To ensure that you maintain a happy, healthy gut this summer, free from digestive complaints such as constipation, read on for the latest summer tips to stay gut savvy.
The ‘Beast from the East’ is now a distant memory as we bask in this never ending heatwave and new world record temperatures are recorded across the globe. This beautiful weather is supplying us with a welcome injection of the solar hormone vitamin D, supporting our immune systems, boosting our mood, and regulating our gut microbiome.
Vitamin D and Gut health
Research by the government’s scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN) into vitamin D and health has found that one in five people are getting too little of this vital nutrient and that we should be supplementing daily with 10ug (400 iu)1. However individual requirements do vary and as a nutritionist I would advise that some may need more than this so it is worth getting your levels tested by your doctor.
Seasonal fluctuations in vitamin D levels produce changes in the intestinal microbiome. A study published in The journal of Nutrition has found that Vitamin D regulates the gut microbiome and protects subjects from colitis, an inflammatory condition of the bowel; by lowering inflammation and reducing dysbiosis2. In addition to this a recent study published this year in ‘Frontiers in Immunology’ has demonstrated that the gut microbiota were supporting the regulation of vitamin D metabolism.3 And so it seems that Vitamin D and our microbiome seem to be working synergistically together; promoting uptake of vitamin D, increasing diversity in the microbiome, and protecting the gut lining from injury. By taking a probiotic supplement, this could be a great way of supporting this synergistic relationship, whilst you top up on your vitamin D levels in the sunshine. I would always recommend exposing your skin to early and late afternoon sunshine when the sun is not at its strongest, and exposing your skin for 15 mins before applying sunscreen.
If your heading of on holiday this summer there are some great travel formulas out there developed specifically with strains to support a happy gut. ‘For travelling abroad’ by OptiBac Probiotics is the ideal travelling companion as it doesn’t require refrigeration and works towards maintaining optimal levels of friendly bacteria and reducing tummy troubles which can be problematic in some travel destinations.
Summer Hydration, Microbes and Constipation
Our bodies are composed of up to 60% water and the ratio between human and microbial cells is one to one, so staying hydrated and topped up with friendly bacteria is something to take heed of. We all know that staying hydrated supports gut motility and regular elimination but are we drinking enough water? Take a moment to ask yourself this as it could be a quick remedy for your severe constipation. When your body is hydrated, less water will be taken from the colon, so your stools will be softer and peristalsis will occur more easily. A good way to check whether you are drinking enough water is to monitor the colour of your urine throughout the day, as a hydrated body would present with a pale yellow colour. It’s worth noting though that if you are taking a B complex supplement your urine will naturally be darker in colour due to the B2 content. On average you should be drinking around 1.5 litres of water per day, and away from meals to support optimal digestion, and not compromise your digestive fire.
We have naturally adapted to coexist with this other half of ourselves, the microbiome, and we now know that the microbiome genome outnumbers the human genome. A gut revolution is taking place right now as we recognise how it has a major impact on health and disease, and that supporting gut diversity is a key part of the puzzle. We can change our gut bacteria simply by changing what we eat and drink, and also by taking probiotic supplements. A good way of staying hydrated this summer is by consuming fermented drinks containing probiotics which are a good alternative to alcohol which can be very dehydrating. Introducing probiotics in to your digestive system will support an optimal balance of friendly bacteria, protecting the body from pathogens, and educating the immune system. From kombucha to kefir, to vinegar shots, everyone is getting their daily bacteria fix in a bid to keep their other half happy, quite literally!
Gut Friendly Tips for the Summer
Many factors can upset the delicate balance in our microbiome on holiday such as eating irregularly and introducing new foods to our digestive system. Make sure you keep your gut happy this summer with the following diet and lifestyle tips:
1. Maintain adequate fibre intake
Fibre is a carbohydrate found in plant foods and is commonly found in whole-grains, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Fibre helps to replenish the good bacteria in the colon and to increase the water content in the stool, helping it to remain soft.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the intestines, helping to push stools down the GI tract. Insoluble fibre is bulk forming and also supports GI motility. Increasing your consumption of seasonal fruits and vegetables will ensure that you providing essential nutrients for your beneficial bacteria. British berries are at their best right now and rich in polyphenols and fibre to support your microbiota. Keeping the skin on fruits and vegetables will ensure that you are getting both soluble and insoluble sources of fibre.
