What can our gut tell us about our health?

With almost half of Brits experiencing gut health problems, we take a look at the latest research by HSIS to understand how pre and probiotics can support a healthy gut and all-around better health

Gut health is proving to be one of the most exciting and important areas of science in today’s society. A new study by the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) has revealed that 47% of people in Britain have experienced gut health problems. The study, undertaken by HSIS nutritionist Dr Pamela Mason and GP, Dr Gill Jenkins, looks at the effects that probiotics and prebiotics can have on our gut health, as well as several other key health problems.

Dr Mason explains, “By conducting our systematic review of the scientific literature, we have found clinical evidence that probiotics – ‘friendly’ strains of bacteria – and prebiotics – dietary substances that promote certain gut bacteria types – can support people with a range of health problems…”

What benefits do pre and probiotics bring to our physical (and mental) health?

Gastrointestinal conditions – Prebiotics and probiotics can support conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.They can help manage atopic eczema in children and allergies across all ages. They can aid in reducing the incidence and duration of respiratory tract infections.Pre and probiotics can help manage weight, obesity, metabolic disease, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including reducing inflammation.Cognitive health – Pre and probiotics are good at improving mild cognitive impairment.Mental health – they are effective in supporting the management of depression and anxiety.Pre and probiotics improve calcium absorption, leading to better bone health.Dental health – they support the treatment of periodontal disease.

Despite the numerous benefits that looking after our gut health can bring, the HSIS survey reveals that few Brits are up to speed with this area of nutrition. A fifth don’t take prebiotic or probiotic supplements as they don’t understand why they should, or the health benefits they bring, while 21% are unaware that probiotic and prebiotic supplements exist.

Why is it so important to look after our gut?

Our gut contains trillions of microorganisms – including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Collectively, they are known as the ‘gut microbiome’. People are unclear about what the gut microbiome actually is, according to the survey results. Dr Mason states, “The gut microbiome – which is unique to each individual – contains over three million genes, making it 130 times more genetically varied than the human genome itself, which consists of about 23,000 genes.”

There are a number of ways in which the gut microbiome affects bodily functions, like going for a ‘number two’, and, therefore, it can play a very important part in how we monitor our overall health. Our intestinal tract, or bowel, contains trillions of microbes that produce hormones and vitamins, and most of the cells that shape our immune systems are found in our digestive tract, so it’s really important that we look after our gut to stay healthy. Having good gut health contributes to fewer sick days, a stronger immune system, and better mental health, so it’s unsurprising that our gut is known as our ‘second brain’.

Whilst probiotics don’t add to our microbiome, they do support gut health by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. “In order to improve the long-term health of your gut, we need prebiotics”, says nutritionist Linda Albinsson. Prebiotics are foods for the strains of gut bacteria we want to encourage such as carbohydrates, fermentable dietary fibre, some types of polyphenols, and unsaturated fatty acids.

“Despite the fact that more than 42% of Brits never think of their gut health, awareness of the importance of gut health and the gut microbiome is growing. This is driving an increased interest in probiotics and prebiotic supplements that have the potential to improve not just gut health but also other aspects of health, including immune health.”, Dr Gill Jenkins says.

With the launch of Channel 4’s latest series, Know your S**t: Inside Our Guts, it’s time we tackled the taboo about poo and paid more attention to what our gut might be trying to tell us about our overall health.

If you’re interested in learning more about gut health, you can connect with a nutrition professional on Nutritionist Resource.

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