If you’re searching for little ways to feel healthier and improve your wellbeing, then it’s time to look inward and focus on your gut health.
Gut health is one of the predicted wellness trends for 2023 (opens in new tab). While you might be thinking “why is looking after my gut considered a trend?”, it’s all down to everyone’s favourite social media platform: TikTok. In 2022, gut health took over TikTok, with content around improving digestive problems going viral. Yes, that might sound silly but it’s made more people aware of the importance of looking after their gut.
Good gut health is the healthy functioning and balance of microbes found in the gut, also known as the microbiome. The gut (which is often called the ‘second brain’ by scientists) contributes to keeping you healthy, preventing diseases, producing happy hormones and avoiding digestive and abdominal issues. Essentially, it’s important that you’re looking after your gut so you’re not in any pain and your body is working efficiently.
To find out more about the signs of poor gut health, I spoke to NHS GP and director at the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr Chris George (opens in new tab). In this article, he talks through the signs that your gut isn’t happy and 5 ways to better support your gut health.
What are the signs of poor gut health?
Before you start to improve your gut health, it’s important to understand the signs that it’s unhappy. According to Dr George, there are 3 important signs that you’ve got poor gut health: bloating, burping and unusual bowel movements.
“Bloating commonly occurs when the gastrointestinal tract becomes filled with excess air or gas which can lead to discomfort, swelling and flatulence. Lifestyle changes such as reducing gas-producing foods and carbonated drinks, and eating slowly can help reduce these symptoms,” says Dr George.
If you burp a lot, this is another sign that can be caused by “swallowing excess air whilst eating or drinking quickly, carbonated beverages and anxiety.” To avoid this, it’s important to be mindful when eating and avoid stress triggers.
Finally and arguably the most important sign of poor gut health is through your bowels. Your bowel movements should be pretty regular and easy to pass, but if they’re not and you’re experiencing constipation or diarrhoea, these can be symptoms of IBS. Other reasons could be stress, caffeine consumption and lack of fibre in the diet, says Dr George.
For more information, check out these 7 signs of an unhealthy gut (opens in new tab), according to a food expert.
6 tips for improving your gut health
If you’ve noticed the signs of poor gut health or you just want to improve your health in general, follow the following 5 steps.
Eat more fermented foods & plants
As I discovered in 5 foods that reduce stress & improve sleep (opens in new tab), fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut and live yoghurts can have an incredible impact on your health. This is because “the process of fermentation not only helps to preserve foods but may also increase the number and diversity of microorganisms in the gut. This has been associated with improved digestion, better immunity and nutrient absorption,” says Dr George.
Alongside fermented foods, you should also be eating more plants. “Increasing the number of plants in your diet helps to increase the diversity of our microbiome which is linked to better health.” Dr George suggests that we should be aiming to eat 30 different types of vegetables a week. While this might sound like a big number, vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds all contribute towards this goal.
Exercising regularly is important for both physical and mental health. It’s also a sign of good sleep hygiene (opens in new tab) so if you’re not sleeping well, getting active can improve this. When it comes to the gut, “recent studies have shown that exercise may actually increase the number of microbes in the gut.” So, get moving to keep your gut happy!
Similarly, keeping stress to a minimum is a sign of good gut health, mainly due to the gut’s connection to the brain. “Stress can have a big impact on the gut’s microorganisms so reducing it can improve digestive problems like bloating, diarrhoea, urgency and IBS symptoms.” If you find yourself stressing a lot, there are many things you can do to calm your anxiety, like trying this 20-minute stress relieving fat burning workout (opens in new tab) or the rapid tapping technique (opens in new tab).
Consume less sugar & processed foods
As you eat more healthy foods, you should be reducing the amount of sugar and processed foods you consume. These foods can negatively affect the gut by disrupting the balance of good to bad bacteria.
Add a supplement to your diet
Finally, adding a supplement into your diet “can help deliver a large number of live gut friendly bacteria which can help reduce digestive symptoms.” The supplement that Dr George recommends is Symprove (opens in new tab), a water-based formula with live and active bacteria that helps maintain a healthy gut.
For more gut health tips, take a look at how drinking tea improves gut health & combats sleep deprivation (opens in new tab).