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Gut Microbiota and Nutrition
Human gut is home to many species of microbes, collectively referred as ‘gut microbiota’. They can be both symbiotic and pathogenic in nature, coexisting together without causing any trouble. Sometimes this balance could be disturbed due to infectious illnesses, unhealthy diets patterns, prolonged use of antibiotics, sleep fragmentation and short sleep duration, etc. It can cause dysbiosis, stopping these normal interactions. Evidence suggests that the gut microbiota plays a crucial role in digestion and absorption of nutrients and thus impacting the health and nutrition status of an individual. In this article, we will discuss this in detail.
In our body, digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place primarily in the stomach and small intestine. Gut microbes play a crucial role in digestion and absorption of macronutrients. They also play a critical role in fermentation of dietary fibre for the production of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA), which are absorbed and utilized for different processes of the body. The gut microbiota is also important for synthesis of vitamin B12 in the colon, and facilitates the synthesis of nutrients such as thiamine, folate, biotin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. Gut microbes have been found be helpful in also helping us to meet our daily requirement of vitamin K. Gut microbiota is also linked with release of many gut hormones that controls our appetite and satiety levels thus impacting our weight status.
Several factors including diet, physical activity, genetics, drugs, caffeine, alcohol, and psychological status can play a role in influencing the gut microbiota. It further impacts the digestion, bioavailability, and absorption of the nutrients, thus impacting our health and nutrition status.
Imbalance in the gut bacteria is referred to as dysbiosis. It causes a variety of digestive disturbance symptoms, such as indigestion, bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Causes of Gut Dysbiosis
- Diet modifications such as increased consumption of more proteins, sugar, or food additives
- Hygiene Practices
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Poor Dental Hygiene
Source: Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health, Ana M Valdes et.al
Dietary Tips to Correct Gut Dysbiosis
Gut dysbiosis can be initially treated through medications and a healthy diet can help heal the gut to its normal stage and enable it to function normally. It takes at least a couple of weeks of healthy diet changes before gut dysbiosis is healed.
- Have fermented foods- Fermented foods have probiotics i.e., good gut bacteria. Probiotics stay in our digestive tract and helps in improving the digestion, absorption and keeping the gut healthier. Examples of fermented foods are yogurt, kombucha-tea, fermented soybeans, fermented cabbage, etc. When buying yogurt, go for the ones with live and active cultures of probiotics.
- Have green leafy vegetables– Green leafy vegetables are a good source of insoluble fibre which helps in normalization of the bowel movement.
- Add fruits to your diet– Have fruits daily. Pectin found in apple is a soluble fibre which is good for constipation, diarrhoea, and reduces the risk of intestinal infections. Papaya contains papain, a type of digestive enzyme that helps in breaking down the protein fibre.
- Have fibre rich foods– Apart from fruits and vegetables, whole grains and pulses are also good sources of fibre. Dietary fibre helps in constipation as the make the stool bulky. Dome grains fibre are prebiotic in nature which promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. To increase the fibre intake, you can also add different types of seeds and nuts can be added to the diet either as snack or can be added to the smoothies.
- Some spices and herbs are good for the digestion process. They help in relaxing the muscles in the digestive tract and help with bloating and cramping, nausea, heartburn etc. Example- ginger, mint, fennel seeds.
- Have polyphenol rich foods such as green tea, red wine and dark chocolate which are good for your gut health.
- Have foods rich in Omega-3 fats-Many gut problems can be attributed to gut inflammation. Having Omega-3 rich foods from salmon can reduce inflammation thus restoring the gut’s normal function.
- Avoid sugary and fatty foods-They can increase the growth of unhealthy bacteria which can lead to health disorders
- Avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin which reduces beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
- Have Vitamin D rich foods and take supplements after consulting a health practitioner.
- Have foods rich in B-complex vitamins, such as B-6 and B-12, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and zinc.