Shifnal Chiropractic Clinic

01952 460 947

Good Gut Health


I wonder how many of you take a daily probiotic or prebiotic?  I wonder, too, how many of you have been diagnosed with a condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome?  What it all comes down to is trying to achieve and maintain good gut health, and the results when it goes a bit wrong!

Gut health is important in controlling our whole body health.  Healthy guts contain a wide variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi when they are healthy, and these help control absorption, support immunity and generally look after their host – in other words, us!  It has even been said that we have more microbes in our gut than human cells in our body.  How’s that for a mind boggler?!

It therefore goes without saying that the health of your gut is vitally important.  Of course, knowing how healthy your gut is can be tricky – there are ways, including evaluating your diet, lifestyle and medications, whether you experience any tummy symptoms such as bloating or flatulence, and also the delightful task of assessing your poo for everything from how it looks, how easily you pass it and what sort of microbes have been flushed out with it from your gut – but most of us don’t have the knowledge or resources to check these out.  So let’s just assume instead that we can all improve what we have living in us, as the more types of organisms you have living in your gut, the better.

Before we move on to how we can achieve that, can I just point out something I feel is really important? I come across a lot of self-diagnosed IBS.  Dr Google has confirmed that the way you feel is Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Sorry, but that’s often simply not the case.  If you eat a lot of (let’s say) gluten, you will feel bloated for a day or two afterwards.  In fact, having occasional days of bloating is completely normal in our imperfect human bodies.  Similarly, flatulence (or passing wind.  Or farting.) up to 15 times a day is totally normal.  So, having some tummy symptoms is just part of life and not necessarily something that should be “fixed”.  If you do have concerns, it is vital you ask your GP about it, rather than just skipping to a self-help idea like cutting out gluten.

Anyway, back to the case in hand – improving gut health.  Does an Actimel a day work? Should we all be chugging down Activia like there’s no tomorrow?  In a word, no.  Probiotics (which contain actual microbes) have very inconsistent support from the science, partly due to a difficulty in defining what exactly they contain and comparing like-for-like products. Prebiotics contain nutrients which the microbes can use to flourish, and there is a bit more evidence that they do at least help poo frequency and health, but it’s still a bit wobbly on the research.

So rather than paying out a lot of money on expensive things that may or may not work, why not try something much simpler? Dietary fibre is another way you can help improve your gut health.  Not only that, it will protect you from some cancers, and 7g a day of dietary fibre from wholegrains, fruit, vegetables etc. can also help protect you from cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Briefly touching on the effects of poor gut health.  It has been suggested that there is a link between poor gut health and obesity (especially by manufacturers of probiotics and prebiotics!) but this is by no means a clear link in humans.  There has been some evidence that it is the case in mice, but when the same experiment was repeated on people there was no effect. Even studies who say there is a drop in weight when a probiotic was used are somewhat exaggerating – in one such study, the difference was a 0.6g change in weight! Far less than even one pound of weight loss, so hardly the answer to the obesity epidemic! Gut health is vitally important, yes.  Obesity needs combatting, yes.  But linking the two is, at this stage, premature.

Finally, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.  Thought to affect around 10-15% of the population, the criteria for diagnosing this condition include abdominal pain (not just discomfort), abnormal stool function, and presence of the symptoms for over 6 months.  Once any serious causes for these symptoms have been eliminated, and IBS diagnosed, the usual first stage treatment is dietary management, which is almost always successful.  There is information out there regarding the low FODMAP diet (in case you were wondering, FODMAP stands for Fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols, which are all short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine).  This is ONLY used when all else has failed, it should ONLY be undertaken under the guidance of a qualifies nutritionist, and it should NEVER be used for more than 6 weeks.  It is a way to try and break into a cycle and reset your system, not a management strategy, and if it is not undertaken with proper guidance there can be serious health complications.  Interestingly, research has also been done comparing a low-FODMAP diet with yoga (i.e. no dietary advice, just exercise and relaxation techniques) and they were found to be equally effective.  Food for thought, yes?

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