What can we do to keep our gut functioning well and reduce the chance of disease?
Everyone is talking about gut health and for good reason. It plays a huge role in helping to reduce the liklihood of disease and there are plenty of ways you can help make your gut a healthy one. Below are our top four tips!
1. Eat well
- Include plenty of plant foods, rich in prebiotics, fibre and antioxidants: fresh fruits, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds
- Eat mindfully – slow down and chew each mouthful 30 times
- Minimise preserved, smoked, highly salted foods and highly processed foods (eg. fast food, processed snacks and confectionary)
2. Healthy lifestyle
- Regular exercise keeps the gut moving and helps to prevent constipation
- Exercise can help with stress management, which in turn can benefit gut function
- Minimise alcohol and don’t smoke
3. Self-care and wellbeing
- Get plenty of sleep (important for gut hormones and nerves)
- Incorporate stress management such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga
- Even deep breathing, laughing, singing and gargling can improve gut function and reduce IBS symptoms
4. Be proactive with your gut health, know your risk
- Do you have a family history of gastrointestinal cancer?
- Is there a family history of coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease?
- Regular 2 yearly bowel cancer screening for over 50s
- Never ignore gut symptoms or self-diagnose
What is normal?
It is normal to have fluctuations in gas/wind/bloating with different foods – this is not a sign of a problem, but just of a varied and healthy diet.
Everyone’s bowel habit is different, and there is no one ‘normal’. Not everyone goes every day. And for some it is normal use their bowels many times a day.
What can go wrong?
Constipation (infrequent stools, hard to pass, straining) is common with illness, medications, stress and can just be the result of slow gut transit.
- Increase your intake of fibre and fluid (slowly – not overnight!)
- Consider fibre supplements
- Avoid straining or sitting on the toilet for long periods - regular toilet time and correct posture can help
- If constipation persists, see your doctor
Diarrhoea (very loose, frequent and urgent stools) sometimes occurs due to food poisoning, bacteria or gastroenteritis, and can be a sign of more serious bowel issues.
- Treat short diarrhoea with small, plain, starchy meals
- Replace fluid losses by drinking more
- Fluids such as broth, diluted fruit juice or rehydration solutions (eg. Hydralyte®, Gastrolyte® are better absorbed than plain water or very sugary drinks
- If it doesn’t pass in a week, see your doctor for tests
- It’s NOT normal to have very dark / black bowel motions. This may indicate bleeding higher up in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Pale or white stools are not normal, and can indicate liver issues
- Bright red blood in the stool can indicate inflammation, haemarroids, anal fissures or cancer.
- Fatigue, poor appetite, nausea and weight loss are not normal and need to be discussed with your doctor
- Nutrition deficiencies (eg. iron, B12, vitamin D) may be indications of poor absorption due to gut inflammation
Reflux, bloating, nausea and burping can be signs of gastro esophageal reflux (GORD) which is a common gastrointestinal issue.
- Focus on eating more slowly, chewing well
- Avoid very rich, big meals and keep to smaller, more frequent amounts
- Minimise or avoid alcohol, coffee, and very rich / spicy meals.
- Speak to your doctor about medications and investigations if symptoms are ongoing
Coeliac disease, Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis are autoimmune conditions that need prompt diagnosis and specialised treatment.
- Don’t remove gluten from your diet before speaking with your doctor and being screened for coeliac disease
- If these are in your family history, screening is recommended
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a functional disorder that can include symptoms of altered bowel habits, pain (often relieved after going to the toilet) and bloating. IBS can flare up and calm down at times, but it is not related to any damage or long term risk.
- See your doctor for a proper diagnosis and management
- See a dietitian for help understanding your symptoms and whether dietary manipulation is appropriate
- Work on stress management and self-care strategies such as mindfulness to help manage symptoms.
- For people who have been diagnosed with IBS, the Low FODMAP diet is recommended as the first line of treatment. We Feed You have a wide range of Low FODMAP meals which are all Monash University Certified TM.
How to find a dietitian:
Dietitians Australia are the peak body for accrediting nutrition professionals. You can head to their website https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/ and use the ‘find an APD’ tool to search for qualified practitioners in your area.