Gut health is an area that has become a mainstream topic in the realm of health and wellness. Decades of research have shown that our guts, when unbalanced, can be the root cause for a range of woes. Weight gain, acne, lethargy and even poor mental health can be influenced and even caused by an unhealthy gut.
We written in the past about exactly how gut health can impact so many different facets of our lives, but now we're looking at how to make a change. How can you actually tell when you have an unhealthy gut and what can you do to change this?
According to expert Anna Mitsios, "Working on healing the gut is not difficult but does require a considered approach." The naturopath, nutritionist and founder of Edible Beauty Australia has spent a career dedicated to helping people find a balance by understanding the signs of unhealthy gut and recognising the triggers. Below, she tells how to recognise problems (in fact there's a test you can do) and the foods and lifestyle changes that can assist you to find equilibrium.
How can you tell if your gut health isn't where it should be? Are there any signs to look out for?
There are a few signs which tell us that our gut is out of balance. Aside from typical gut symptoms such as bloating, constipation, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions such as acne, facial redness, hormonal breakouts and eczema can also be signs that our gut is needing some support. Low energy, weight gain, hormonal imbalances and low mood may also be signs that our gut is out of balance.
Is there a test or some sort analysis that can determine the state of our guts?
The test that I recommend be taken to determine the state of our help is a gut microbiome mapping test. This is a comprehensive analysis of our gut microbiome and provides information on levels of microbes that can be disrupting normal microbial balance along with information on the strains of gut bacteria currently in the gut. It can also show information like levels of inflammation in the gut, the presence of yeast / candida albicans and even our gut’s sensitivity to various anti-microbial therapies. This information is invaluable when it comes to healing gut dysbiosis.
If you are someone that is trying to work on their gut health, what's the first step?
Working on healing the gut is not difficult but does require a considered approach. The first step I recommend when it comes to improving our gut health is removing any of the dietary triggers that may be exacerbating your symptoms. This is often sugar, yeast, gluten and dairy, however everyone’s gut is different so taking a food diary can be helpful in determining what is triggering your gut imbalance. Alongside eliminating these foods, I have a few go-to herbs which can be really helpful in eliminating any potential yeast overgrowth – these herbs include golden seal, garlic and oregano. I do recommend being guided by a functional medicine practitioner or naturopath when it comes to administering supplements to assist.
Following on from this we look at rebuilding our gut lining, balancing our gut microbiome (I love polyphenols and fibre for this) and inoculating the gut with good gut bacteria!
Are there any lifestyle changes that we should look to make?
Reducing stress and improving our sleep can definitely be helpful in improving our gut health. High levels of stress can deplete our body of key nutrients which support a healthy gut including zinc and vitamin C. A lack of sleep can also mean that our body’s healing and repair mechanisms are compromised and our hormones are out of balance which can place an extra load on our gut and liver.
Are there any foods to avoid or foods to add?
I recommend avoiding processed sugar, dairy and gluten which can exacerbate gut inflammation and can often increase the permeability of the intestinal lining. I also recommend people avoid yeast when they are doing a gut healing protocol – there are sneaky foods like vinegar, bread, soy and fermented foods which can also exacerbate intestinal dysbiosis.
What about activities or triggers? Any to avoid or add?
Whilst antibiotics can be life-saving one of their negative side effects when used repeatedly is an imbalance of gut bacteria. I recommend always focusing on reinoculation the gut with good bacteria (polyphenols, fibre and probiotics) when taking a course of antibiotics.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to intestinal dysbiosis as it can deplete so many of our gut supporting nutrients including zinc and vitamin C.
When we're on the path to wellness, what sort of differences can we effect to feel/notice?
One of the wonderful things about addressing gut health is that the benefits of your hard work are quickly noticed. Skin becomes more radiant, energy levels increase, aches and pains resolve and we generally feel lighter and happier.
What the best piece of advice you would offer to anyone looking to improve their gut health?
Our gut microbiome is a complex eco-system comprising over 30 trillion cells and five different types of organisms including bacteria, yeasts, viruses, parasites and archaea. All these microbes have a unique role in our health so fostering this diversity is key. When we nurture a diverse ecosystem of gut bacteria our gut becomes incredibly resilient and strong, as does our overall health and immune system which is so intricately linked.
The key to nurturing a diverse ecosystem of gut microbes is feeding them a diverse range of plant based foods. This is important as not every microbe eats the same thing and every dietary choice you make will either allow our group of microbes to thrive and the others to die off. The life cycle of our gut bacteria is so quick that the food choices you make in twenty-four hours will impact the evolution of over 50 generations of gut microbes. My recommendation based on this is to ensure you are eating a variety of plant-based foods every day! Eating healthy foods such as broccoli, kale and seeds repetitively is great but is not nurturing all of our gut microbiome. Think about changing up your greens and veggies every day and adding nuts, seeds, seaweed and healthy whole grains into your diet to ensure you are fuelling your gut bacteria with the best possible food to nourish and nurture them.
When conceptualising my holistic beauty brand, Edible Beauty, I wanted to really drive home the message that beauty is built from within, both literally and metaphorically. Inner wellness interprets your outer glow, which is why our natural beauty skincare products and dietary supplements take a holistic approach to curing your complexion concerns. Our Gut Replenish powder contains polyphenol-rich superfoods such as cacao, carob, berries and grape seeds. These compounds provide a balancing-biotic™ function in the digestive system, not only replenishing but also restoring the harmony of your gut bacteria ratios. If you have tried other digestive supplements with lacking results, polyphenols may be the missing ingredient your gut is craving, in order to restore balance.