Want to be healthy? Work on your Gut.
“All disease begins in the gut.” Written 2,000 years ago by the 'father of medicine'. The gut remains an essential part of our wellbeing: It's time we got to know this complex microbiome says Karen Newby, Nutritionist and founder of Alchemy Superblends.
The gut is home to two-thirds of our immune system, and more than one trillion gut bacteria. That’s more cells than the cells in the entire human body. It’s the biggest line of defence against the outside world (aside from the skin), essential for trans- porting nutrients whilst protecting against pathogens and our immune response. It’s also known as the ‘second brain’ and home to the largest amount of nerve endings outside the central nervous system, and where most of our body’s ‘happy’ neuro- transmitter serotonin is made. Hence – our ‘gut feeling’.
A healthy gut is essential to a strong im- mune system and any disruption leads to in- testinal hyper-permeability, often known as ‘leaky gut’ which manifests with symptoms including allergies, systemic inflammatory response, IBD, IBS and coeliac disease.
What we eat is unsurprisingly a factor in increasing or decreasing intestinal permea- bility. Substances that can increase intesti- nal permeability include the consumption of alcohol, spices and NSAIDs.
NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are medications widely used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and bring down a high temperature. Often used to relieve the symptoms of headaches, painful periods, sprains and strains, cold, flu and arthritis.
Gastro-intestinal(GI)issues affect 30-50% of athletes, especially endurance athletes, and is often overlooked in nutritional pro- grammes. It can range from acute increased GI motility to longer term chronic conditions linked to ongoing GI stress such as IBS and IBD. Symptoms and severity vary most among athletes. The majority (70-93%) of elite trained athletes suffer with mild to moderate symptoms, such as nausea, discomfort, cramping, urgency, diarrhoea and vomiting. Distance is often a key issue – 4% of marathon runners and cyclists, verses 32% Ironman. Severe symptoms can include ischemic bowel, colitis, gastritis, lower GI bleeding.
CAUSES OF POOR GUT HEALTH
There are many different causes, both physiological and mechanical. For runners, mechanical symptoms are more common due to the repetitive impact on the GI, whereas cyclists endure increased pressure on the GI tract from being hinged forward. Not to mention, reduced GI blood flow, dehydration, increa- ses in body temperature, gut permeability or H.Pylori (bacterial infection of the stomach).
Irritants from busy roads can challenge the gut’s mucosal lining, producing an ex- cessive secretion of stomach acid and pepsin (dairy and meat also require higher amounts of stomach acid to digest), whilst low stom- ach acid (often caused by not being able to deal with high animal protein or dairy) can cause bacterial infection such H-Pylori. Alcohol increases those T-junctions in the gut, allowing irritants to get into the blood stream (often causing sneezing and increas- es in histamine after drinking). Stress is often a cause – this word was only ever used as an engineering term up until the 1950s! Now it’s so omnipresent in our day-to-day life, as the body deals with the added exer- cise stress/trauma during intense training.
The resulting inflammation is a constant problem for many athletes. The reliance on NSAID consumption can increase stomach lining problems and affect gut motility. The initial inflammatory responses put our immune system on hyper-drive, which is where food intolerances start to manifest. Switching to a plant based diet has been hugely beneficial for endurance athletes such as Scott Jurek and footballer Jermain Defoe. Plant based nutrition is naturally anti-inflammatory whereas animal products such as meat and dairy contain pro-inflammatory properties which can exacerbate injuries and recovery. Plants are also easier to digest and epidemiological evidence confirms a strong association between dietary fibre and reduced all-cause mortality risk.
GET THE BEST FROM YOUR GUT
Your gut is an athletic organ! It can be nutritionally trained to deal with the pressures of training. As nutritional therapists, we work with individuals to tailor the interventions with what is right for their body.
The aim is to minimise the triggers we put into our body and optimise the conditions of the gut through mindful additions to their diet. The starting point is helping to support microbiota diversity in the gut, creating the right environment for beneficial bacteria to grow through introducing probiotic supplements and plant fibre. There is increasing research into the benefits of probiotics to support gut immune response. L-glutamine has been shown to be principle fuel and nitrogen source for cells in the gut, help- ing to reduce gut inflammation. Antioxidants are also key. Sourcing from brightly coloured fruits and vegetables (including white and green) is always recommended over supplements as they are all in their synergistic and easy to digest. Allicin in garlic helps to defend against bacterial and fungal species including Salmonella, H-Pylori, Streptococcus, Vibrio and Candida albicans, too.