nasal breathing which is key to relaxation and uses many positions that promote digestion and elimination.

If you think you are suffering from IBS or are experiencing any kind of digestive symptoms then please do get in touch with me to discuss it. Throughout April I am offering a special package of three consultations for the price of £120 (normal price £150) for any digestive complaints. Contact me to find out more.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25697785

[2] http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25780308

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© 2014 by Kirsty Williams Nutrition.