Due to recently discovered influences of the digestive system on our overall health, reaching far beyond the simple digestion of foods and the absorption of the essential nutrients we need, research into intestinal health, and what we can do to positively influence it, is becoming an increasingly popular and important area.
It may seem obvious that supporting digestive system health is important to ensure we can effectively and efficiently gather the nutrients from the foods we eat. It also appears that the large intestine, in particular has much wider reaching influences on our wider health and it is only fairly recently that influences are starting to be more fully understood.
What does the gut ‘do’?
The large intestine (often referred to as the colon or gut) is an important part of the digestive system for a number of key reasons. It is important for the reabsorption of water and the uptake of B vitamins and vitamin K and the bacteria that are housed in the large intestine also helps produce fuel (as short chain fatty acids) for the digestive system from the fermentation of fibre, hence one of the reasons why fibre is important in the diet.
The role of good bacteria…
The bacteria in our large intestine (our gut ‘flora’ or microbiome) are the reason this fermentation process takes place and supports the production of vitamin K. Vitamin K is almost entirely produced by these bacteria and is essential for blood clotting and also plays a role in bone formation.
Considering these vital, yet often overlooked functions of our bacteria friends, it is not really surprising that changes to the bacteria in our large intestine at times of illness and as a response to the foods we eat. Bacterial changes in the gut have been associated with obesity, changes to immune system function and in influencing mental health. Creating an environment to increase our ‘good bacteria’ has been touted as important in the prevention and treatment of diabetes and other metabolic disorders, certain cancers and many other diseases.
In order to ensure we provide our good bacteria with the right fuel to proliferate and do their thing, we need to ensure that we consume adequate fibre in the diet and this can also include another form non-digestible carbohydrate, resistant starch (which we have discussed in another article).
Recommended fibre intake…
The average fibre intake in the UK is around 14g per day however, many people would benefit from having more fibre in the diet with recommended intakes suggested to be in the region of 18g per day. More recent research has suggested that these recommendations should be revised and that intakes of up to 30g per day would be beneficial for most people.
For those who struggle to eat enough fibre dense foods in their diet, such as berries, avocado, cruciferous vegetables, peas, beans, nuts , seeds and oats, then the use of fibre supplements can definitely help, especially in diets that may be low in carbohydrate as getting enough fibre can be challenging and can often lead to constipation. However, we need to be careful as too much fibre can also make the situation worse if we already consume adequate fibre in the diet.
Another way in which we can keep on top of our good bacteria is through the use of probiotic supplements. These are supplements that contain our good bacteria to help support the numbers of or help to repopulate our gut. There are times when probiotic supplements can offer us a distinct advantage such as after we have used antibiotics, which can deplete our good bacteria, and other illnesses, especially stomach bugs that cause diarrhoea, can vastly reduce our number of gut bacteria.
The real question with regards to probiotics then, is does taking these outside of times when our health has been good? Well, it certainly isn’t going to do any harm and some research has pointed in the direction that for those who exercise regularly, who stress the immune system, supplementation can have beneficial effects helping to reduce the frequency and severity of illness and helping to control some inflammatory and respiratory disorders.
It certainly seems then, that for those training regularly, placing themselves under increase physical stress or for those in environments that will put increased stress on the immune system, that the use of probiotic supplements might be an advantage. It may also help those who may need to consume large volumes of food, helping to support the function of the gut, and help those people who suffer gut and bowel-related conditions helping to improve gut function and integrity. Probiotic supplementation might even be useful for those who might be prone to bouts of illness, helping to bolster immune function.
Looking after our gut health has much wider impacts on our health than is often considered, impacting much further than simply helping to digest and absorb nutrients. Many of the positive health effects associated with gut health come from promoting the healthy bacteria in the gut. These are essential for providing essential vitamins and ‘metabolic fuel’ that can influence our digestive system and immune system function, which help protect against many illnesses and diseases. Ensuring we consume enough dietary fibre should be our number one priority in supporting our good bacteria, with probiotics having the potential to further improve our numbers of good bacteria and may provide additional benefits at important times.
As always Team CSN are here to help, call or email us today and we can give you professional, unbiased advice on all your nutrition and supplement needs.