The Importance of Gut Health
The human microbiome can be described as the body’s ‘mini-ecosystem’ - a collection of microbes and microorganisms that play a vital role in health and prevention of chronic disease.
Most of these organisms live within the gut; the gut microbiome refers to the millions of microbes associated with the digestive tract. We need these good bacteria to create the best environment for the body’s enzymes to work at their best. Digestive enzymes are secreted by the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas and small intestine and they all have a role to play in breaking down food quickly and effectively.
Research has shown the gut microbiome is enormously involved in metabolism, nutrition, physiology and immune function.
An increasing understanding of the strong link between the gut and brain is evolving. The gut and brain are able to communicate through the nervous system, hormones and the immune system. Some of the microbiome can effectively speak to the brain via the vagus nerve, through releasing neurotransmitters.
GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome)
Pioneers such as Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride have shown through research the interaction between the gut, the brain and the immune system.
Dr Campbell-McBride created the term GAPS: a condition linked to an imbalance of gut microbes and thought to be behind many mental and physical problems such as autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression and schizophrenia.
The GAPS diet is used in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome, autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety and autoimmune disease. It includes nutrient-dense foods that are easily digestible, including fermented foods.
Please see the sources below if you’d like to learn more about GAPS and the GAPS diet.
Supporting children’s digestive health
An absence of gut bacteria in infancy has been found to alter genes and signal pathways involved in learning, memory and motor control. Research also suggests that a lack of gut bacteria diversity in early life may be a driver for food allergies.
The increasing evidence of the link between gut health and mental health suggests it is vital to encourage good gut health from an early age. From birth to old age, the gut microbiome is constantly evolving and can begin to reset itself in just a few days if you eat the right type of foods.
The gut microbiome will flourish if it’s given a diverse, plant-based diet. But overloading on simple carbs (such as white bread, white rice and white pasta), processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners and the wrong type of fats promotes the growth of unfavourable bacteria.
Children’s nutrition and good digestion is key to their health and wellbeing in enabling them to grow and develop.
Our top tips to encourage good gut health are useful guidelines for both children and adults.
Chew food thoroughly
Chewing starts the process of breaking down food; this stimulates the production of enzymes from the saliva and sends a message to the brain to release hormones that signal to the pancreas to release digestive enzymes.
Add more fibre-rich foods
Increase more fibre gradually over a few weeks to allow the digestive system to adapt to the change. Aim for more fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Smaller meals, more often
Too much food can overload a child’s digestive system (and an adult’s). Encourage slow chewing to start the digestive process of breaking down food more easily.
Liquid enables food to pass through the digestive tract more quickly. Children need to drink plenty of water but you can make it more interesting by adding a slice of lemon or cucumber or a dash of fruit juice.
Sugar feeds harmful bacteria and can upset the balance of microflora.
Regular exercise supports digestion by stimulating food to move through the intestine and it is an important part of maintaining a healthy body weight.
Stress hormones can contribute to digestive problems: use coping techniques to help manage and alleviate stress, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, getting out in the fresh air and regular exercise.
Only preliminary research exists about the role of probiotics in gut health. It seems that taking probiotics can help improve the diversity of the gut microbiome, albeit temporarily i.e. for as long as they are taken.
Dr Alex Richardson is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, University of Oxford and Founder Director of FAB Research; she is well known for her research into the role of nutrition in brain development and function, and the implications for behaviour, learning and mood.
You can find out more via the Food and Behaviour Research (fabresearch) link below about her book - ‘They are what you feed them’ - learn how food affects children’s behaviour, mood and learning and how to bring the best choices into any child’s diet.
The UCL link below details interesting research planned into the microbiome and how changes in gut bacteria could slow the progression of neurodegenerative disorders such as Motor Neuron Disease.
Dr Dale Bredesden’s work into increasing understanding and reversing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s is also referenced below.
Remember we offer nutritional therapy as well as fitness and exercise classes, a range of therapies and opportunities to improve your lifestyle and wellbeing.
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