The gut microbiota is the name given to the trillions of microorganisms (such as bacteria) living in your gastro-intestinal tract. When the gut microbiota is healthy and in balance, it plays an important role in maintaining health, from ensuring proper digestive function to the production of vitamins and optimal immunity.
Research shows us that both radiation therapy and chemotherapy have an adverse effect on the gut, decreasing levels of healthy bacteria, and increasing levels of some of the more unfriendly strains of bacteria. This marked change in gut microbiota is thought to be a significant cause of intestinal inflammation, which in turn contributes to impaired digestion and symptom such as diarrhoea, bloating and general discomfort.
Many of our clients here at Penny Brohn UK are seeking guidance on how to support the health of their gastro-intestinal tract, particularly after cancer treatment. Here, we share with you ten tips for helping to soothe and restore an imbalanced digestive system.
- Meat stocks, often referred to as bone broths, are wonderfully supportive as they are rich in both collagen and glucosamine which are restorative nutrients for the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Bone broth has been a staple food for centuries in many different cultures. It is nutrient dense, easy to digest and rich in flavour. Bone broth can be taken as a drink or used as a stock base for soups and other dishes such as risottos.
- Soluble fibre, found in brown rice, oats, linseeds, chia seeds and vegetables is beneficial for both constipation and diarrhoea, as well as reducing inflammation in the colon, helping to keep it healthy. Soluble fibre works best in the presence of plenty of water so make sure you are drinking around 1.5 litres of water and/or non-caffeinated teas per day.
- Fermented foods have been part of a traditional diet in many different cultures, for centuries. Fermented foods have been cultured to contain healthy bacteria, also known as probiotics. The best sources are home-made live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. Probiotic rich foods and probiotic supplements are sometimes helpful for both constipation and diarrhoea and they can help rebuild levels of your healthy bacteria after cancer treatment. If you choose to trial a probiotic supplement, buy one which contains both lactobacillus acidophilus and bifido-bacteria, with at least 10,000 billion live organisms in each daily dose. Always check with your medical team before taking supplements.
- Oily fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and mackerel are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which help to control inflammation. Including 3-4 portions of oily fish per week will be a beneficial addition to the health of your digestive system.
- Using a slow cooker can be very helpful if you are struggling to digest your food. Slow cooking foods, particularly meats, makes the food more digestible and the nutrients more available for absorption. Slow cookers can be bought for very reasonable prices in supermarkets.
- Vitamin A rich foods, such as eggs and liver are important because vitamin A is needed for a healthy gut lining. Vitamin A can also be made in the body from beta-carotene but many people are poor converters of beta-carotene to its active vitamin.
- Vitamin D is also important for the immune system in the gut so be sure to get your 15-20mins of daily sun exposure from April through to September. Alternatively, take a vitamin D supplement of 1000iu-2000iu daily.
- Slippery elm has been used as a traditional herbal remedy for digestive problems for centuries. It is thought to have a high mucilage content which has a soothing, calming effect. In practice, we have found many people benefit from its effects. It can be added to smoothies and other drinks.
- There are many scientific studies demonstrating the link between the gut and the brain and indeed, depression, anxiety and stress are all correlated with gastrointestinal symptoms. As such, learning to manage the stress in your life is vitally important to gut health. Some of the ways we encourage our clients to manage stress include mindful eating, adequate sleep, meditation and moderate exercise. Moderate exercise can also help improve constipation as it encourages movement of waste through the gut.
- Last, but not least, is chewing! Aim to chew each mouthful of food around 30 times. This will significantly extend your meal times and may take a little while to get used to, but in the end, you will feel better for it. Incompletely chewed food is harder to digest as it isn’t adequately mixed with saliva which contains enzymes which start the digestive process.
These are just some of the suggestions we offer to our clients who are looking to support or improve their gastro-intestinal health. Why not try experimenting with a few of them and discover what might be helpful to you. Let us know how you get on!