What is gut health?
The fundamental meaning of gut health is the function digestive system and the gut microbiome found in the intestinal tract. Having good gut health means that there are no major gastrointestinal symptoms and are able to digest and have regular bowel movements with no difficulty. But why is gut health so important? Based on research from the past decades, gut health is linked to many parts of our body system. Having a healthy gut health could greatly improve our body system and reduce risk or slowing down development of diseases. The more direct influence of gut health to our body system would be the immune system, digestive system, and mental health, and the development of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.
The major factors that affect our gut health are gut microbiome, dietary habits, and also lifestyles. Having imbalanced gut microbiome, could affect digestion and nutrients absorption and lower our immune response, leaving us more vulnerable to falling sick. Gut microbiome imbalance can be further worsened with poor diet and stressful lifestyle.
If you are curious about your gut health, you could take our gut health assessment here.
If you have bad gut health, you could have experience some of these symptoms:
Stomach/ abdomen discomfort
Such feelings of bloating, flatulence (gas), cramps, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn/ acid reflux can be considered as stomach/ abdomen discomfort. It could be an underlying condition related to gastrointestinal diseases. Read more about the health conditions that are related to gastrointestinal in our health info section.
Unintentional weight changes
Weight gain or loss without making any changes to your diet or exercise regime may be a sign of an underlying symptom such as an unhealthy gut. The nutrients digested from foods are not properly absorbed or broken down hence causing these weight changes. It could be an underlying disease or medical conditions as well such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Poor sleep quality/pattern
Having an unhealthy gut could disrupt sleeping patterns either due to discomfort, poor regulation of hormones (melatonin, a sleeping hormone), as well as production of serotonin which are mainly produced from the gut.
Skin irritation/ allergies
Having allergies to certain food or bioactive compounds as well as lack of certain strains of bacteria in your gut to break down the compound can result in skin related inflammations, based on research. The most well researched are Lactobacillus rhamnosus and its link to reducing development of eczema when given during infant stage (Murphy et al., 2019).
Have gastrointestinal related diseases
Having chronic conditions such as SIBO, crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be due to bad gut health. The imbalance of gut microbiomes could affect the severity of the symptoms these diseases show as well. Read more on our medical condition section on gastrointestinal related diseases.
Depending on severity, improving your gut health could be easy or taking years to build and improve, especially among those with gastrointestinal related diseases.
Here are some ways you could improve your gut health:
A balanced meal
Consuming a balanced meal does not mean eating “clean”, consuming a balanced meal means having a variety of vegetables and fruits, protein sources, and carbohydrates in the right portion. Eating a balanced meal could help in improving gut health by supplying a variety of nutrients for the gut microbiota.
Having a variety of gut bacteria could help improve gut health and in order to obtain and maintain as much gut bacteria as possible, it is best to consume a variety of food. If you eat steamed broccoli, roasted chicken and a bowl of rice everyday is not considered a balanced meal and your gut microbiome may lack variety.
Here are some realistic balanced meals that follow the quater quater half (suku suku separuh) practise.
Pictures from @ikaazamani
Performing regular exercises, at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, 4-5 times a week could greatly improve bowel movement as exercising could stimulate muscle movements and create moving pressure on the intestinal tract. Furthermore, recent research has shown that regular exercise are able to improve gut microbiome by improving nutrient absorption
From this review paper, they found that exercising could make the probiotics produce more postbiotics such as short-chain fatty acids, amino acids, and other antioxidants which could reduce inflammation (Mailing, Allen, Buford, Fields & Woods, 2019).
Consume more fruits, vegetables or fibres
If you’re looking for nutrient pack food, fruits and vegetables are the best choice. They are packed with vitamins and minerals and most importantly, it contains fibres which can act as prebiotics for gut microbiota. Prebiotics are actually fibres from fruits and vegetables and they are digested and consumed by probiotics, your gut friendly bacteria as fuel. So, in order to flourish your gut microbiome, eating enough fruits and vegetables could create a hospitable environment for probiotics all while improving bowel movement and giving you the vitamins you need.
According to Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for fibre intake (soluble and insoluble fibres), we are recommended to consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, or 25g-38g of fibre for adults. Here is an example of servings of fruits and vegetables to be taken a day.
Consume fermented foods & probiotics
Eating fermented foods and probiotics could help in maintaining and improving gut microbiome, especially for those with unhealthy gut. How does probiotics improve our gut health? Probiotics from food or supplements when consumed, would colonize our gut by sticking to our gut lining. It would grow in numbers and soon establish the gut microbiome. You can read about how the gut microbiome could influence your immune system here. The most commonly found probiotics in food are lactobacilli family (especially in dairy products) and bifidobacterium.
You can get your gut friendly bacteria, probiotics, from fermented foods such as:
- Kimchi (fermented chili cabbage)
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
- Yoghurt (fermented milk)
- Cultured beverages (eg: kombucha, kefir etc)
- Miso and Natto (fermented beans)
Getting sufficient amounts of probiotics from fermented food sources may be difficult and requires larger amounts with consistency. This is because the amount of bacteria found in food is not high enough to confer benefits if taken occasionally. Hence, probiotics from supplement may be more suitable if you’re looking for a quick, accurate, and efficient way. YourGutt Pre + Probiotic currently has 2 unique flavours, mango oat milk and choco malt oat milk, best suited for all ages, and even infants.
Exclusive breastfeeding/ probiotic infant formula
Our gut microbes were first established when we are just a baby. Hence, research shows that the type of probiotics introduced and colonized during the infant stage could affect the risk of disease development as well as allergies and intolerances of food and skin (Lyons, Ryan, Dempsey, Ross & Stanton, 2020). The natural source of probiotics that is best suited for babies are from breast milk.
Hence it is encouraged for mothers to breastfeed their child exclusively for 6 months minimum to establish a healthy gut microbiome as well as improving their immune systems. However, for mothers who are unable to breastfeed, currently, there are numerous infant formula that contains probiotics. It may not be as diverse compared to breastmilk however, are great alternatives for your child. Consult your pediatrician or gynaecologist on which infant formula or probiotic supplements you should give.
Sleep Sleep Sleep
As much as we hate saying and you reading this again, you need to get enough QUALITY sleep. Yes, quality sleep, sleeping with minimal disturbance. Getting not enough sleep could raise all sorts of problems in your body, from hypertension, poor immune system, to mentally fatigue. People who receive less sleep time were found to have a higher amount of cytokine (a chemical that causes inflammation) produced and the gut microbiome diversity were less compared to those with enough sleep (Smith et al., 2019). Sleep and gut health are limited however current research gave some insights to the correlation on sleep and gut health.
Murphy, R., Morgan, X., Wang, X., Wickens, K., Purdie, G., & Fitzharris, P. et al. (2019). Eczema-protective probiotic alters infant gut microbiome functional capacity but not composition: sub-sample analysis from a RCT. Beneficial Microbes, 10(1), 5-17. doi: 10.3920/bm2017.0191
Mailing, L., Allen, J., Buford, T., Fields, C., & Woods, J. (2019). Exercise and the Gut Microbiome: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms, and Implications for Human Health. Exercise And Sport Sciences Reviews, 47(2), 75-85. doi: 10.1249/jes.0000000000000183
Lee, S., Lee, E., Park, Y., & Hong, S. (2018). Microbiome in the Gut-Skin Axis in Atopic Dermatitis. Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research, 10(4), 354. doi: 10.4168/aair.2018.10.4.354
Lyons, K., Ryan, C., Dempsey, E., Ross, R., & Stanton, C. (2020). Breast Milk, a Source of Beneficial Microbes and Associated Benefits for Infant Health. Nutrients, 12(4), 1039. doi: 10.3390/nu12041039
Smith, R., Easson, C., Lyle, S., Kapoor, R., Donnelly, C., & Davidson, E. et al. (2019). Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLOS ONE, 14(10), e0222394. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222394