The Key to Good Gut Health Is More Than What You Eat

3 Key factors for good gut health

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of what influences your gut health? Most of us would think of the food we consume as being the biggest influencer, and don’t get me wrong, what we eat has a huge impact. However, it isn’t the only factor that can influence the diversity of gut bacteria and the symptoms that you may be experiencing.

There are several other less recognised factors that can have just as much of an impact. This blog will take a deeper dive into 3 other key factors for good gut health that you may find surprising.

1. Stress

Essentially all of the points that are discussed in this blog relate back to stress, which really highlights how important it is to reduce it. This is largely due to the strong connection between the gut and the brain, which we reviewed in a previous blog about diet and mental health.

As you may know from first hand experience, stress can impact many aspects of health. But one that is commonly overlooked is the influence it can have on the gut. When we are stressed, our central nervous system is activated, and our body is put into the fight-or-flight response. When we are in this state, digestion is shut down and blood flows away from the digestive system to other areas of the body, causing symptoms such as nausea and diarrhoea.

Research has shown that if we ate the exact same meal on two consecutive days, but one was eaten when we were stressed, such as at our work desk scrolling on social media, and one was consumed in a relaxed setting with no distractions, the result of symptoms from the foods we ate would differ hugely. Eating while we are stressed can cause more bloating, indigestion, nausea and diarrhoea, and even reduce the amount of nutrients that are absorbed into the body.

But it is not just physical gut symptoms that can arise from stress, it can also directly impact the essential bacteria that live in our gut. Several studies have found that the diversity of good bacteria reduces as an individual’s stress levels increase. Additionally, studies are even showing a strong link between chronic stress or depression, and a weakened gut lining and dysbiosis (unbalance of good and bad bacteria).

To learn some effective ways to manage stress, see the blog post ‘Why You Should Improve Your Relationship with Stress’

2. Exercise

There are endless reasons why exercise is good for us, such as reducing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and improving mental health. Whilst it has been known for a while now that exercise has a positive effect on the gut by increasing motility and keeping the bowels regular, only recent research has looked into the impact of exercise on the actual microbes (bacteria) that live in the gut.

One study in particular looked at athletes gut and their microbiomes (the community of bacteria), and found that they had reduced inflammation, a stronger gut lining, and more diversity of beneficial gut bacteria. Basically what this means is they had a healthier and overall better functioning gut. Additionally, the study actually found that the gut bacteria played a role in enhancing the athletes performance in their sport!

Even though we aren’t all elite athletes, we can still gain the benefits of exercise by following the physical activity guidelines. Adults should aim to be active every day in some way, with the recommended minimum amount of physical activity being 150 minutes of moderate and 75 minutes of intense exercise each week, including 2 sessions of weight bearing activity. 

3. Sleep Routine

Everyone knows that sleep is essential to good health, yet around 40% of Australians struggle to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours a night. Chronic sleep deprivation or a disturbance to the circadian rhythm is seen as a form of stress to the body, which is capable of changing gut diversity as we discussed earlier.

Irregular sleeping habits and disturbed sleep can have negative impacts on the gut bacteria, which is commonly seen in shift workers. Scientists believe that an altered or disorganised circadian rhythm of the individual causes the microbiotas’ circadian rhythm change, potentially leading to dysbiosis. However, research is still very recent and scientists are not yet entirely sure as to how this occurs.

There are several useful tips to set yourself up for a better sleep and the biggest ones are to maintain a regular sleeping pattern and reduce screen time in the hours before sleeping. This is because the artificial light from these devices can disrupt our sleep hormones, such as melatonin. You can read more about this here.

In summary

If we take a look at these 3 factors, what do they all have in common? They are all elements of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Surprised?

Prioritising ways to reduce stress, exercise regularly and improve your sleep routine are key to good gut health. If you feel like you are struggling with gut related issues, consider booking an appointment with our in store Nutritionist, who can help you on your path to finding the root cause to your issues to live your happiest and healthiest life.