We tend to measure our health by some pretty common benchmarks. Our weight, how fit we are, and how much energy we have are all used as indicators of how healthy our lifestyle is. But our gut health, more specifically the heath of the bacteria in our gut, has a huge influence on our overall wellbeing and, according to recently studies, can even be related to type-1 diabetes.
Inside your gut is a living ecosystem, full of both good bacteria, or probiotics, and bad bacteria. The balance between the two plays a major role in your physical and mental health.
Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system.
Louise Kelly, Natural Medicine Practitioner and owner of A Peace of Health, says gut health is all about equilibrium.
“Our body need balance and that includes the bacteria in our gut, good and bad,” she explains. “Good gut bacteria act like soldiers, stopping anything leaving the gut and entering the blood stream through the lining.
“Say a person is not eating well, had a poor diet of too much sugar and bad fat. This causes gut bacteria to be in a state of bad bacteria meaning the good bacteria are outnumbered and the bad bacteria can attack the gut lining and cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract.”
This means that instead of food being broken down, absorbed and eliminated, partially digested foods can cross through the damaged area of the intestinal lining and enter the blood stream directly. This in turn causes intolerances and inflammatory responses in the body.
There is a wealth of evidence that shows the nutritional causes of many diseases, and even autism and depression, are related to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut.
Recently, studies conducted with mice have shown this could include diabetes. The studies show that the composition of the gut flora is significantly different in mice with type-1 diabetes and mice without type-1 diabetes.
But in what way gut health can affect the disease is still unclear.
“Once theory says that when your gut health is not working too well is can cause the microbiota to create a bad signal meaning the insulin in your body won’t work as efficiently,” Louise explains. “The other theory is that there’s a chance that bad gut bacteria can attack insulin production directly.
“And of course, people who have got themselves into a state of bad bacteria by eating poorly are likely to be overweight in which case bad gut health can indirectly lead to diabetes through weight gain.”
One other possible reason why gut flora can cause obesity and diabetes is that different species of bacteria seem to have different effects on appetite and metabolism. Too much bad bacteria can increase your appetite by damaging your metabolism.
So it's clear that a shift in your gut flora might make it easier to gain weight, and also affect the delicate balance of insulin in your body. But poor gut health is a problem that can easily be rectified.
“There is never a point of no return with your gut health,” explains Louise. “It might not be fixed in a week but it can be fixed.”
The first step is to be aware of the internal and external things that can cause an imbalance.
“Aside from poor diet, things like antibiotics and BPAs in plastics are known to effect your gut bacteria,” Louise says.
Birth control, stress and chronic infections are also factors.
Next need to be aware of the symptoms that show your gut bacteria is not in perfect health.
“You might start to feel unwell and lethargic and have diarrhoea or have skin problems when your gut health is out of whack,” Louise explains.
Other symptoms can include food allergies, nausea, constipation and bloating.
If you have these symptoms then restoring your gut health starts with a good diet. Eating a healthy diet low in sugars, grains and processed foods will help cause the good bacteria in your gut to flourish. If treated well they will also naturally build up a defense against the bad bacteria in your body that can damage your health when in excessive numbers.
“If your diet is healthy your body will self-regulate to an extent,” Louise says. “You just have to know how to keep the right balance.” Probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes also help restore your gut health by helping break down non-digestible compounds are restoring good bacteria to your gut.
“Probiotics will certainly do wonders for your gut health but its important to figure out which kind of probiotic will work for you,” Louise explains. “See a health professional to decide what’s right for you.” There are also many food products that are excellent choices for natural probiotics, an alternative to probiotic tablets. These are usually fermented food products such as sauerkraut and other fermented veggies, and kefir, a fermented milk drink make from raw milk. These are natural superfoods that will strengthen your gut with lots of good bacteria.
But the most important way to monitor your gut health, Louise says, is to be in tune with your body.
“Know what your triggers are, know what throws your gut health out of balance, and listen to your body,” she says.