As with many other elements of health, a vegan diet is, in general, much better for your gut health. A whole food plant-based diet in particular can be extremely effective in treating and reversing many digestive diseases – it is the best way to make sure you have a healthy and happy gut!
Gut health also has a knock-on effect on other areas of health – did you know that having a healthy gut can actually have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing?! In addition to the impact on our mental and digestive health, our gut health also plays an important role in immune support, cardiovascular health, and weight management.
This is such a huge topic, and it is an area where there is a lot of ongoing research, but the idea of this post is just to give you a quick overview of what gut health is and what you can do to improve it.
What is gut health?
Everyone has a unique gut microbiome (a community of microorganisms that live together), but there are a few characteristics that make up a healthy gut. There is a lot of ongoing research about gut health, and there is still much uncertainty, but Dr. Gail Hecht, chair of the American Gastroenterological Association Center for Gut Microbiome Research & Education, states “In healthy people, there is a diverse array of organisms, in an unhealthy individual, there’s much less diversity, and there seems to be an increase of bacteria we associate with disease.”
In a healthy gut, the microorganisms keep each other in check – in an unhealthy gut this balance is disrupted and “bad” bacteria can take over.
What affects gut health?
There are loads of different factors that affect our gut health – some of which are within our control and some are beyond our control (e.g. the manner of our birth – I don’t know about you but I didn’t have much say in the matter!). We are going to focus here on the things that are more within our control.
A study has shown that there might be an interconnection between sleep quality and gut health. There appears to be a strong connection between the brain and the gut, and sleep is obviously incredibly important for your brain. Regardless of the connection with gut health, sleep is super important for overall health.
Stress can cause a worsening in many digestive issues. Stress can cause us to be in a state of “fight or flight”, and chronic stress can mean that we fail to move from this state into “rest and digest”. What this means in practical terms is that we have less blood flow to our digestive system, and it in fact slows down, in response to stress. It can also cause inflammation and imbalances in the gut microbiome.
Diet plays a crucial role in gut health. Studies have shown that the standard Western diet, which is typically high in animal protein and fat, and low in fibre, leads to a decrease in beneficial bacteria.
Drinking alcohol can have a negative effect on your gut health in a number of ways. I’m not going to go into detail here, but drinking alcohol can cause imbalances in the “beneficial” and “harmful” bacteria in your gut. As mentioned above, a healthy gut is one where balance is maintained. Alcohol can also cause inflammation and other issues for your gut.
What are signs of poor gut health?
There are a number of signs that your gut health might not be optimal – but it is also possible to have an unhealthy gut and not have these symptoms. It’s important to listen to your body, and speak to a professional if you think there is a problem.
There are, however, some signs that you might need to pay a bit more attention to your gut health. Some of the possible indicators include:
· Upset stomach
· Stomach pain
How can we improve our gut health?
· Sleep – get enough high-quality sleep.
· Stress – try to avoid stress if possible, but where that isn’t possible find ways of managing it
· Diet – eat a varied, whole food plant-based diet which is rich in fibre
· Alcohol – avoid alcohol where possible