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Your gut is telling you something. Are you listening?

As a pharmacist, I only get to talk about gut flora (microbiota) or probiotics when people get a prescription for antibiotics or suffer from constipation. But recent research shows that your unique set of bacteria living in your gut influences much more than your bowel habits.

By the time you start school, your microbiota stabilises and reflects your eating habits, your environment and your medications. It is so unique that even identical twins have different ones. It has the ability to respond to even slight changes in your diet, your thinking (whether you are stressed or anxious), your surroundings (chemicals around us) and whether you are active or not. So, why should we care? Fingerprints are unique and we don’t care about that! Because the influence is mutual. Your microbiome affects your brain (through the vagus nerve), the level of inflammation in your body, allergies, your immune system, your weight, your energy, your blood sugar levels and even influences the type of food you crave.

Knowing this, what do you think your gut is telling YOU? Do you have eczema, asthma, sleep problems, anxiety, IBS, suffer from headaches, getting frequent infections, have excess weight, constipation, low energy, heart disease or diabetes? Then your gut is telling you something and you need to listen.

When I turned 40 I started having symptoms of colitis (inflammation of the colon). I never had that before, but knew that it ran in my family. Because my dad died early of a stroke I have always paid attention to my weight and diet, but never really looked at it closely as I have been healthy. This was about to change and I had two choices, to go and see my GP or address my diet first and see if it makes a difference. This is when I decided to quit having sugar. I won’t lie to you, it was hard. The first month I was going through withdrawal symptoms and would be shaking from low sugar levels. But slowly it went away and now I can go between meals with no problems. To my surprise and joy my bowel problems completely disappeared and I never had to see my GP after all.

This is when I discovered the power of diet over my health and have been advocating this approach ever since. So, apart from quitting sugar (which reduces your good bacteria and leads to inflammation) what else can you do?

  • Eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruit (full of fibre and complex carbohydrates which your good bacteria feeds on)
  • Consider taking antibiotics only when you are sure you need them. Not only you reduce the incidents of antibiotic resistance, but ensure your good bacteria lives on. If you do need to take antibiotics (especially broad-spectrum ones like Augmentin) take a probiotic to repopulate your gut with good bacteria.
  • Reduce the intake of processed food as much as you can. When reaching for comfort food we usually crave a change in our state, so before you reach for your favourite treat, ask yourself: is there any other way I could improve my state? Like going for a walk, talk to a friend, take a bath, journal or meditate.
  • Increase the intake of food with Omega-3 like oily fish, nuts and olive oil.
  • Introduce fermented foods in your diet to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria like: sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso soup, kefir or kombucha.
  • Be aware that when you change your diet like going on a low carb diet you will affect your microbiome also. You may be enjoying the benefits of weight loss but be sure to have enough fibre to avoid constipation or bloating.

What if you do decide to add a probiotic to your daily intake?

What should you consider?

The best thing to look at is the evidence behind the supplements. There are a lot of combinations of different strains on the market and it can be overwhelming. It is worth having a talk to you pharmacist to help you choose the best one for you.

In conclusion:

Next time you are in the supermarket, take your time to check labels on packaged products to avoid the hidden sugars. Also, shop the outside of the supermarket and avoid the shelves as
that is where the processes foods are kept. Plan your meals so you can avoid making unhealthy choices when you are hungry and remember to keep a positive attitude towards food. Keep your curiosity alive when you think of choosing a certain item and ask: why do I want to eat this right now? Is this helping my body (good bacteria) or hindering it? Whatever your answer is just say: this is interesting. I wonder why I feel that way?

Your negative thinking and guilt will only perpetuate the negative loop as you will reach to comfort food to feel better.

P.S. Please remember to never stop medications without consulting your doctor or telling your pharmacist, even if you begin a journey of good nutrition.

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