Doctor's advice on the secret weapon in your body responsible for 70% of your health

There are many foods which will have a positive impact on your gut health
There are many foods which will have a positive impact on your gut health -Credit:Grant Royce Photography

Scientists are becoming increasingly aware of how important the health of our guts are to our overall wellbeing.

The gut health supplement company Symprove spoke to trained NHS GP Dr Chris George to find out all the details about gut microbiome that you need to know. You can see his wisdom below alongside some great recipes to help you keep yours in tip top shape.

According to Dr George, the gut microbiome is a diverse collection of organisms that live mainly within our large bowel and have an important role in many of our body's functions including digestion, immunity and metabolism. You can read his advice below:

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What does he say are the best ways to support our gut microbiome and what should we try and avoid?

  • Add lots of colourful plants as they are packed full of polyphenols which nourish the ‘good’ gut microbes.

  • Try adding fermented foods to your diet as they contain gut friendly bugs which may increase the number and diversity of bacteria within your microbiome.

  • Limit ultra-processed foods as these can negatively impact the gut microbiome and lead to inflammation.

  • Eat more plants as this provides dietary fibre which feeds the gut microbiota, keeping them diverse and healthy.

  • Physical activity can positively impact your gut microbiome as well as having both mental and physical benefits on our wellbeing.

  • Reduce artificial sweeteners as these can reduce the number of good bacteria in the gut known as ‘dysbiosis’.

The amount of bacteria in our bodies is incredible

According to Dr George:

  • The gut microbiota weighs on average 200g for a 70kg adult – this is equal to a mango.

  • 95% of our gut bacteria is located within our large intestine and is thought to be one of the most heavily populated microbial ecosystems in the world.

  • There are more than 10-100 trillion different microorganisms that make up our human microbiota

  • On balance you’re probably made up of more microbes than you are human cells!

  • The gut microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses - within one person’s gastrointestinal system.

Serotonin and the gut

  • Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach or been told to ‘trust your gut feeling’? It’s likely that you have been receiving signals from an unexpected source sometimes termed your ‘second brain’.

  • The gut has over 500 million neurons that form the enteric nervous system`. It uses 35 different types of neurotransmitters, just like the brain.

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends messages between cells – it has a role in many functions including emotions and happiness, as well as digestion.

  • Gut bacteria produce 95% of our body’s supply of serotonin.

  • Serotonin receptors (5HT3 and 5HT4) found within the gut nervous system are involved in motility, secretion and even pain which may play an important role in bowel conditions such as IBS.

Are 70% of our immune system cells really located in our gut?

  • The gut microbiota plays a fundamental role in the training and function of our immune system.

  • Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is the largest immune system in the body.

  • 70% of our immune cells are located in the gut as part of the GALT.

Does the human gut really contain 10-100 trillion bacteria?

  • The gut microbiome has more microbes than the number of stars that have been counted in the Milky Way galaxy.

  • To put this in context the gut microbiota has 10-100 trillion microorganisms and the Milky Way 100-400 billion stars.

  • There are more microbes in our gut than stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

  • Your microbiome may have more genes than the universe has stars.

What are the good recipes for promoting a healthy gut?

According the Harvard School of Public Health, there are certain foods that can make a difference to your gut health.

They say that in addition to family genes, environment, and medication use, diet plays a large role in determining what kinds of microbiota live in the colon. All of these factors create a unique microbiome from person to person.

A high-fiber diet in particular affects the type and amount of microbiota in the intestines. Dietary fiber can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from microbiota living in the colon.

Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are released as a result of fermentation. This lowers the pH of the colon, which in turn determines the type of microbiota present that would survive in this acidic environment. The lower pH limits the growth of some harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile. Growing research on SCFA explores their wide-ranging effects on health, including stimulating immune cell activity and maintaining normal blood levels of glucose and cholesterol.

Foods that support increased levels of SCFA are indigestible carbohydrates and fibers such as inulin, resistant starches, gums, pectins, and fructooligosaccharides. These fibers are sometimes called prebiotics because they feed our beneficial microbiota. There are many healthful foods naturally containing prebiotics. The highest amounts are found in raw versions of the following: garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed. In general, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains like wheat, oats, and barley are all good sources of prebiotic fibers.

They do warn that a high intake of prebiotic foods, especially if introduced suddenly, can increase gas production (flatulence) and bloating. Individuals with gastrointestinal sensitivities such as irritable bowel syndrome should introduce these foods in small amounts to first assess tolerance. With continued use, tolerance may improve with fewer side effects.

If one does not have food sensitivities, it is important to gradually implement a high-fiber diet because a low-fiber diet may not only reduce the amount of beneficial microbiota, but increase the growth of pathogenic bacteria that thrive in a lower acidic environment.

Probiotic foods contain beneficial live microbiota that may further alter one’s microbiome. These include fermented foods like kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut.