The gut performs many vital functions to help break down the food we eat so our bodies are nourished by the nutrients it contains.
The system actually starts from the moment the food enters our mouth, and then the digestive process begins. The food passes through several stages along the way, including in the small intestine and the large intestine. In the small intestine, enzymes and bile are released by the pancreas and gallbladder near the liver. This helps break down food so that the various nutrients can be well absorbed into our bloodstream. The colon absorbs large amounts of water and electrolytes (nutrients) and helps clear the waste material and other substances that our body does not need.
A well-functioning digestive system is vital if you want to stay in tip-top condition. Read on to find out how to improve yours.
Intestinal flora – what exactly is it?
Our body has a system made up of bacteria (also known as micro-flora or flora) that live in the intestinal tract. This bacterial system is called the gut microbiota. This is a sophisticated system that begins to develop after birth and one of the most important factors that determines the microbiome of a newborn baby is the composition of the mother’s natural flora and her type of diet. This is how a baby’s gut health starts. A poor microbiome can lead to a baby becoming predisposed to health issues later in life.
Bacteria can be identified in the baby’s gut starting about two weeks after birth, with the composition gradually getting richer until by the age of one the baby already has all the typical strains, and by age 3 the child’s microbiome equals that of the adult. Intestinal flora can vary based on various factors that affect it, such as diet, stress levels, antibiotic use and various life stages including adolescence, pregnancy and menopause.
Our gut has about one hundred trillion bacterial cells – about 10 times the number of cells in the whole body! In all cases, the ‘good’ bacteria are much more numerous than the ‘bad’ ones, but any change in the balance and ratio of the good bacteria to the bad ones in the flora, for the reasons mentioned earlier, may affect the functioning of your digestive system. You may have certain food intolerances and in this instance, you may actually suffer with further symptoms. If this is the case, consider taking a test, such as those by intolerancelab.co.uk, to see what may be causing you issues.
The good news is that our gut health can be controlled to some extent. This does not mean that you have to make drastic changes in your life – even small steps can have a positive effect.
Maintaining a healthy diet is a great first step. There is a long list of foods you can add to your grocery list that are good for your gut, including chicken, salmon and other fish, avocados and olives, yogurt, bananas, wholemeal bread, fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.
And if you really crave something sweet, natural sources of sweetness like apple sauce, maple syrup and pure honey are good. So take control of your diet for a healthier gut, naturally.