Why start with the gut?

Hippocrates famously said, “All disease begins in the gut”.  More than 2,000 years later there is a growing body of evidence supporting the critical role gut health plays in overall health [1].  Our gut comprises a hollow tube that is open to the outside world at either end.  As such, it acts as a gate keeper, determining what may and may not pass through its walls into the cells of our body.  In addition to providing an access route for the nutrients we need to survive and thrive, it contributes to our health and wellbeing in numerous other ways, many of which are facilitated by our microbiome.

Our bodies contain trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi.  Collectively these microbes, along with all their genetic data are known as the microbiome.  These microbes are predominantly found on our skin and in our intestines and we’ve developed a special symbiotic relationship over millions of years – we provide them with a lovely home and in return they do their best to look after us!  

The Microbiome

Our gut microbes help keep us healthy in all sorts of ways.  Some gut bacteria ferment fibre that we are unable to digest, a process that produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA).  SCFAs, provide the main source of energy for the cells lining the colon and are critical for colon health.  The SCFA butyrate has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.  Additionally, studies in mice have linked the presence of bacteria that produce the SCFA butyrate, alongside a high fibre diet with reductions in the incidence of colon cancer [2].  SCFA are also involved in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. 

What happens when things go wrong?

When your gut microbiota is unbalanced (a state known as dysbiosis) it can lead to all sorts of problems.  For example, dysbiosis of gut microbes has been implicated in the development of disorders including Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, cardiovascular disease, asthma, metabolic disease and obesity [3].  So, as you can see, poor gut health doesn’t just result in digestive symptoms, but has wide-ranging implications for our overall health and wellbeing.  Our gut microbiome also plays a role in mental health, sleep, circadian rhythms [4], and immune health.

What impacts our gut health?

Research has highlighted many factors that impact on gut health, including diet, stress, sleep [5] and exercise [6].  Antibiotics [7] and long-term use of medications such as oral contraceptives [8] may also negatively impact the gut microbiome.  Even historical events such as the way in which you were born and whether or not you were breast-fed [7] can impact the state of your gut microbiota.

Supporting your gut health

All this might sound a bit depressing, after all there’s not much you can do about how you were born! However, there are lots of things you can do now, to support your gut health and keep you microbes happy!

  1. Eat plenty of fibre.

One of the best ways to support your microbiome is to eat a varied diet that includes lots of plants and whole grains.  Focus on prebiotic fibre, this is the name given to the type of fibres our gut microbes like to eat, here are a few examples:

  • Inulin: Found in, garlic, leeks, onions, wheat, rye, artichokes and asparagus
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS):  Good sources include bananas, onions, garlic and asparagus.  FOS may aggravate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome for some people, something to be aware of if you are a sufferer.
  • Resistant starch: One of the best sources is potatoes or legumes that have been cooked and then cooled – think potato or bean salad.  You will also find resistant starch in grains, barley, rice, beans and green bananas.
  • Pectin: Good sources of pectin include apples, apricots, oranges and carrots  
  • Reduce sugar and sweeteners

Diets high in simple sugars increase the amount of time it takes for your food to pass through your gut.  This can result in higher levels of fermentation in the intestines, which in turn can result in bloating and discomfort.  It is also thought that a high sugar intake may cause changes in the microflora of the gut [7]

2. Probiotics

Probiotics contain ‘friendly bacteria’ to support your microbiome and are available in both food and supplement form. Include fermented foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut, kefir, bio-live yoghurts, kombucha and kimchi.  There are a huge range of probiotic supplements available featuring different strains and numbers of bacteria.  There is evidence to support the use of different probiotics for different symptoms.  It’s best to undertake thorough research or seek professional help when selecting a supplement to ensure you’re choose the product that’s best suited to your needs.

3. Reduce stress

Easier said than done!  There is however lots of evidence to suggest it will be worth the effort.  Stress has been shown to impact the gut in a number of ways, contributing to changes in movement of food through the gut and the make-up of the gut microbiome [7].  Chronic stress has been found to be a contributor to a number of digestive disorders including diarrhoea, constipation and painful bloating [9]. 

4. Exercise

Moderate exercise has been shown to have benefits for gut function, both in terms of encouraging movement of food through the intestines and also by improving the diversity and quantity of the microorganisms that make up the gut flora [10]

Want to know more?

If you’re interested in learning more about gut health and the role of the gut microbiome, the book 10% Human: How Your Body’s Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness by Alanna Collen is a great place to start.

If you think a personalised plan to improve your gut health would be of benefit, take a look at my 1:1 packages for more information on how I work and the opportunity to book a free discovery call.


1.       Singh RK, Chang HW, Yan D, et al (2017) Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y

2.       Donohoe DR, Holley D, Collins LB, et al (2014) A gnotobiotic mouse model demonstrates that dietary fiber protects against colorectal tumorigenesis in a microbiota- and butyrate-dependent manner. Cancer Discov 4:1387–1397

3.       Carding S, Verbeke K, Vipond DT, Corfe BM, Owen LJ (2015) Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota in disease. Microb Ecol Heal Dis. https://doi.org/10.3402/mehd.v26.26191

4.       Norfolk T, Birdi K, Walsh D (2007) The role of empathy in establishing rapport in the consultation: A new model. Med Educ 41:690–697

5.       Chassaing B, Vijay-Kumar M, Gewirtz AT (2017) How diet can impact gut microbiota to promote or endanger health. Curr Opin Gastroenterol 33:417–421

6.       Mailing LJ, Allen JM, Buford TW, Fields CJ, Woods JA (2019) Exercise and the Gut Microbiome: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms, and Implications for Human Health. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 47:75–85

7.       Hawrelak JA, Myers SP (2004) The causes of intestinal dysbiosis: a review. Altern Med Rev 9:180–97

8.       Khalili H (2016) Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease with Oral Contraceptives and Menopausal Hormone Therapy: Current Evidence and Future Directions. Drug Saf 39:193–7

9.       Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ (2011) Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol 62:591–9

10.     Monda V, Villano I, Messina A, et al (2017) Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Oxid Med Cell Longev 2017:3831972

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