2. Enjoy fermented foods
Increase your consumption of prebiotic and probiotic foods this summer to support good digestion and optimal levels of friendly bacteria in your gut biome. Prebiotic food sources such as onions, garlic, asparagus, artichoke, banana, and cold potatoes are high in inulin which support the growth of friendly bacteria including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These strains enhance bowel regularity by softening the stools, particulary B.Lactis BB-12. Unpasteurised olives, capers, and sauerkraut are rich in probiotics and great additions to summer salads and picnics.
3. Avoid sugar and Non-caloric artificial sweeteners
Excess sugar in the diet supports the growth of pathogenic bacteria and consumption of non-caloric artificial sweeteners such as sucralose has been shown to alter the composition of gut bacteria and increase inflammation. Avoid refined sugars found in ready made and processed foods and be wary of foods and drinks labelled as zero sugar as they will often contain artificial sweeteners in them that could be damaging your gut bacteria.4.
Stay hydrated with adequate water intake and a natural whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables which are naturally filled with water. Raw foods retain much of their water content more than cooked so avoid cooking at high temperatures. Processed and denatured foods often contain lots of thirst inducing additives and high amounts of sodium which will make your constipation worse. Alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate the body further, so opt for a hydrating drink instead such as coconut water which is a pure isotonic beverage, containing electrolytes to support optimal hydration and mineral balance. Other natural plant based waters to consider are birch water which is high in nutrients such as vitamin C and saponins to naturally cleanse the body of toxins; and water kefir and kombucha which are rich in probiotics and enzymes.
4. Exposure to Natural Sunlight
Sunlight is integral to sustain life and mindful sun exposure to the suns natural light during the morning is essential for optimal health and for maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. The morning and evening rays contain more of the beneficial infra red (IF) rays which penetrate deeper in to the tissues and support a natural circadian rhythm, as opposed to the damaging UVA/UVB rays emitted between midday and 3pm. Getting outside and exposing your eyes to the morning sunlight supports more restful sleep and also stimulates the production of feel good endorphins such as serotonin.
5. Darkness for Improved Sleep and Recovery
Long sunny days and early sunrises can be disruptive to our sleeping patterns, as well as the amount of time we spend on our screens. When the sun sets and the light fades melatonin is released to prepare the body for sleep. The release of the hormone melatonin from the pineal gland is dependent on the amount of light the body is exposed to. A good nights sleep is dependent on the natural production of melatonin so it is advisable to restrict your exposure to bright lights before bedtime and reduce your screen time spent on laptops and phones an hour before bed. You should also keep your room as dark as possible to maximize your melatonin production.
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1 Nhs.uk, (2016). The new guidelines on vit D-what you need to know. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/the-new-guidelines-on-vitamin-d-what-you-need-to-know/#why-are-we-being-advised-to-take-vitamin-d-supplements [Accessed: 14/7/2018]
2 Ooi, JH. et al. (2013) 'Vitamin D regulates the gut microbiome and protects mice from dextran sodium sulfate-induced colitis.' The journal of Nutrition, [online] Volume 143 (10), pp. 1679-86 . Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23966330 [Accessed: 7/7/2018]
3 Bora, SA. et al. (2018) 'The Gut Microbiota Regulates Endocrine Vitamin D Metabolism through Fibroblast Growth Factor 23.' Frontiers in Immunology, [online] Volume (9), p. 408. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5863497/ [Acessed: 7/72018]
4 Suez, J. et al. (2015) 'Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges.' Gut Microbes, [online] Volume 6 (2), pp. 149-155. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4615743/ [Accessed: 4/8/2018]