Gut health is something that is becoming more and more apart of the conversation around wellness. And so it should.
Our guts are incredibly complex. This one part of our bodies can impact not just our physical health, but our energy levels, weight management and even our mental health. So, looking at your gut health and understanding when you may have a problem is incredibly important for your over all wellbeing.
With this in mind, we connected with an expert to find out more. We spoke to Ai-Lien Chen, pharmacist and co-founder of Fermio, brand with a mission to assist gut-related issues and promote health from the inside out. We asked her all our gut health related question and below is what she had to say.
What does it mean to have a healthy gut? And what does it mean to have an unhealthy one?
There are over 1000 bacterial species in our gut that have evolved with us over thousands of years, whilst we have only studied the human microbiome over the last 20-30 years.
There is currently no definition or blueprint of exactly what a healthy microbiome looks like. The consensus is a healthy gut microbiome is one that provides an abundance of metabolic pathways (is capable of digesting and producing a large number of substances necessary to our survival), has a diversity and balance of microbial species (including good, bad and neutral bacteria), and can resist permanent damage and return to a healthy state after disturbances.
At this point, a healthy gut usually corresponds to overall health. We like to use the 80/20 rule, because no one feels 100% all the time. If your digestive system feels comfortable 80% of the time, your bowel movements are regular, you are energetic throughout the day and sleep well at night, your gut health is probably in good shape. And conversely, if your digestive system displays symptoms 80% of the time (i.e. symptoms on 5 out of 7 days of the week), there is room for improvement.
What are some symptoms of poor gut health?
Digestive woes are incredibly common – up to one in five people suffer from digestive issues and almost all of them can cause or involve imbalances in our gut microbiome. This disruption between the mutually beneficial relationship between you and your microbiome, is known as dysbiosis.
Some signs of a digestive system that has room for improvement includes bloating, nausea, flatulence, abdominal cramping, indigestion, heartburn and irregular or difficult bowel movements. Most of these are temporary and often respond to diet and lifestyle interventions. If they do not resolve with simple interventions or are recurrent, consult a healthcare professional, as digestive diseases can be serious.
The microbiome influences almost every aspect of our bodily functions. They digest your food, control your metabolism, protect you against pathogens, orchestrate your immune system, modulate your hormones, and influence your mood. Poor gut health can affect not only your bathroom behaviour, but also what nutrients you absorb, which vitamins are manufactured, how susceptible you are to infections, or whether your brain feels sharp and clear or fuzzy and unfocused.
What factors can lead to poor gut health? Is it hereditary? Or can other factors affect this?
Our microbiome is an active participant and determinant of our health. Our microbiome's composition and function is constantly changing in response to diet, lifestyle, stress, environment, and exposure to other microorganisms. This is of particular interest during early childhood, as evidence suggest the microbial communities we are exposed to as infants and young children may exert a strong influence on the development of our immune system and long-term health.
Studies on the microbiome of twins have shown that genetics can play a role in the gut microbiome composition. However, nature is just as important as nurture when it comes to the gut microbiome, as environmental influences can switch on or turn off certain genes (known as epigenetics). Whilst people may have a genetic predisposition to a certain internal bacterial makeup, there is still plenty of room for diet, lifestyle and the environment to significantly affect our gut health.
Urbanisation, industrialisation and modern medicine have undoubtedly improved our lives, but they have also introduced practices that have decimated the diversity in our internal ecology. There's emerging research suggesting the microbial diversity of developing nations is the reason for their lower rates of allergy and asthma, because diverse microbiomes are better at keeping the immune system in balance.
The types of foods we eat, the amount of food we eat, the frequency at which we eat and the lack of diversity in the foods that we eat, can have a measurable impact on our microbiome. Ultra-processed foods, diets high in refined sugars or low in fibre, are associated with less diversity in the microbiome.
Can poor gut health affect more than just our internal health?
Even though poor gut health may not be life-threatening, the discomfort, stigma, and self-consciousness can significantly impact the quality of life. Not to mention missed workdays, reduced work productivity and social anxiety.
How can it affect our skin?
There is a well-recognised correlation between the skin and gut, commonly referred to as the gut-skin axis. Because up to 75% of our immune system resides in the gut, suboptimal gut health can affect our skin, especially with immune-mediated conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis.
Is there a small change we can make right now to make a big impact?
The process of digestion starts with the first bite. Chewing is probably the most overlooked aspect of gut health, and skipping this initial step means the rest of the digestive process has to work harder to digest food properly. So try and make chewing each bite 10-15 times a habit. Take a few deep breaths before you eat or squeeze in a quick meditation if possible, this will help you be present, eat mindfully and remind yourself to chew until it becomes a habit.
Increasing the consumption of foods that feed good bacteria, such as fermented foods, can also assist with building resilience in our gut microbiome. This was something important we considered when developing FERMIO’s flagship product, the Nutritional Cleanse. We wanted to utilise the power of fermentation to give everyone access to simple a wellness routine, and we include our triple-fermented complex across our range for digestive wellness. Nutritional Cleanse is scientifically formulated to gently cleanse and nourish gut health with 88 different triple-fermented whole foods in one easy shot which can be consumed daily.
What can we do to heal and nurture our guts in the long-term?
Eat a rainbow. Encourage a diverse microbiome and a good balance of gut bacteria by consuming different coloured foods. The colours that give some of our favourite fruits and vegetables are also what gives them their health benefits. Blue and purple fruits are high in anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that protects our cells from damage. Green and leafy veggies are packed full of minerals, vitamins and fibre, which helps to feed the good bacteria.
If you are struggling to add diversity to your diet, our Nutritional Cleanse is scientifically formulated with 88 different triple-fermented whole foods in one easy shot. It’s also a flexible and sustainable program designed to support healthier lifestyles all year round, not just after a big night/week out. Some people choose to make our cleanse part of their weekly digestive wellness routine. Or simply whenever you have over-indulged, want to give your digestive system a rest or just need an energy boost. It’s easier to meet long-term health goals if we can implement them in short, actionable steps.
What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about gut health?
Just because there is no “one size fits all” solution to gut health does not mean it is complicated or difficult. The sheer number of products, diets, programs and information around gut health might make the topic seem overwhelming, abstract and confusing, but the principles of good gut health is simple. Feed, nourish and rest the microbes in your gut, and they will look after you and that’s the main message we wanted to get across when creating FERMIO.
What advice would you give anyone looking to improve their overall wellbeing?
Focus on adding good things, which is often easier to initiate and sustain. Simple regimens, like adding three types of fruits or veggies into your daily diet, have much higher adherence rates than replacing the entire pantry with foods you haven’t seen before. Whilst we should always choose interventions that are evidence-based, they also need to be life-friendly. Most people don’t live under ideal lab or study conditions all the time, and it is important to remember the best interventions are the ones you can stick to.