Learn to love your gut

Learn to love your gut

How much do you know about your gut? According to a survey from www.loveyourgut.com, the majority of the us (81 per cent) are clueless about the health signs our gut gives us whilst almost three quarters (74 per cent) admit we rarely get concerned about the health of our digestive system.

But getting familiar with the sounds, smells and feelings of your gut as well as working out what's normal for you could help keep you feeling altogether healthier and nip any nasties in the bud.

So we asked Nik Ding,  a Clinical Research Fellow at St. Mark’s Hospital to answer our rumbling questions on digestive health so that you can start doing good for your gut this Gut Week and beyond.

What exactly does our gut do?

Your gut plays a really important job in processing, digesting and absorbing what you eat. But it's not just a food processor. You might be surprised to hear that the gut has its own brain, which contains more nerve cells and connections than the brain in our head, and includes trillions of bacteria. It's one the key players in our immune system that helps try and protect us from toxic and harmful things that come into our body.

How common are digestive complaints?

Literally millions of us have digestive problems– from bloating and constipation to indigestion and irregular bowel movements. Lots of us also have food intolerances which can give us a sore stomach, as well as causing tiredness and poor concentration.

Stress, what we eat, illness, exercise, medications and even getting older are all factors that might affect the gut and lead to abdominal pain, bloating, nausea and vomiting, indigestion constipation, diarrhoea and flatulence.

How do I know if I might have a problem?

We all get abdominal symptoms from time to time. They may be related to something you’ve eaten or some stress in your life. But if any of the symptoms listed below persist for more than a few days for no obvious reason, it's wise to book an appointment to see your doctor.

  • Abdominal pain before or after meals
  • Feelings of fullness, bloating or flatulence
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heartburn or regurgitation
  • Pain or difficulty in swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Continuing unexplained weight loss
  • Indigestion developing for the first time or in mid or later life
  • Diarrhoea, constipation or any persistent alteration in bowel habit
  • The passage of black, tarry stools
  • Bleeding when you pass a stool or blood and mucus mixed in with the stool
  • Pain when you pass a stool
  • Generally feeling tired, lethargic feverish or generally unwell in association with any abdominal symptoms

If anyone in the family has a history of bowel cancer, it's also very important you get checked out if there's a niggle or a worry.

For some people it can feel tricky or embarassing to try and explain these symptoms to your doctor. If you're feeling nervous, read these top tips on how to approach it.

Could changing my diet help my gut?

Absolutely! Gut-friendly foods tend to differ between people so it's important to make a food diary to work out what foods trigger any digestive problems. But generally eating your full fill of fruit and veg each day is certainly a good way to start for most people.

Avoid too many processed foods and meats, for example in ready meals. Try and eat a good range of protein rich foods, snack on essential oils from nuts and seeds and take oily fish, lean meat and cereals and grains that are full of fibre. And keep well hydrated– your gut needs fluid to help you digest everything so always carry a water bottle with you when you're out and about. If your wee is dark yellow to orange, you know you need to drink more.

How about my lifestyle?

It's not just about foods– lifestyle factors have a huge role to play in gut health.  

We know that changing your sleep patterns can alter gut bacteria and make someone more prone to digestive complaints, including bowel diseases. So aim for your full quota of eight hours sleep a night and steer clear of caffeine and alcohol that might keep you wide awake.

Stress can also be a trigger for pain in your gut. A balanced lifestyle with time to relax and unwind (so a lovely bath or a swim for example) could be the key to keeping your stomach calm and able to quietly to get on with its amazing work.

  • Gut Week is an initiative of charities Bowel & Cancer Research, Bowel Disease Research Foundation, Core (the Digestive Disorders Foundation), the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology, and St Mark’s Hospital Foundation in partnership with Yakult UK Limited. This year the Love Your Gut partners have released new delicious, gut-friendly recipes with the help of ambassador Gaby Roslin. For more information, visit www.loveyourgut.com
  • There's more health advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.