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Here’s why a healthy gut really matters and what you can do to improve yours. We grilled Mikhaila Todd, a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach specialising in Gut Health and Eating Psychology, for the lowdown.

WelleCo (W): Why is the gastrointestinal tract so important to our overall health?

Mikhaila Todd (MT): The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a highly specialised 30-foot long digestive highway, from the mouth to the anus. It extracts nutrients from the food you ingest and delivers energy to every cell in your body. Bacterial imbalance, mechanical blockages, and other issues can wreak havoc on the smooth functioning of your digestive system, causing problems from abdominal distress and bloating to chronic diseases. The most vital part of the GI tract is your gut bacterial community, aka microbiome. It consists of billions of live bacteria (approximately 35,000 different strains) that co-evolved with you to save energy by outsourcing. The bacteria in your gut create vitamins, help protect against pathogens, eliminate toxins, serve as an internal pharmacy by creating natural antibiotics, balance hormone levels, and help you digest food. For example, when you eat a vegetable your body breaks down the carbohydrates to glucose and the leftovers (indigestible fibre) are then consumed by bacteria like a vacuum cleaner feeding on the fibres you can’t digest.

W: How does our gut impact aspects of health that don’t appear to have anything to do with digestion?

MT: When your gut is unhealthy, your whole body is at risk. This is because the digestive, immune, nervous, and endocrine systems all communicate and interact with each other. When your gut is not functioning properly, the processes of the other systems can be compromised. Chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes, and depression can be traced back to an irritated and inflamed gut. Even minor ailments, like constipation, skin conditions, lack of libido, aches and pains, and fatigue are directly linked to gut dysfunction. Additionally, a damaged gut can decrease toxins being able to leave the body, leading to premature ageing.

W: What affects gut health?

MT: Type of birth delivery, diet during infancy (breastmilk fed or not), diet during adulthood, antibiotic usage (in medications as well as non-organic factory farm meats that use widespread antibiotics and are then ingested), chemicals in skin/home cleaning products or sprayed on food to plastic Tupperware, genetics and stress.

W: Can our emotions impact its health?

MT: There is constant bidirectional communication between brain and gut. Symptoms of gut disorders often go hand-in-hand with mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Serotonin the ‘happiness’ neurotransmitter is produced primarily by the gut as well as norepinephrine and dopamine. Stress can originate in both the gut and the mind and because the body can’t shut off acute stress response it can result in GI tract distress. The gut is also your largest sensory organ so ‘gut feelings’, ‘butterflies in your stomach’ and your ‘stomach being tied up in knots’ can influence your emotions and vice versa.

W: How do we know when our gut isn’t healthy or performing at its optimal?

MT: Symptoms can range from bloating, heartburn, gas, and skin conditions to brain fog, food sensitivities and insomnia. If you believe you have digestive issues, it’s best to see a doctor and ask for testing. A first sign can be the form and frequency of stools (varies from person-to-person due to transit time, ideally once a day at least to up to 3 times a day – outside that is considered constipation or loose tool signalling digestive issues).

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W: How can I maintain my gut health?

MT: Diet is the most powerful influence on your gut microbiome.The Western diet, heavy in meat and processed foods, is associated with dysbiosis, a disruption in the gut bacteria. The best thing for your gut is to eat a large, seasonal variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and reduce factory farm raised antibiotic and hormone fed meat intake. Buy local as close to the source as possible. Fruit and vegetables carry bacteria that help us digest our food, and we lose this when we buy non-organic chemical sprayed produce. Soluble fibre is the cornerstone of a healthy microbiome because this is what your gut bacteria eat. When you feed it soluble fibre it rewards you by producing nourishing by-products.

Supplement your diet with an effective supplement like The Super BoosterGut Health with Inulin Prebiotic.A therapeutic formula with premium nutrients including vitamin C-rich Acerola Cherry, Prebiotic Inulin and Aquatic Collagen for healthy connective tissue, it promotes healthy digestive system function and enhances healthy digestive system flora and good bacteria growth.

Experiment and incorporate fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, yogurt and tempeh. Only take antibiotics when necessary (over sanitation kills the good bacteria with the bad), crowd out allergens, toxins, too much caffeine, and alcohol. Add in meditation and stress-reduction techniques to calm the mind and the gut. And lastly practise mindful eating. Eating is actually a separate behaviour, when compared to something like watching television or scrolling on your phone. For proper digestion to occur, you need to start appreciating it as a separate activity.