Millions of people all over the world suffer from an upset stomach. Some suffer chronic issues that give them daily bouts of diarrhoea, bloating or just a general feeling of unwellness in the stomach. There are a multitude of reasons why this can happen to people. One of the areas we as dietitians look at to treat chronic upset stomachs is the gut microbiome.
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a fancy way of describing the amount and type of bacteria in your digestive system. There are between 300 and 500 different types of bacteria; some very good bacteria and some bad bacteria.
The good bacteria are believed to aid digestion, improve mental health, work as anti-inflammatory agents and strengthen the immune system. By comparison, the bad bacteria cause abdominal bloating and pain, food intolerance and allergies, and have been linked to poor immunity, insomnia, depression and are thought to affect almost every system within the human body (heart, liver, kidney etc).
In fact, it’s estimated that 70% of your immune response is generated from your gut. Currently, we know there is a link between our microbiome and health. However, we don’t know which comes first. Does depression worsen the microbiome or microbiome cause depression?? Research linking the microbiome to health outcomes in humans is a very new area of scientific research so definitely expect to hear more in this space.
What causes a poor gut microbiome?
Lots of things can affect your gut bacteria, including increased stress, reduced sleep, inadequate movement (exercise) and poor diet. Increasingly, we’re seeing people coming to us complaining of an upset stomach, including abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort. It’s likely that a poor gut microbiome is having a very large role in these clients.
Specifically, in terms of food and nutrients; diets that contain a large amount of ultra-processed and refined carbohydrates don’t make bowels very happy. Examples of these are cakes, biscuits, pastries, lollies, ice creams and lots of sweet beverages such as soft drinks, juice, iced tea and flavoured kinds of milk. Fatty and salty cuts of meats like salami, mortadella, bacon and pork belly are a problem for a healthy gut microbiome. We’re also seeing people who have to eat an inadequate amount of dietary fibre. These are foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as wholegrain breads and cereals.
How can I improve my gut microbiome?
Google will suggest you need to purchase fermented kimchi, kefir, açai or prebiotics to improve your gut bacteria. But this isn’t entirely the case. Using these products is not going to do you any harm, however, the beneficial outcomes are still to be confirmed. In fact, the research shows the very best way to improve your gut bacteria profile is to increase your intake of dietary fibre.
What that means specifically is best covered across a few sessions with one of our experienced dietitians, who will give you feedback on your current eating pattern and tailored advice about how to incorporate this into your daily routine.
Probiotics or Prebiotics – what’s the difference?
Probiotics are foods and supplements which contain live bacteria, which may change your gut microbiome, however, there are hundreds of different probiotics with a variety of ingredients, each one with its own distinct set of research. Some would say the research is inconsistent.
Similar to fermented foods, they won’t do you any harm but the big question is… will they help you feel better? To be honest, as each person’s reaction is different, a one-month trial is the only way to really answer that question.
There is some research that suggests using 5 billion Saccharomyces twice daily can help alleviate diarrhoea & gut dysfunction that’s often associated with having to take antibiotics. Typically though, the advice is to start the probiotics at least 48 hours before the antibiotics, which can be a bit tough to do given we don’t often get a few days warning before antibiotics are required.
Prebiotics are key foods and nutrients that fuel healthy bacteria in the gut, likely to improve an upset stomach. These are things like dietary fibre and fresh fruit and vegetables. So, foods that are particularly high in fibre can be branded as prebiotics.
Is it just the bacteria in my gut?
No, hot-off-the-press-research has also identified key viral populations (termed virome) and fungal populations (termed mycobiome) that exist in your digestive tract. This is very new research, and we are likely to hear more about their roles in the next few years.
What foods should I eat to improve my gut microbiome?
Most people we talk with ‘think’ they are eating plenty of fibre, however are typically only meeting 40-60% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 30g fibre/day. Also, clients often think their choices, such as oats or weet-bix, are high in fibre, when there are a heap of higher fibre options on the market. Contact our team of experienced dietitians if you’ve experienced bloating, diarrhoea or other symptoms resulting in an upset stomach and we’ll give you specific, practical strategies on how to improve, reduce or eliminate the issues.
It’s important to understand that people see Dietitians for many different reasons. For more information about the kind of diet that’s right for you, get in contact with us.