Sophie Higgins Nutrition

Nutrition & Yoga

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28 2 2018

My Top 5 Gut Health Invaders

Following on from My Top 5 Gut Health Superheroes post, feast your eyes on my top 5 gut health invaders below...

Following on from my Top 5 Gut Health Superheroes post, I thought it would be a good idea to round off with my top 5 gut health invaders, especially as we seem to have headed back into the throes of winter, and cold temperatures mean our tummies could do with a little bit of extra love, care, and attention. At this time of year it's especially important that we do all we can to keep that digestive fire burning, and those digestive juices flowing, so as well as focussing on swapping in those gut health superheroes, be sure to keep a beady eye on your intake of the following gut health disrupters...

  • Sugar – one of the best things you can do for your gut is to ditch the sugar. Sugar can seriously affect the gut microbiota (the bacteria and microbes that form the gut ecosystem) and the gut lining, increasing the risk of intestinal permeability, and potentially leading to leaky gut symptoms. As well as triggering inflammation, this means that food particles and other toxic substances can leak from the gut and into the blood stream, with the potential to initiate a whole host of reactions, such as food sensitivities, decreased energy, slow metabolism, and even autoimmune conditions. Sugar also acts as a food source for any bad bacteria and yeast present in the gut, giving it the energy it needs to flourish and multiply, and further disrupting the ideal balance of our gut flora. And I’m not just talking about the white granulated stuff either, many things we eat on a daily basis, even some things that are marketed as 'healthy', can contain high amounts of hidden sugar. So if you do suffer from impaired digestive function, make sure to limit your intake of brown sugar, natural sugars, such as coconut sugar, fruit syrups, honey, high amounts of fruit, and sugars from processed foods and refined carbohydrates - they all count as sugar my friend!

  • Alcohol – just like sugar, alcohol can alter the gut microbiota, and increase the risk of gut permeability, leaky gut, and cause alterations in the gut flora, potentially leading to inflammation in the liver and other parts of the body. Alcohol is also full of sugar, and not to mention the toxic burden on our poor livers that high consumption can cause! Not only this, every time we consume alcohol, our body has to produce a specific enzyme, called alcohol dehydrogenase, just to metabolise it and start the detoxification process. This means that lots of energy that could be used on digestion and assimilation of important nutrients, is re-directed towards just dealing with the alcohol.

  • Processed foods – highly processed foods usually contain a whole list of additives, colourings, gelling and bulking agents, preservatives, and flavourings – basically, damn right nasty things. These usually man-made ingredients can be greatly damaging and irritating to the digestive system, in particular to the gut lining, potentially paving the way for, yes you’ve guessed it, leaky gut syndrome! Always try to aim for foods in their whole and natural state, that have not been processed, and ideally not been packaged in plastics or cans. If you can’t understand or pronounce the ingredients, or there’s a long list of E-numbers, then there’s generally a high chance that some 'not so natural' processing has taken place.

  • Stress – chronic stress is one of the biggest factors in disrupted gut health, and something us city dwellers are unfortunately all too familiar with. Chronic stress, as well as being a possible factor in many other health issues, can weaken our immune system (did you know 70-80% of our immune system resides in our gut!), which means our ability to effectively fight off foreign bacteria and viruses is compromised. Continued stress then serves to drive this inflammation, exacerbating digestive issues, which can then add more stress into the mix, leaving us spinning around and around on this negative feedback cycle. Even the mere presence of stress can cause havoc on our sensitive digestive systems – we’ve all experienced the need to dash to the toilet when we are nervous or anxious, or experienced complete digestive shut down when we are in the throes of terror! Make sure you are getting enough sleep, taking time out to do activities you enjoy and which promote relaxation, and spending time with uplifting, positive people.

  • Antibiotics – avoid antibiotics as much as possible, and only use them when truly needed. As well as eliminating harmful bacteria from the body, they also eliminate our super important good bacteria, which can ultimately result in compromised immune function, and increased risk of further infection. With consistent overuse of antibiotics, the harmful bacteria can actually become resistant to them, resulting in ineffective antibiotic treatment, and leaving us susceptible to serious infection. Even though antibiotics can be absolutely necessary when needed, and can save lives, they are often over-prescribed. So to make sure your gut ecosystem stays nice and healthy, ensure you only take antibiotics when really needed, and always take a course of probiotics alongside, to keep the good bacteria flourishing and the bad bacteria in check.