Constantly bloated and gassy? Feeling a bit grey inside? Loads of us live with stressed guts and that’s having a serious impact on our day-to-day lives.
With 1 in 5 Australians suffering from IBS, millions of us are struggling with gut health.
GPs can only help so much – they can prescribe you meds to deal with constipation and diarrhoea, but there’s only so much they can do for swollen bellies. But there are a few simple lifestyle hacks you can use to reduce the bloat.
1. Eat 30 different foods a week
Porridge for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, salmon and boiled potatoes for supper, sounds good to us, but even the healthiest foods aren’t great for your gut if eat the same things day in and day out.
We’re creatures of habit and when something tends to work and is easy we stick with it. But unfortunately eating the same things every day is not ideal for your gut health.
It’s important to try and incorporate a variety of different foods into your diet. Different families of bacteria thrive and grow on different foods.
Try to eat 30 different foods every week, this may seem a lot when you consider most of us only eat 15 or less. But it’s easier than you think. Rather than eating the same soup or salad every day, keep rotating and aim for a kaleidoscope of colour. Think of it as a competition – it might just be fun.
2. Check for emulsifiers in your non-dairy milk
If you’re cutting out dairy to help tackle bloating and abdominal pain, you might want to check the label on that ‘healthy’ nut milk before you slosh it into your porridge.
As with alcohol, when it comes to gut health, not all nut milks are created equal with many brands of non-dairy milks adding emulsifiers to stop the milks separating. Emulsifiers are like adding soap to our gut bacteria.
Some studies have shown that emulsifiers are really bad news for the gut microbiome, so it’s worth checking the label.
3. Ditch the mouthwash
We’re encouraged to use anti-bacterial mouthwash to tackle bad breath and improve dental health but commercial mouthwashes hurt our oral flora and they’re not even great for teeth, according to some dentists, who say we need a finely tuned balanced mouth microbiome to head off decay.
When your oral microbiome is off balance there’s a good chance your gut microbiome will be off balance too because they directly influence one another, says Dr Steve Linn, author of The Dental Diet.
Since in most cases bad breath is caused by an overgrowth of harmful flora in the mouth, cut out smoking and alcohol which both deplete our healthy oral flora and rinse your mouth with salt water, which can prevent the build-up of infectious bacteria; drinking green tea is another great way to temporarily reduce bad breath, according to research.
4. Delay breakfast
Longer breaks between you meals can help your microbes (bacteria in the body). It’s suggested that we skip breakfast one or two days a week, or opt for a later Sunday brunch, to give your digestive tract a chance to regenerate.
If you only sleep a few hours then get up to raid the fridge it will throw out the natural balance. Different microbes come out at night and tidy up the gut lining.
So leave bigger gaps between meals, it’s ok to be hungry and your gut will thank you for it.
5. Swap juice for real fruit
It hardly seems like the biggest health crime, but juicing isn’t great for gut health. The problem here is by juicing you are removing nearly all the fibre, which is precisely the thing we need for good bacteria to thrive.
You take all these fruit and veg and reduced them all down and you’re left with a big bucket of fibrous stuff that you end up chucking in the bin and that’s the most nutritious part of the fruit.
For a more gut-friendly option try eating whole fruits and vegetables, or opt for a smoothie instead.
6. Stop chewing gum
You might think it’s a quick way to freshen breath or even stave of hunger pangs, but your gum habit could be playing havoc with your digestive juices, leading to an over-production of stomach acid, says Healthista’s nutritional director Rick Hay.
‘When you chew it sends a signal to the stomach to expect food and the digestive juices get going, but then there’s nothing to digest. It’s like turning on a tap but there’s nothing to switch it off, which has a negative effect on our gut bacteria,’ says Hay.
Chewing gum can also lead to swallowing excess air which can add to bloating and IBS symptoms.
7. Choose red wine
Research by the British Gut Project shows that spirits are bad for gut health, but it’s not all bad news as it also found that red wine can be beneficial.
Wine’s benefits are down to polyphenols, the top class anti-oxidants which you can also find in artisanal ciders, which feed the microbiome, increasing the diversity of microbes.
In fact red wine is better for the microbiome than grape juice, which also contains polyphenols, so alcohol plus fruit is good. Just stick to glass rather than a bottle.
8. Go for a walk
Doctors tend to prescribe laxatives, but these can make the bowel lazy and could make constipation worse in the long run. You might also find yourself needing stronger and stronger laxatives over time, if the underlying problem is not dealt with.
So if you do find yourself constipated the best thing to do is go for a brisk walk, ideally for about half an hour. This will encourage peristalsis, which is a fancy word for helping food and waste move through the bowel quicker.
One study on middle aged patients split 43 constipated subjects into two groups, one made no changes to their lifestyles and the second was asked to walk briskly for 30 minutes daily. The latter strained less when pooping and also found they went to the loo more often.
9. Stress less
You may be running at one hundred miles per hour, and unfortunately most of us have jobs that require nothing less, but Rick Hay, Healthista Nutritional Director warns that you shouldn’t overdo it in any sense. This includes over-training and over-stressing as this is bad news for your gut.
It turns out IBS could also be worsened by your mental health. In a 2014 review in the World Journal of Gastroenterology authors say, ‘More and more clinical and experimental evidence has showed that IBS is a combination of irritable bowel and irritable brain’.
Stress is considered a key cause of IBS symptoms, suggesting whatever is going on in your mind could be having a direct impact on your gut health.
Try yoga, meditation and of course regular cardiovascular exercise which have all been shown to help alleviate gut symptoms. ‘Hypnotherapy can really help with gut problems too,’ says Dr Simon Smale consultant gastroenterologist and trustee of the ISB Network.
You can look for a hypnotherapist specialising in gut problems – talk to your doctor, the waiting list for getting this on the NHS may be long, but you can find a private practitioner at the British Society for Clinical Hypnosis.
It’s no surprise that sitting hunched over your desk all day in front of a screen is bad for stress levels and posture, but did you know it could also be a risk for IBS and other gut problems?
Some people are sitting at a desk for up to 12 hours a day but you we need to move for the good bacteria to thrive. The movement triggers the short chain fatty acids which keeps the gut lining healthy.
Try ‘movement snacking’ that is, getting up from your desk once an hour to spend two or three minutes moving around. If you work at home keep a skipping rope in your desk drawer or break out the jumping jacks on the hour.
While for those who work in an office the stairs are a great place for a ‘movement snack’ without your colleagues thinking you’ve gone bonkers.
11. Ditch the diet drinks
We get it, and you have probably heard all this before. You’re trying to cut sugar any which way you can but that diet cola habit has got to stop.
Diet drinks can be really bad for gut health and symptoms like IBS. The issue here is artificial sweeteners. Animal studies show they completely disrupt the good gut bacteria, which can lead an imbalance known as dysbiosis.
Real improvements can be made on digestive symptoms like IBS and weight issues from cutting out diet drinks.
Too much diet soda could even make you feel anxious. Why? It’s all down to the gut brain connection. A diverse gut biome links to higher blood tryptophan and trytophan turns into serotonin, the brain chemical we need to be happy.
The solution? Ditch that diet soda and just drink water instead. Water comes with an added bonus as it will help lubricate your gut to keep everything moving; if water feels too boring try a herbal tea for healthy flavour hit.
This article originally appeared on Healthista and is republished here with permission.