Did you know a healthy gut can affect not just digestion, but also moods, skin conditions, and even children’s behaviour? This doctor weighs in with tips on how to keep your gut healthy and happy
Gut health. It’s a weird one to think about, but when it’s off…you really want to get it sorted, mama! And did you know that gut health can be related to other health issues (such as headaches, muscle pain, fatigue)?
We spoke with Dr Charu Narayanan of Complete Healthcare International to find out more about gut health and how to improve both your own and your child’s. Read on for the FAQs she most often gets, mama, along with some super enlightening answers.
Good health definitely has a basis in good digestion. This is a concept that conventional medicine is still grappling with, but has been embraced by other traditional forms of medicine like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for thousands of years.
Can one’s low mood and fatigue be connected to digestion?
Could my child’s poor focus be due to a gut issue?
I have unexplained rashes and feel generally unwell; all my routine blood tests look normal – could it be my gut?
These are all the questions that will frequently appear in a doctor’s practice especially one who is interested in nutrition. The answer to all of these questions is yes.
What kind of health issues and diseases have been linked or poor gut health?
A very wide range of symptoms such as:
- Fatigue, headaches, foggy head
- Joint pains, arthritis, unexplained rashes
- Bloating, acid reflux, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea
- Weight issues including obesity
- Repeated yeast infections
- Lowered immunity
- Allergies, asthma
Why is the gut so important?
What we eat is important, but what we assimilate is what matters and the gut performs that function. So what occurs in this very long tract?
– Digestion and assimilation is a complex process that involves chemical reactions and beneficial bacteria that aid the process. It starts with chewing food properly. It then enters the stomach – the blender where acid acts upon the food and then passes it on so that enzymes can work on it in the intestines. The liver and pancreas also contribute bile and enzymes so we cannot forget them. So of course, we may not be chewing our food properly, have either too much or too little acid in our stomach to start with, or have poor intestinal enzyme levels affecting absorption.
– Influence of bacteria: The gut houses different sorts of bacteria which live symbiotically within it. There is evidence of this being established very early in life – in fact the process of natural birth exposes a baby to maternal flora so a baby’s gut bacteria will reflect the mum’s!
The beneficial bacteria that stay in our stomach and intestines can weigh over a kilogram. They seem to be very active little creatures, producing vitamins such as Vitamin K and B12, nourishing the cells lining the intestine, and helping the latter perform their digestive function. They also form a barrier – physical as well as through producing substances that protect the gut lining from being eroded and penetrated by harmful substances such as toxins or bad bacteria.
Unfortunately there are always the ‘ bad guys’ who look for an opportunity to take over the gut and this is where harmful bacteria – yeast and parasites – come in. When these do end up stealing the show, one starts to experience the effects of vitamin deficiency, low enzyme levels and poor immunity.
They change the environment from an alkaline to an acidic one and this makes it hard for enzymes to work properly, creating a vicious cycle that allows the bad bacteria to thrive until something is done to break the cycle! The bowel lining – once a healthy intact layer with the function of a gatekeeper – is now inflamed, allowing toxins and other harmful substances to enter the blood stream with unpleasant consequences in different organs including the brain (low mood, foggy head).
– Our immune system in the gut starts from the tonsils and includes the appendix and other lymphatic tissues in the gut. These are affected by bacteria, and if inflammation is present in the vicinity they are over or under stimulated, leading to a variety of immune diseases or allergies – hence joint pains and rashes could be a symptom.
– The gut-brain connection: It isn’t common knowledge that the nerves supplying our intestine connect closely with the brain. In fact the happy chemical ‘serotonin’ is largely produced in the gastrointestinal tract. This explains why anxiety, low mood and even bad behaviour in children can originate from an unhealthy gut. An overgrowth of bad bacteria and toxins in the bowel can influence this ‘second brain’, causing the person to experience the above symptoms. It is interesting that those with poor mental health may never volunteer having bowel symptoms and have poor gut health on testing!
Possible causes for poor gut health
A bad attack of gastroenteritis
Poor diets high in sugar, overcooked food, and processed food, and low in fresh vegetables and fruit
Antibiotics, painkillers used on a regular basis
Antacids and other medicines to reduce stomach acid
Bad bacteria and an overgrowth of yeast
Food additives and environmental toxins
What about children and gut health?
In addition to bowel symptoms like tummy aches, wind and diarrhea, children may present with behavioural problems, depression, mood swings, lack of focus and attention if there is a bowel issue. Nutrient and sugar imbalances may contribute to this. Neurotransmitters in the nervous system need building blocks such as magnesium, B vitamins, calcium and zinc which are not absorbed well when digestion is poor.
What can be done to improve things?
Restoring the natural balance is the way forward.
- Examination and blood tests may reveal deficiencies such as iron and Vitamin B12. The doctor may run tests to exclude serious conditions such as coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis.
- Discontinuing regular use of anti-inflammatory medication and antacids.
- Good bacteria love a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, whereas bad bacteria and yeast thrive on sugar, so cut back on the latter. If there are known food allergies, those foods are best eliminated for a period of time (for example dairy/ gluten) till the bowel is healed.
- It is important that any parasites or disease causing bacteria are treated.
- Correct low or high acidity as well as enzymes to support digestion till the natural balance is achieved.
- Probiotics to repopulate the bowel – either as capsules or as natural fermented foods – can all help heal this very important organ that is the seat of good health.
Once you have established good health in this part of your body, you may find that many of your symptoms such as allergies, headaches, low energy, mood, or joint pains are a thing of the past! Remember you can still enjoy some treats in moderation, but limit the amount and take some probiotics when you expect to be indulging in more sugar and alcohol during festive periods.