Words by Lisa Hughes
December 21st, 2016
“How’s your gut micro-organisms today?” is unlikely to become the phrase most used in 2017’s memes but if there’s one area wellness will be focusing on next year, it is the gut.
After years of being overlooked, gut health is firmly on the map and most medical professionals now believe that microorganisms in the gut are the real MVPs of the body. For the non-scientists among us, microbiome is not something we hear a whole lot about in everyday life but the latest research shows that microbiome – that’s the collective name for the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your gut – have a greater impact on our health than most of us could imagine.
As our largest immune system organ (60-80% of our immune system is located in our gut – wowzers), when the gut is inflamed, it doesn’t absorb nutrients properly, which in turn leads to fatigue and a host of autoimmune disorders. When the gut becomes badly inflamed or when there’s an imbalance in the good and bad flora in your gut, it leads to something called Leaky Gut Syndrome. Although there’s a lot of medical debate around Leaky Gut and what it actually is, symptoms of the condition include aches, pains, cramps and severe bloating so it’s really not fun for your body.
Not only do humble gut microorganisms have a hand in diseases ranging from obesity to diabetes but they also influence brain development, anxiety, and mood. These all-important microbes in your gut are crucial for brain development so if you want to stay sharp, it pays to look after your gut. If you want to indulge your inner science geek and delve deeper into the role microbes play in mental health, UCC neuroscientist Dr. John Cryan gave a fascinating TED Talk on this very subject and how ‘gut instinct’ is actually real and we totally recommend it.
Like pretty much every aspect of wellness, the number one thing you can do to look after your gut health is to have a balanced diet. Unsurprisingly, processed foods, sugary drinks and simple carbohydrates like sugar and fruit juice are bad news for the gut. These foods absorb quickly into your system without the need of bacteria to break them down and they are associated with lower microbial diversity. Instead, you want to encourage a diverse mix of microbes in your gut and a varied diet rich in fibre, green veg and prebiotics is the way to do this.
1. Fibre – complex carbohydrates help produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which play a major role in immunity, metabolism, energy regulation and brain function (AKA all the important stuff). Fill your shopping basket with wholegrains, nuts, seeds and ‘stalky’ vegetables like broccoli.
2. Omega3 – Omega3 won’t just give you brains to burn; add salmon, sardines, and flaxseed to your diet to promote the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut.
3. Protein – In Ireland, some research by Dr. Orla O’Sullivan and the team at Teagasc looking at the diets of rugby players found that increased protein consumption (particularly whey supplements) increased microbial diversity so make sure you’re getting enough protein and don’t forget to exercise.
4. Some good news for fans of wine and coffee! A study in Science found that red wine and coffee actually increased gut diversity. Is this the excuse you’ve been looking for to install wine on tap in your house?
5. Fermented foods – Kimchi was a breakout ‘superfood’ in 2016 and it shows no sign of disappearing in 2017. Like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, non-processed yoghurt, and kombucha are all rich in prebiotics which feed the ‘good bacteria’ (probiotics) in the gut and give your microbes something to shout about.
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