A healthy and happy gut microbiome is at the core of optimal health. The infamous Hippocrates stated “all disease begins in the gut” over 2500 years ago, and this statement is proving to be more truthful than ever as new evidence emerges.
Our digestive system is incredibly complex and houses over a thousand species of bacteria. Our gut is a living ecosystem which produces and regulates hormones/neurotransmitters, metabolizes nutrients, neutralizes toxins and pathogens, and houses 70% of our immune cells.
The gut microbiome continually evolves over time and the foods and beverages we choose to consume directly impact the diversity and balance of bacteria that form our internal ecosystem. This means that every decision we make in regards to what we choose to eat or drink can either support our gut or harm it.
Given that our digestive system is intricately connected to many physiological functions including immunity, brain health, moods/emotional regulation, skin quality, energy levels and overall well being, it’s worthwhile to implement practices that nurture and strengthen our gut microbiome.
Mindful Eating Practices
Ensure that you’re seated comfortably and in a calm state prior to eating. Take a few deep breaths before consuming any food to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. your “rest and digest” state). Chew well (at least 20 times per mouthful) and eat slowly. Avoid distractions whilst eating (this means no scrolling through Instagram or Tik Tok, no answering emails, and no online shopping). Give yourself 10 to 20 minutes in a present state to enjoy your meal.
Bitters help to stimulate gastric secretions which assist in the absorption of nutrients, and they reduce the likelihood of abdominal bloating, fullness and flatulence. Enjoy a warm lemon water upon waking to kick start your digestion, or increase bitter foods such as rocket, kale, dandelion greens, and apple cider vinegar added to salad dressings.
Consume Pre-and Probiotic Rich Foods
Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that stimulate the growth of bacteria in the large intestine. Prebiotic foods include dandelion greens, onion, garlic, asparagus, banana, cacao, and flaxseeds - to name a few. Supplements such as partially hydrolysed guar gum (PHGG) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) may also be beneficial.
Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain foods and supplements that promote a healthy gut environment. Naturally pickled sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kimchi, goat or sheep kefir (i.e. fermented milk), miso, tamari, fermented tofu, coconut yogurt, and kombucha are all highly rich in probiotics. High quality probiotic supplements prescribed by a qualified practitioner may also be a good addition.
When we’re stressed, whether it's from our never ending to-do list or the pressure of work/study demands, our body automatically activates our sympathetic nervous system (i.e. our “fight or flight” response) and puts all your energy into preparing you to take action, and subconsciously turns its attention away from digestion. If we’re constantly in a state of high stress, anxiety, or overwhelm, your parasympathetic nervous system never gets the proper chance to “rest and digest”, which can lead to long-term chronic gut issues.
Stress also suppresses the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and digestive enzymes. Without sufficient amounts of HCl and digestive enzymes available when we consume food, our digestive capacity and ability to break down nutrients is compromised which can contribute to abdominal bloating, discomfort and flatulence (gas!) due to excess fermentation. As HCI is an acid and we need our stomach to be acidic to properly break down foods, too little of HCl can cause our stomach to become too alkaline. This can alter the balance of gut microbiota, resulting in a higher amount of “bad” bacteria within the gut.
To support your nervous system, find ways to manage stress through a practice that feels right for you. This can be meditation, journaling, dancing, music, breathing exercises, movement, being outside in nature, infrared sauna, or time alone. If you’re feeling stressed prior to meal-times, try doing 3 to 10 deep belly breaths with your eyes shut before you consume your meal, and also incorporate the mindful eating practices as mentioned earlier.
Get in touch with Tayla
Tayla is an accredited clinical Naturopath based in Northern NSW, Australia, and is the face behind Cura Wellness. Tayla's approach to health is holistic by uniting traditional naturopathic principles & practices with modern evidence-based research to restore balance/health. She has a special interest in gut/digestive health, mental/emotional wellbeing, skin health, women's health/hormones and general wellness optimisation.
Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2019). Clinical naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice, 3rd edn. Elsevier, Chatswood NSW