The Life of your Gut
The connection between you and your microbiome is give and take.
You give nutrition and a home to your microbial community.
And the microbial population does some really essential things for us. They help our immune system develop and fight off nasty infections.
Give and take!
If you're not feeling tip top - your gut might be at the centre of lots of health issues.
The gut hasn’t gotten much respect in the past but we now known that over 70% of our immune system lives there.
The trillions of good and bad bacteria that live in our guts are with us throughout our lives and they can affect both out physical and mental wellbeing.
Let's understand what our army of bacteria are up to throughout our lives.
Early years of your gut
The foundations of good gut health can be built from birth. Babies are born a collection of bacteria that live in their guts (microflora) and depending how they're born, get microflora from mother's vagina and faeces.
Babies develop some of their early microflora from their family and caregiver's skin.
They also might have inherited some immune or autoimmune gastrointestinal disorders.
Another way the gut develops is what babies are fed. Breastfeeding is one way to get beneficial bacteria into a newborn’s digestive tract. And modern milk formula has been designed to give growing babies the nutrition they need to develop - and this will also be fuel to the gut microflora.
When moving onto solid foods, foods rich in polyphenols, fibre and natural probiotics - are great for the digestive system and create good gut habits for kids.
Teenage kicks and early adulthood
Teens may look a lot like adults but are still forming patterns and routines that may set the direction of their overall wellbeing for life.
Do you remember your time being a teen? The last thing on your mind was probably what was going on in your gut!
Teenagers are starting to have more choice in what, how often and when they eat, as well as other wellbeing choices such as exercise and sleep patterns.
By teenage years, the gut may have had several rounds of antibiotics to stave off viruses.
And while antibiotics kill viruses and bugs, they also give our good bacteria a kicking.
It's tough to be a teen, the changes in their body chemistry, hormones, puberty, the desire to 'fit in' and the pressures of exams all have a big impact on life and emotional state. And when it comes to gut stuff - it might be embarrassing to talk about.
SCIENCEY-STUFF: There's growing evidence to suggest a strong tie between the brain and gut and particularly the microbial composition of the digestive tract has a strong connection with our emotional states. While this is true at any age, healthy and varied good gut diets so that the gut microbiome contains enough friendly flora, it’s able to help encourage emotional balance.
So we said above about remembering life a teen. But some of us also can't remember much of our 20s!
Through late teens and early 20s, we're still growing and hormones are still a bit wild!
At the same time, you’re trying to eat to support your body’s needs for energy and growth; meet new people; adjust to new homes and jobs; exploring the world; build new friendships; and maintain some semblance of a social life (which actually might be number one priority on the list!)
But how does your gut health factor into all these transitions? Turns out it plays an important role.
Travelling or relocating
International travelling or relocation to a new city can have a big impact on your gut bacteria.
By changing what and when you eat, you're adding new foods and bacteria to your digestive system.
Of course this can have benefits if it's good bacterias, but we also of course know examples where new foods simply haven't agreed with us.
And while the immediate symptoms of constipation, sickness, diarrhoea or general digestive upsets may go away relatively quickly, the 'bad' bacteria might stay around for a while.
Stress, alcohol, diet, exercise and some medications all have an impact on your well your gut works, and getting that balance right leads to better long term gut health.
Parenthood and your digestion
Parenthood and gut problems do not mix well, but they do mix often. Yep, read that sentence again.
Pregnancy hormones can affect the digestive system in lots of ways.
The hormone progesterone, which causes smooth muscle relaxation, often causes relaxation and slowing of digestion in the stomach and the small and large intestines - effectively indigestion.
There's often nausea and vomiting, constipation and even haemorrhoids (piles). It's quite the strain on the digestive system, especially when you're trying to get enough nutrition for your growing bun in the oven!
And once your bundle of joy enters the world, life takes a gear change and everything is about your children.
When their needs come before your own - exercise, meal times, self care can all go to the bottom of the pile. And sometimes the only few minutes you get to yourself are on the toilet (and that’s if you’re lucky!)
The juggle of parenthood and all of life’s other priorities can really put pressure on your gut to do its job.
Peri Menopause and Menopause gut health
Alterations in progesterone and oestrogen levels related to menopause can affect how fast food moves through the GI (gastro intestinal) tract, and symptoms of constipation.
Higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone, especially during peri-menopause, may slow your intestinal movements and cause constipation. Just what you need!
Some studies are showing that choosing good gut diets may help your peri and menopausal symptoms.
Later years and your digestive health
With age often comes reduced amounts of gastric, pancreatic and other digestive system secretions. Additional problems like poor dentition, inadequate diet and an unhealthy microbiome can set the stage for weak digestion and reduced nutrient absorption.
Think about it: you have around 100 trillion bacteria in your gut, which is more than 10 times as many cells as there are people on Earth.
Altering what you eat and drink could also help your body adapt to other age-related changes and improve your health overall.
Your gut health throughout life
Throughout life, your gut is adapting to the diet and lifestyle choices you make.
Our modern lives where we are rushing, not eating enough fibre, dehydrated and other factors all lead to poor gut health.
Look after your gut, and it will look after you.