We know that digestive health and what… erm… comes out the other end… can sometimes be a bit of a delicate subject, however, maintaining a healthy gut is an important part of our general health and wellbeing! We asked Radiance naturopath Rachel Dawson for some tips on how to stay regular.
Why is it so important to have a healthy gut?
The gut or bowel is one of our body’s unsung heroes and has a multitude of activities including absorbing water, producing vitamins like vitamin K and biotin, and is also the home of a veritable army of commensal bacteria. These bacteria help to keep the gut lining healthy, help to break down dietary fibre, keep pathogenic bacteria from causing gut infections and support both gut and systemic immunity. In fact, 70% of all immunity is mediated in the gut. So having a healthy gut is important not just for healthy digestive function but also for general health and vitality.
What are some of the common causes for your gut to have problems?
There are various reasons why people might develop gut issues. Many people find that they may develop gut issues after a course of antibiotics, or after a tummy bug. This is usually due to the decimation of the populations of beneficial bacteria, allowing all those nasty pathogenic bacteria to take over and cause inflammation in the gut. It is advisable to take probiotics during and after any bugs or during antibiotic therapy to avoid this outcome. Some people may have problems digesting foods further up their digestive tract allowing food to arrive at the bowel largely undigested, as bacteria are not clean burners when they digest food, it may cause excess gas and bloating. For some people constipation may be an issue – this is often due to a low dietary fibre intake, poor gut flora and often dehydration causing small hard-to-pass stools. For some people though, gut problems can be an ongoing issue and may be caused by problems with the gut nervous system.
What’s ‘normal’ as far as regularity goes?
Although once a day seems to be considered the norm, in fact there isn’t a normal number of times to ‘go’ per day. Some people may ‘go’ three times a day or three times a week and still be deemed normal but everyone knows what makes them feel right on the inside and noone likes feeling sluggish and stagnant ‘down below’.
If you have symptoms of irregularity, at what point should you consult a doctor or health professional about it?
Any sudden changes from your normal bowel function may warrant a trip to your health professional. Occasional constipation is common, yet if it is severe, is ongoing (longer than three weeks) or accompanied by blood in the faeces, abdominal pain, weight loss, fever or fatigue, seek the guidance of your health professional.
What are some of your best tips to help you stay regular?
Increase your fibre intake
Fibre has two actions in the gut – it acts to bulk the stool, so it presses against the walls of the bowel, telling it to move and it also acts as food (prebiotic) for beneficial flora which in turn help to promote regular bowel function. Most Kiwis don’t get nearly enough dietary fibre, so get into the fresh fruits and veges, legumes and whole grains. Aim for 30 grams of fibre a day, to put it into perspective an apple contains about 4 grams and half a cup of cooked legumes provides about 8 grams.
Increase your water intake
Dehydration is one of the leading causes of constipation, ensure at least 8-10 glasses of water per day. Tea and coffee tend to be dehydrating so avoid them.
Probiotics promote the colonisation of good bacteria in the gut and some like Bifidobacterium lactis BB12 are scientifically shown to promote a regular bowel when used in conjunction with prebiotic dietary fibre like Radiance® Pro-B Regularity (RRP $29.90).
Go when you get the urge!
The bowels are most active following meals, and this is often the time when stools will pass most readily. If you ignore your body’s signals to have a bowel movement, the signals become weaker and weaker over time, so go when the urge hits you!
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