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How to achieve greater gut health


Gut Health

Photo: Brandless on Unsplash

Many people think the word gut refers only to their stomach. But the gastrointestinal tract stretches from your mouth all the way to your derriere. Contrary to popular belief, your gut does so much more than just process the food you eat.

Your gut is a complex ecosystem and home to trillions of microorganisms that work hard to support your wellbeing.

Emerging research into the gut microbiome is revealing how it influences overall health and immunity in ways never suspected. Research has already shown your gut influences your mood, metabolism, immunity and the quality of your sleep. And, while it may seem hard to believe, your gut health also has an impact on your hormones, skin and weight.

Gut health and stress hormones

Gut health can be compromised by the stress hormone cortisol, which is released into your bloodstream by the adrenal glands when you think your life is in danger (or feel under pressure). Its job is to trigger a fight-or-flight response and get you moving out of harm’s way.

However, prolonged stress and chronically high cortisol levels can suppress your immune system, making you vulnerable to pathogens and infections. Ongoing stress can also alter the balance of bacteria in your gut, slow gut motility and damage the gut wall, making it more permeable (hello, leaky gut).

Cortisol also damages your skin by breaking down collagen and promoting inflammation, speeding up the rate of ageing.

The gut and sex hormones

They may seem completely unconnected, but your gut microbes play a role in regulating levels of the sex hormone oestrogen via the oestrogen-gut microbiome axis. Basically, when your gut microbiome is healthy it produces enzymes that help metabolise oestrogen into its active form. But, when there is less microbial diversity or dysbiosis in the gut, it produces less of these enzymes which results in less active (useful) oestrogen and more inactive (bound) oestrogen.

Your gut is a complex ecosystem and home to trillions of microorganisms that work hard to support your wellbeing.

Bound oestrogen needs to be eliminated via elimination pathways but when these pathways aren’t working properly, inactive oestrogen gets recirculated in the bloodstream and eventually stored in fatty tissues, causing hormonal imbalance. Research has also shown a link between excess oestrogen and conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and female reproductive cancers.

Oestrogen is known for its role in female reproductive function, but it also regulates fat deposition, cardiovascular health and bone health. Supporting gut health to promote oestrogen metabolism is especially important for post-menopausal women who already produce less of this important hormone.

Interestingly, your oestrogen and progesterone levels can also affect your rate of digestion; slower transit times through the digestive system can lead to hormonal imbalances.

The gut and skin

Plump, healthy skin and fast wound healing are universally recognised markers of good health. These are also signs of a healthy balanced gut microbiome. The skin, your largest organ, and your gut communicate via the gut-skin-axis. Conversely, if your gut is out of balance, then your skin is likely to be inflamed, congested or irritated.

Research has shown people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are likely to also suffer from skin problems. Intestinal permeability or leaky gut means that your body can’t efficiently absorb nutrients essential for healthy skin. Plus, when your gut wall is more permeable, undigested nutrients and endotoxins escape into the bloodstream and are sent to the liver for processing. If your liver is already overloaded, your body then tries to eliminate these toxins via your skin, which can cause congestion or inflammation.

The gut and weight

Research has shown that the gut microbiome affects appetite, cravings and metabolism. For example, some gut microbes can increase sensitivity to the satiety hormone leptin, which tells you when to stop eating. Other gut microbes have been shown to reduce gut inflammation and help extract more energy from your food. When you eat fibre, your gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids that help regulate fat metabolism and may help reduce a predisposition to weight gain. Adults with low gut-microbial diversity are more likely to be obese. And, as the latest research suggests, changing your diet to encourage greater microbial diversity may reduce your chance of becoming obese.

There is still much to learn about your hardworking gut microbiome. It’s very clear that looking after your microbial passengers can deliver serious health benefits.

Chicken Bone Broth

Chicken bone broth is not just great for the flu; it’s also a wonderful healing tonic for joint health, skin health, allergies and leaky gut. Chicken bone broth is rich in anti-inflammatory and detoxifying amino acids, including glycine and proline, which make up your skin’s collagen.

Makes: 2L

 

Ingredients

Method

  • 1.5kg organic chicken bones, carcass, necks & wings
  • 1 onion, skin on, quartered
  • 1 carrot, unpeeled, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small leek, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, plus leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp apple-cider vinegar
  • 5 stalks parsley
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, unpeeled
  • 5 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3L cold water
  1. Rinse the chicken pieces under cold water.
  2. Place the chicken and the remaining ingredients in a large heavy-based saucepan.
  3. Pour in the water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Decrease the heat and simmer undisturbed for 2 hours. Skim the fat and impurities off the surface occasionally; this will help to give you a clearer broth.
  4. Line a large sieve or colander with a double layer of muslin cloth. Strain the broth and discard the bones and remaining solids. Set aside to cool, cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove and discard the layer of fat that forms on top of the broth. Use as required.

Note: Bone broth can be stored in the refrigerator for 5-7 days or frozen in batches for up to 4 months.

 

 



 

Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.