That gut feel­ing

A healthy gut is not only cru­cial for good di­ges­tion but also in­flu­ences over­all health. Con­sum­ing good bac­te­ria in the form of cul­tured milk drinks and fer­mented food will help pro­mote a healthy di­ges­tive sys­tem, writes Meera Mu­ruge­san

New Straits Times - - Heal - meera@me­di­aprima.com.my

WE all have days when the sim­ple act of eat­ing re­sults in a “bat­tle” in the stom­ach.

Af­ter each meal you feel gassy, bloated, con­sti­pated or suf­fer from heart­burn. A healthy gut has “good bac­te­ria” that aids in di­ges­tion but for many of us, years of bad eat­ing, poor life­style choices and even the over-use of an­tibi­otics have led to “bad bac­te­ria” tak­ing hold of our gut.

The “good guys” have been over­pow­ered, so to speak, and we suf­fer as a re­sult. For some peo­ple, these symp­toms are tem­po­rary while for oth­ers, it’s a long-term prob­lem.

GUT IN­STINCT

A healthy gut is not only cru­cial for good di­ges­tion but stud­ies are in­creas­ingly show­ing that it can also play a role in boost­ing the im­mune sys­tem, im­prov­ing me­tab­o­lism, in­flu­enc­ing weight gain, im­prov­ing brain func­tion, al­low­ing us to sleep bet­ter and even have more healthy skin.

The cru­cial mes­sage is that gut health in­flu­ences over­all health.

Be­ing one of the largest sys­tems in our body, the gut not only di­gests food and ab­sorbs nu­tri­ents but is also a ma­jor part of our im­mune sys­tem, ex­plains Gur­dip Kaur, di­etetic and food ser­vices man­ager at Bea­con In­ter­na­tional Spe­cial­ist Cen­tre Sdn Bhd.

With­out a healthy di­ges­tive sys­tem, one may suf­fer from mal­nour­ish­ment and even ma­jor dis­eases and it gen­er­ally takes no more than a few sim­ple changes in our diet and life­style to keep our di­ges­tive sys­tem healthy and work­ing ef­fi­ciently.

This in­cludes gain­ing an un­der­stand­ing of how our di­ges­tive sys­tem works and how to prevent com­mon gut prob­lems.

“Your gut pro­cesses food and ab­sorbs nu­tri­ents, hence what you eat and how you eat is very im­por­tant,” says Gur­dip.

She adds that it’s cru­cial to avoid “gut trou­ble mak­ers”. In other words, di­etary habits which wreak havoc on our gut.

Over-con­sump­tion of cof­fee and car­bon­ated drinks or reg­u­lar con­sump­tion of food that con­tains ad­di­tives and preser­va­tives or pes­ti­cides has been linked to gut prob­lems.

A diet high in sugar or pro­cessed food is bad for the gut but is very com­mon these days as more and more peo­ple look for quick, easy, meal op­tions rather than cook­ing from scratch.

Bad bac­te­ria lit­er­ally “feeds” on sugar and re­fined car­bo­hy­drates so it’s no sur­prise that our mod­ern diet is one of the main cul­prits for poor di­ges­tion, com­pared to the past when peo­ple ate sim­ple, healthy, home-cooked meals.

The over-use of cer­tain drugs these days, es­pe­cially steroid or hor­monal-based med­i­ca­tion, is also be­lieved to be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor.

Gur­dip says it’s also im­por­tant to stay ac­tive and main­tain a healthy body weight be­cause obese or over­weight in­di­vid­u­als ex­pe­ri­ence more di­ges­tive dis­or­ders so stay­ing within a rea­son­able body mass in­dex should be a pri­or­ity.

Reg­u­lar health screen­ings also help so one should stick to sched­uled tests and never put them off.

Stress, one of the draw­backs of mod­ern life, is an­other ma­jor fac­tor in in­flu­enc­ing gut health so tak­ing steps to re­duce stress in daily life will re­sult in pos­i­tive changes.

Gur­dip ex­plains that age is also a fac­tor. As we get older, we tend to have less good bac­te­ria in our gut.

“El­derly peo­ple, for ex­am­ple, do tend to have less good bac­te­ria in their gut so their di­ges­tion is not as good as their younger days and they are more prone to fall­ing ill.”

Some peo­ple, on the other hand, may strug­gle with di­ges­tive prob­lems sim­ply be­cause it runs in their fam­ily.

BAL­ANC­ING THE SCALES

One way to counter the ef­fects of bad bac­te­ria is to add a pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment to our daily diet or to reg­u­larly con­sume cer­tain fer­mented foods which nat­u­rally pro­vide good bac­te­ria for the gut.

The con­sump­tion of pro­bi­otics has be­come rou­tine for many in­di­vid­u­als to­day, in­clud­ing young chil­dren.

More and more peo­ple are start­ing to re­alise the ben­e­fits of adding good bac­te­ria to their gut.

Gur­dip ex­plains that pro­bi­otics are good bac­te­ria that one can con­sume to im­part health ben­e­fits to the gut and it can be ob­tained through cul­tured milk drinks and yogurt. Good bac­te­ria will aid food di­ges­tion, boost the im­mune sys­tem and ward off al­ler­gies.

It’s also im­por­tant to stay ac­tive and main­tain a healthy body weight be­cause obese or over­weight in­di­vid­u­als ex­pe­ri­ence more di­ges­tive dis­or­ders… Gur­dip Kaur

“Some peo­ple specif­i­cally use pro­bi­otics to prevent di­ar­rhoea, gas and cramp­ing caused by an­tibi­otics be­cause an­tibi­otics kill good ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria along with the bac­te­ria that causes ill­ness and a de­crease in ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria will lead to di­ges­tive prob­lems.”

It is be­lieved that even one course of an­tibi­otics may af­fect gut health for up to four years and an­tibi­otic use is wide­spread to­day.

Gur­dip says tak­ing pro­bi­otics will help re­place lost ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria.

But when it comes to choos­ing a pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment, one must al­ways opt for a reg­is­tered or ap­proved prod­uct and check on the type and amount of good bac­te­ria that it of­fers. This will en­sure one gets the most ben­e­fits.

There are many dif­fer­ent groups of good bac­te­ria in­clud­ing lac­to­bacil­lus and bi­fi­dobac­terium but within these “fam­i­lies”, there are also spe­cific strains, each of which per­form dif­fer­ent tasks.

One must ob­tain the right strain or strain com­bi­na­tion to feel the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects. And how much good bac­te­ria a pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment con­tains should also be a cri­te­ria for se­lec­tion.

Gen­er­ally, 10 mil­lion and above per serv­ing is the min­i­mum re­quire­ment and the more the bet­ter. Hav­ing a sup­ple­ment that pro­vides both pre­bi­otics and pro­bi­otics is also ad­vis­able. Gur­dip says pre­bi­otics help the good bac­te­ria in our gut to grow and flour­ish.

When it comes to chil­dren, pro­bi­otics are safe for con­sump­tion but giving it to them in the form of drinks rather than tablets is prefer­able as this leads to bet­ter ab­sorp­tion.

A diet rich in pro­bi­otic- and pre­bi­oti­crich food will en­sure bet­ter gut health.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING BY AMIR.A (@XAMIRXAX)

Leeks pro­vide pre­bi­otics which are food for good bac­te­ria.

CREDIT:LETTUCEBEHEALTHY.NET

CREDIT:CDN.0.VOX-CDN.COM

CREDIT: CLOUDFRONT.NET

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