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That Gut Feeling: How A Healthy Digestive System Has Everything To Do With It

Due to an average adult’s changing and dynamic lifestyle of always chasing time, the easier option is to reach for the convenient and the accessible, which can result to an unhealthy diet, not getting enough sleep or lack of exercise. On top of these, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the things we touch—virtually anything we come into contact with—expose us to harmful pollutants, toxins and all forms of viruses. That’s where the immune system comes in. It’s the body’s best defence against all diseases.

Did you know that 80% of our immunity relies on our digestive system? [1] It serves us well when the digestive system is working smoothly. The food that passes along our intestines will be assimilated for absorption of nutrients to meet the metabolic demands of our body. This is made possible by the complex community of about a 100 trillion cells inhabiting our gastrointestinal tract, otherwise known as our gut bacteria or gut flora, as they begin to filter and lift toxins when the food we eat breaks down.

Yes, bacteria. The mere mention of these dirty and dangerous microbes can make anyone’s skin crawl. Yet, you should be pleased to know that the human body is made to foster bacteria inside it. But shouldn’t the immune system fight the bacteria off? On the contrary. Studies have shown that not all bacteria are harmful to your health. [2]

The ideal balance of our gut flora should be 85% “good bacteria” and 15% “bad bacteria” to function optimally. More often than not, an overgrowth of bad bacteria occurs. This causes common symptoms [3] such as: digestive concerns like constipation, bloating, flatulence or diarrhea; allergy to certain food like seafood, egg, peanuts, etc; mood swings, depression or anxiety that have been linked to hormonal imbalances [4]; skin issues such as acne, rosacea and eczema; autoimmune disease and infections; and even poor memory and attention deficit.

So how do we restore the balance and maintain a stable environment for our intestinal flora and normalize our digestion process? First, you can drink more water. Water is one the easiest ways to help move wastes along and eliminate toxins from the body. It is advisable to drink 8 to 10 glasses a day, more if needed. For motivation to meet this requirement, you may infuse a jar of water with fresh fruit or mint to taste. You win the best of both worlds, really. It’s a flavoured beverage, and at the same time, it has virtually no calories.

If this solution doesn’t do the trick and you keep yourself very well-hydrated, chances are, your gut will thank you for a change in diet. Incorporate fiber-dense foods that are not only filling, but also effective digestive aids. Prebiotic foods are packed with fiber, which the gut bacteria gravitate towards and feed on. Among prebiotics are healthier options like almonds, asparagus, cereal grains and oats.

Another method to cultivate more good gut bacteria is to take probiotics. A probiotic is a live microbial feed supplement that benefits the host by improving its intestinal microbial balance. [5] Almost every person in the civilized world has heard about the cultured milk drink, Yakult. In the 1930’s, Dr. Minoru Shirota from Japan conducted a breakthrough research on how to promote good intestinal health, leading to his discovery and cultivation of a unique probiotic strain that could survive bile and gastric gas. It was named Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota in his honour. [6]

Lactobacilli, which is a common bacteria, transforms sugars into acid to make it digestion-friendly. Probiotics can be ingested in tablet form as well, which are available in most health stores selling supplements. However, food intake should still remain our natural source of nutrients. Fortunately, there are non-dairy choices for those who are lactose intolerant. A variety of probiotic foods can be found list below:

  • Fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut, carrots, green beans, beets, lacto-fermented pickles, traditional cured Greek olives)
  • Fermented soybeans (miso, natto, tempeh)
  • Cultured dairy products (buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, cheese)
  • Cultured non-dairy products (yogurts and kefirs made from organic soy, coconut, etc.)
  • Fermented grains and beans (lacto-fermented lentils, chickpea, miso, etc.)
  • Fermented beverages (kefirs and kombuchas)
  • Fermented condiments (raw apple cider vinegar) [7]

In the meantime, refrain from processed foods, synthetic sweeteners, dairy products, trans fats, alcohol and grains containing gluten. [8] One of the possible reasons for digestive issues is inflammation triggered by consumption of these, even if they have had no prior adverse effects on you. Instead, add colorful, plant-based types of food like broccoli, kale, artichokes and fruits like banana and blueberries may replenish your intestinal microbiota in as early as 24 hours [9].

As new and exciting studies in functional medicine are emerging, there is more to be explored in how every intricate system in the body is interconnected. The condition of your gut may very well be the first step to overall health. However, if you are manifesting the aforementioned symptoms and they show no signs of alleviating, your gut is definitely telling you something. Another underlying—and perhaps more serious—health issue needs to be addressed. It is always advisable to consult your doctor for a more definitive diagnosis, or a licensed nutritionist for customised meal plans that would suit your nutritional needs and daily lifestyle.

by Catherine Domingo Ong
Catherine is a writer whose guilty pleasure is lounging in a peaceful location with a good book (or several) and a latte at hand.

[1] “Probiotics Found to Help Your Gut's Immune System”, https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/07/05/probiotics-found-to-help-your-gut-s-immune-system.aspx
[2] “7 Signs Your Gut Bacteria Are Out of Whack” by Corey Pemberton, https://blog.paleohacks.com/7-signs-your-gut-bacteria-are-out-of-whack/
[3] “10 Signs You Have An Unhealthy Gut + How To Heal It” by Dr. Amy Myers, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14510/10-signs-you-have-an-unhealthy-gut-how-to-heal-it.html

[4] “Structure and functions of the gut microbiome” by S. Panda, F. Guarner and C. Manichanh, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25022563
[5] “Probiotics: Effects on Immunity 1, 2, 3” by Erika Isolauri, Yelda Sütas, Pasi Kankaanpää, Heikki Arvilommi, and Seppo Salminen, Am. J. Clin. Nutr., February 2001, vol. 73 no. 2 444s-450s. https://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/73/2/444s.full
[6] History of Yakult, https://yakult.com.sg/yakult-history/
[7] “26 Best Foods for a Healthier, Happier Gut” by Joseph Hooper, https://www.prevention.com/weight-loss/diets/best-foods-healthy-gut-bacteria

[8] “Top 12 Foods that Cause Inflammation” by Michelle Schoffro Cook, https://www.care2.com/greenliving/top-12-foods-that-cause-inflammation.html
[9] “Seven Foods to Supercharge Your Gut Bacteria” by Meghan Jardine, https://www.pcrm.org/media/online/sept2014/seven-foods-to-supercharge-your-gut-bacteria

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Obesity / Outlook for 2018
Searching for the fountain of youth
Women in Science - Making a difference
Digestive health / Intellectual property
Asthma / Dental health
Oncology / Biotech landscape in APAC
Water management / Vaccination
Regenerative medicine / Biotech start ups
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Bones / Breast cancer
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