Guide: How to Care for Your Gut
A strong immune system, a stomach free from discomfort, mental clarity, and an overall good mood – these are all what it means to have a healthy gut. Severe bloating, daily fatigue, and recurrent debilitating migraines are not.
According to the Singapore Cancer Registry1, digestive cancers have been identified as the most prevalent form of cancer in the Singaporean population. Colon and rectum cancer emerges as the primary concern for males, representing 16.5 per cent of the list of cancers that affects them. Similarly, among females, colon and rectum cancer contributes to 13 per cent of the overall cancer cases.
Because of this, more Singaporeans are paying more attention to their gut health. However, what exactly is the gut and how should we care for it?
Understanding the Gut
The gastrointestinal tract, which is commonly known as the gut, plays a crucial role in breaking down and absorbing nutrients and minerals from the food we consume. Moreover, gut health is closely tied to the gut microbiome that consists of trillions of bacteria and fungi that impacts our overall health. In essence, our gut health directly influences our immune system, metabolic processes, mood, and skin health.
Achieving optimal gut health may sound simple in theory — just eat right, as people often say. However, this oversimplifies the truth of caring for your gut. In reality, nurturing a healthy gut requires more than just a proper diet. It involves deliberately caring for our internal systems, ensuring they effectively process the daily changes we undergo. Furthermore, it entails actively nourishing our microbiomes with the right bacteria they need and crave.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
An unhealthy gut can manifest through various symptoms, and these can differ from person to person. Some of the more frequently encountered signs of a poor gut health include poor digestion, bloating, stomach-aches, and acid reflux. For instance, if you find yourself experiencing gas and bloating after consuming specific foods, it may suggest that the bacteria in your gut are not effectively breaking down that particular food protein.
Another common symptom of an unhealthy gut is acne. Certain individuals tend to experience breakouts following the consumption of foods high in refined sugar and saturated fat. This occurrence can be attributed to the impact of gut bacteria on the skin’s condition.
Common Digestive Diseases
An unhealthy gut not only hinders how you live your day-to-day life, but it can also result in gastrointestinal diseases. Gastrointestinal diseases such gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and non-ulcer dyspepsia (NUD) can have a significant impact on our well-being. GORD can bring about symptoms such as heartburn, lower chest discomfort, and that unpleasant sensation of food getting “stuck” while swallowing, whereas NUD can cause discomfort in the upper abdominal, along with nausea and belching.
These diseases are closely tied to our lifestyle choices, such as the type of food we consume, the rest we get, our habits like smoking and alcohol consumption, and how physically active we are.
Aside from these causes, stress is another common factor that can lead to such diseases. Stress can take a toll on our bodies, triggering and exacerbating the symptoms of gastro-intestinal diseases. Understanding the relationship between our lifestyle habits, stress levels, and the development of these digestive diseases is the key to nurturing a healthy gut.
By finding ways to adopt a healthier lifestyle that promotes gut health, we can reduce the risk of these ailments.
Journeying Towards a Healthier Gut
To maintain a healthy gut and reduce the risk of digestive diseases, here are some tips to bear in mind:
Prioritising Rest and Manage Stress Levels
Getting enough restful sleep is essential for allowing your body and gut to regenerate and repair. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Incorporating stress-management techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies are some things you could do to help you unwind.
Hydration is Key
Proper hydration plays a crucial role in supporting digestion and keeping your gut hydrated. Aim for at least one-and-a-half to two litres of water daily, and adjust this amount based on your activity level and the weather. Increase your water intake if you often engage in physical activities and perspire more.
Choose Whole Foods and Boost Fibre Intake
Processed food and excessive sugar intake can have adverse impacts on your gut health as it promotes inflammation and disrupts the balance of beneficial gut bacteria. Switch out your processed food for whole, unprocessed foods, and minimise your consumption of sugary snacks and beverages. Do not forget your vegetables and fruits for adequate fibre intake!
Fibre helps maintain regular bowel movements, creates a healthy gut environment that supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Additionally, include probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods in your diet to help reduce harmful gut bacteria.
While we all know how beneficial exercise is for our physical and mental health, exercise can also influence our gut bacteria. Engage in activities you enjoy doing, whether it is walking, running, or cycling, make it part of your lifestyle for healthy living.
When it comes to our health, prevention is always better than cure. Do not just listen to your gut feeling and visit the doctor when you feel unwell.
Make a conscious effort to go for your annual health screening, and include tests such as colonoscopy or gastroscopy when required or as per your doctor’s advice. A colonoscopy should be considered earlier in life if there is a family history of colorectal cancer or other diseases related to the digestive tract.
In conclusion, taking care of your gut health requires a holistic approach that involves nourishing your body with the right foods and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it is important to incorporate all of these tips and allow them to work together in tandem to fight off harmful gut bacteria.
Remember, significant changes take time, so stay committed to these habits and remain dedicated on your journey to a healthier gut!
1 Singapore Cancer Registry. 2022. Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Report 2020. Link source.