A healthy gut improves digestion, absorption, conversion of nutrients into absorbable/usable forms, eliminates toxins, and supports immunity. Due to the gut’s impact on these areas, gut health plays a crucial role in most of the prevalent diseases i.e., cardiovascular health, skin health, digestive tract disorders, immune weakness issues, energy, etc. Four critical components should be considered when addressing gut health: fibre, fluids, probiotics, and enzymes.
When speaking of dietary fibre, we need to focus on both soluble and insoluble fibres. Studies show that dietary fibre is both preventative and therapeutic for many large bowel disorders and other conditions, including; cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes, and obesity.[i] [ii] [iii] [iv] [v]
Dietary fibre plays an important role in microbe health as well as promote and maintain bowel health is through increasing digestive volume (bulk). Increasing digestive mass dilutes toxins and helps reduce constipation. When dietary fibres interact directly with gut microbes, it can lead to the production of key metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA help inhibit the growth and activity of pathogenic bacteria[vi], as well as decrease the risk of metabolic and immune system diseases and disorders, such as osteoarthritis, obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease[vii] [viii]
Staying hydrated is often overlooked when discussing gut health. Daily consumption of fluids will vary depending on activity levels, age, climate, and dietary choices. Inadequate fluid consumption is touted as a common culprit in constipation[ix] and has to have a positive impact on the mucosal lining of the intestines, as well as on the balance of good bacteria in the gut[x].
Probiotics and the gut microbiome need no formal introduction. Events like Probiota and organisations such as International Probiotics Association are natural product industry watchdogs for this growing area of health. Suffice it to say, having a healthy and diverse population of these friendly bacteria have an impact on health far beyond our current understanding. With regards to gut-specific health, probiotics play a role in nutritional, immune, and physiological functions of the gut. These benefits have many potential mechanisms of action including; inhibition of pathogen growth, preventing and eliminating gut inflammation, immunomodulating, normalise the mucus membrane[xi] and intestinal barrier function[xii].
Digestive enzymes are produced and secreted by the gastrointestinal system to break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to aid the digestion and the absorption of nutrients. Their supplementation may provide reliable help with several disorders characterised by an impairment of digestive functions.[xiii] These impairments can lead to leaky gut, to bacterial overgrowth, to minor food intolerances. Low enzyme counts lead to undigested proteins that can pass through your gut and cause more inflammation.
Gut health is like a four-cylinder car: When all four cylinders are firing, the vehicle runs well. When one or more of those cylinders is not working or in poor shape, the car will struggle to run properly. Using the above foundational approach i.e., ingesting the proper amounts of fiber, water, probiotics, and enzymes, will assure the gut is operating efficiently. Supporting the whole gut and its functions will not only improve gut health but improve the overall health of the body.
[i] Murphy N., Norat T., Ferrari P., Jenab M., Bueno-de-Mesquita B., Skeie G., Dahm C.C., Overvad K., Olsen A., Tjønneland A., et al. Dietary fibre intake and risks of cancers of the colon and rectum in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) PLoS One. 2012;7:e39361. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039361.
[ii] Aune D., Chan D.S.M., Lau R., Vieira R., Greenwood D.C., Kampman E., Norat T. Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: Systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2011;343:d6617. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d6617
[iii] Bodinham C.L., Smith L., Wright J., Frost G.S., Robertson M.D. Dietary fibre improves first-phase insulin secretion in overweight individuals. PloS One. 2012;7:e40834. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040834
[iv] Hauner H., Bechthold A., Boeing H., Broenstrup A., Buyken A., Leschik-Bonnet E., Linseisen J., Schulze M., Strohm D., Wolfram G., et al. Evidence-based guideline of the German Nutrition Society: Carbohydrate Intake and prevention of nutrition-related diseases. Ann. Nutr. MeTab. 2012;60:1–58.
[v] Sleeth M., Psichas A., Frost G. Weight gain and insulin sensitivity: A role for the glycaemic index and dietary fibre? Br. J. Nutr. 2013;109:1539–1541. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512005016.
[vi] Conlon MA, Bird AR. The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human health. Nutrients. 2014;7(1):17–44. Published 2014 Dec 24. doi:10.3390/nu7010017
[vii] Fung K.Y.C., Cosgrove L., Lockett T., Head R., Topping D.L. A review of the potential mechanisms for the lowering of colorectal oncogenesis by butyrate. Br. J. Nutr. 2012;108:820–831. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512001948
[viii] Topping D.L., Clifton P.M. Short-chain fatty acids and human colonic function: Roles of resistant starch and nonstarch polysaccharides. Physiol. Rev. 2001;81:1031–1064
[ix] Culp KR, Wakefield B, Dyck MJ, Cacchione PZ, DeCrane S, Decker S. Bioelectrical impedance analysis and other hydration parameters as risk factors for delirium in rural nursing home residents. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2004;59:813–817
[x] Popkin BM, D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(8):439–458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
[xi] Collado M, Isolauri E, Salminen S, Sanz Y, " The Impact of Probiotic on Gut Health," Current Drug Metabolism (2009) 10: 68. https://doi.org/10.2174/138920009787048437
[xii] Larsson E, Tremaroli V, Lee YS, Koren O, Nookaew I, Fricker A, Nielsen J, Ley R, Bäckhed F Analysis of gut microbial regulation of host gene expression along the length of the gut and regulation of gut microbial ecology through MyD88. Gut. 2012 Aug; 61(8):1124-31.
[xiii] Ianiro G, Pecere S, Giorgio V, Gasbarrini A, Cammarota G. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Curr Drug Metab. 2016;17(2):187–193. doi:10.2174/138920021702160114150137