I went to a really interesting discussion on menopause the other day. One of the experts – I’m pretty sure it was women’s health expert Dr Sarah Brewer, but I was so busy scribbling down what they were saying I didn’t write down exactly who was saying it (oops, major journalist fail) – was talking about the use of isoflavones like soy to treat menopause symptoms.
Specifically, she was talking about the fact that they don’t always work in all women but that some research trials had discovered that this might be impacted by the type of gut bacteria you have. See isoflavones act as kind of pseudo-oestrogens in your body, but to do this they have to be turned into a substance called equol. The more healthy gut bacteria you have, the greater your chance of producing equol
So if you want to take isoflavones to help fight hot flushes, it’s a good plan to also take a probiotic to get your gut bacteria in shape too. Or, even better, try some tricks to naturally build up your levels of gut bacteria which helps create a more varied mix of bugs.This is currently a huge area of medical research as it’s now being determined that the balance of gut bacteria you have could play a role in overall body health, good mental health and of course, good digestive health – as such we’re learning a lot about how to make your gut bacteria thrive. It’s an area I’ve had to write on a lot recently and so have had access to some of the best experts working in the area. Here’s six things they’ve told me that you can do …
- Eat a lot of plant fibre: Gut bacteria feed mostly on the fibres in plant foods and as such, the more plant based your diet the more different foods they have to choose from. The number one way to boost the diversity of your gut bugs is to eat an extremely varied diet.
- Avoid junk food and processed food: We’re only just learning how additives in foods impact on gut bacteria but the news doesn’t seem to be good. Artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers have both been linked to a lower diversity of gut bugs – keep your diet as close to food in it’s natural state as possible – wholegrains, fish, meats, pulses, legumes and lots and lots of fruit and vegetables.
- Fast overnight: When the digestive system is not digesting food it contracts and that movement transfers bacteria that might have migrated too far up the bowel back to the large intestine where they’re supposed to be found creating a healthier balance where bug levels count. Ideally you should leave 12 hours between your evening meal and the first thing you eat the next day.
- Fill your diet with prebiotic foods like onions, leeks, garlic, bananas and artichokes that feed the bacteria you do have
- Try fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, live yogurt, kombucha and kefir are all examples of fermented foods that help naturally replenish the levels of bacteria in your system. It’s best to just add a small portion a day – if you consume too many fermented foods too rapidly you can overload the system leading to bloating. It’s also possible to start making your own fermented items.
- Get moving: It’s not just what you eat that helps gut bacteria thrive. Exercise works as well. Check out this post I wrote on why and what to do.
Another development I’m watching with interest is services offering to measure your levels of bacteria which can explain things like why you might gain weight easily, why you bloat etc. One of the newest developments in gut health is the development of the Map My Gut service. Created by leading bacteria researcher Professor Tim Spector the test uses a stool sample to specifically measure the levels and diversity of the microbes in your system. You’ll then get personally tailored advice that helps you create a better bacteria profile. “Visit mapmygut for more details and to find your nearest practitioner authorised to carry out the test. I haven’t had mine done yet but I really would love to find out more.
Pic: Joe Potato Photo/istock
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As I said, this really is a growing area of health research and something a lot of natural health practitioners are interested in which means there’s a lot of books out there exploring the science or simply looking at ways you can replenish your gut bugs with lifestyle and diet. Here are four I use regularly in my research. Click on the covers to go to their pages in amazon to find out more or buy them.
*NYNHB is a member of Amazon Associates so I get a small (much appreciated) commission if you click on any amazon links and buy anything.