Improving Your Digestive Health
Your body is a web-like connection of all body systems. Everything is connected. The centre of that connection is the gut.
You are not alone
- Around 40% of the UK population have digestive symptoms at any one time
- 1 in 5 people have some form of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- IBS is twice as common in women as in men
- 90% of sufferers never even talk to a health care professional about it
- Digestive symptoms rank as high as the common cold for days off work
NICE clinical guidelines published 2008, updated in 2017 state “Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, relapsing and often life-long disorder”. I beg to differ about the last part of that sentence.
It’s all about the gut
Your body works as a whole, not discrete systems. Scientists know that symptoms appearing in one area of the body may be caused by imbalances in another area. Your gut is central to all the other body systems and is crucial for optimum health.
Your gut is a super eco-system with up to 100 trillion microbes comprising of 2,000 species and 7,000 strains of bacteria. You are half human and half microbes. These microbes consist of yeasts, bacteria, parasites and viruses. Your microbiome is all the microbes that live in your gut and all their genetic material.
An imbalanced microbiome, where the ‘bad’ crowd out the ‘good’ may adversely affect your digestion, metabolism, inflammation, brain health and mood, immunity, autoimmunity and weight management.
So where does nutrition come into this?
Well, it is what we feed the little critters that matters. Feed the ‘bad’ ones junk and they may grow. Conversely, feed the ‘good’ ones fresh, whole foods and they may flourish. An overgrowth of the ‘bad’ bacteria creates a toxic environment that may affect your body in surprising ways, not limited to digestion. By normalising gut function and flora through improved diet then it is possible to have a happy, healthy digestion.
The Five Main Ways to Assess Your Digestive Health Are:
Are you digesting and absorbing properly? Otherwise you may be lacking vital nutrients and setting yourself up for a compromised digestive system. This is often overlooked and where we always start.
Common symptoms: bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, constipation, diarrhoea or inconsistent bowel movements, reflux, heavy feeling after eating, bad breath, belching, flatulence, nausea.
2. Microbiome balance
- Establishing healthy gut ecology is essential. ‘Good’ bacteria are required for nutrient absorption, energy production and immune support. ‘Bad’ bacteria produce toxins and fermentation causing the inflammatory immune response associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
- The ‘bad’ guys are manipulative and can influence your dietary choices to ensure their survival, not your good health. This is where functional testing is key – which of the 2,000 species of bacteria residing in your large intestine may be causing your symptoms? Or do you have yeasts or parasites?
Symptoms include: most of point 1 above plus food cravings, anal itching and at worst case malnutrition.
However even ‘good’ bacteria can cause problems if they overgrow in the wrong part of the digestive system. This is called SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth).
Common symptoms: excessive bloating, diarrhoea, resistant constipation, histamine intolerance, weight loss and reacting to multiple foods especially healthy foods such as carbohydrates, vegetables and fibre.
3. Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
If your digestive function becomes compromised, partially-digested food particles pass through the intestinal walls into your bloodstream, creating inflammation. Food intolerances can then develop. Further intolerances and autoimmune diseases may develop if the leaky gut remains unmanaged. Leaky gut can be made worse by poor food choices, stress, imbalanced microbiome, environmental contaminants and medication.
Common symptoms: most of point 1 above plus lowered immunity, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, poor memory, mood swings, confusion, nervousness, joint/muscle pain, shortness of breath, feeling ‘toxic’, poor exercise tolerance & environmental sensitivities.
4. Immunity & Inflammation
An incredible 80% of your immunity is held in your gut. Your immune system can be weakened by an imbalance of your microbiome, generating a toxic overload creating inflammation. Correcting this balance helps to optimise immunity & reduce inflammation.
Common symptoms: frequent colds/infections, sinusitis, cold sores, thrush, UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections), food intolerances.
5. Gut/brain link
Your gut and brain have a two-way communication called the ‘gut-brain axis’. The nervous system in the gut (enteric nervous system) is referred to as the ‘second brain’ and is understood to trigger emotional shifts in people with IBS.
- Your gut has more nerve endings than your spine
- Your gut has more neurotransmitters than your brain
- 90% of serotonin (our happy hormone) is produced in the gut
- Considering 70-90% of IBS sufferers have mood or anxiety symptoms, this is perhaps why IBS is often viewed as a psychological condition
Common symptoms: anxiety, depression, low or fluctuating mood as well as more complex psychological or neurological disorders.
Finding the right diet for you
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to diets. And I use the word ‘diet’ to encompass a way of eating. Don’t worry – there’s no calorie counting, no severe restriction, no feeling hungry or guilt involved!
I don’t prescribe set or specific diets. We work together to find the right way of eating for you and your lifestyle and which provides enjoyment of eating.
Some of the diets I use interchangeably for gut health are:
- Low FODMAPs diet (Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides & Polyols) used for IBS
- Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) used for IBD
- SIBO Specific Food Guide (SSFG) used for SIBO
- Anti-Candida Diet
- Mediterranean diet
- Paleo diet or Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP)
What to expect?
We start with the 14 Day Gut-Friendly Meal Plan as our focus. You may have already purchased this before deciding to work with me 1:1. This has been designed by me to encompass aspects of the above diets whilst making it practical to achieve.
The meal plan gives guidelines on portion sizes, protein/carb/fat ratios with over 50 delicious recipes designed to nourish your microbiome.
When we work 1:1, we discuss planning, preparation, cooking ideas, food storage and workarounds (we all need these) tailored to your circumstance.
I am not looking for perfection, I subscribe to the 80/20 rule. However, there is a spectrum of how much you can ‘get away with’ when you’re in the process of gut healing or when you have multiple symptoms.
My mission is to give you the widest diet with the fewest symptoms.
A quick word on food intolerances
In my professional opinion, not many people have food intolerances per se. It’s usually a reaction to a dysregulated environment. Once we heal the gut, these foods most likely can be tolerated again.
If you have gastritis then you may think you are intolerant to tomatoes, spices or citrus fruits. Due to the stomach inflammation the rawness makes you ‘intolerant’ to these foods but once the gut is healed then you are more than likely able to eat them freely again.
Gluten can be severely irritating to an inflamed gut, plus providing a food source for bad bacteria, yeasts & parasites encouraging further overgrowth. Once the gut is healed gluten is often tolerated again.
A slightly different example is lactose (milk sugar). If your digestive system is dysregulated, then you may be unable to tolerate dairy products with a high lactose content.
If you have secondary lactose intolerance this may be because of a primary issue e.g. coeliac disease or bacterial overgrowth. Once your gut is healed you may tolerate lactose again.
If you are genetically lactose intolerant, then you don’t have the gene that produces lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in the small intestine. You will NEVER be able to tolerate lactose again in large quantities. However, you will still have a lower tolerance level; many find they can eat low lactose foods such as butter, cheese and yoghurt in small quantities.
To complicate it further, you may also be reacting to the casein (protein) of dairy produce.
What about food intolerance testing?
These variables are why I am not a fan of IgG food intolerance tests. They don’t give the whole picture only testing the protein element of the food. For example, it will not detect if you are lactose intolerant.
I can often tell which foods may be causing you a problem based on your history, symptoms and food diary.