Winter is here and that means cold and flu season is too! However, the months ahead don’t have to mean tissues and temperatures; there are plenty of lifestyle changes we can make that can help to boost our health and strengthen our immune system, and cultivating a healthy gut is one of them!
We caught up with plant-based gastroenterologist, Dr Alan Desmond, aka The Devon Gut Doctor, to find out his top tips on how to have a healthy gut. Dr Desmond leads a gastroenterology clinic in Devon in the UK and advises plant-based dietary treatment for many of his patients’ chronic digestive disorders.
He recently spoke at the UK’s first plant-based medical conference, at King’s College Hospital in London, on the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet for the treatment of Crohn’s disease. Take a look below at Dr Desmonds advice on how you can boost your gut health this winter!
“Everybody’s gut contains billions of bacteria, viruses and yeasts which together make up the ‘gut microbiome’. But don’t be concerned, these bugs have been with us throughout human evolution and live in perfect symbiosis with the human body. Our gut works hard to make sure that they are healthy and happy, and the feeling is mutual.
In the last decade, it has emerged that these micro-organisms, especially the bacteria, are key contributors to human health. Our microbiome actively helps us to digest our food, preserve our gut heath, control our blood sugars, maintain a healthy body weight and even helps to keep our immune system working effectively. Having a healthy microbiome has even been linked to improved mood and may help reduce our risk of diabetes, allergies, asthma and digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease and colitis.
Everybody has their own unique microbiome, which can contain more than 800 different types of bacteria. The key to a healthy microbiome is microbial diversity; our bodies do best when we have lots of bacteria and lots of different types.
Here are my top five tips for maintaining a healthy and diverse microbiome:
1. Eat a wide variety of plants
Our healthy bacteria absolutely love plant fibre. This was confirmed when the American Gut Project analysed the gut microbiomes of over 11,000 volunteers from around the world. Their huge scientific effort showed that the key to maintaining a healthy and diverse microbiome is to eat lots of plants and to eat them in variety. Every plant-based food, be it a bean, green or wholegrain, contains different types of fibre and important phytonutrients. Our microbiome loves them all.
2. Get enough sleep
The bugs of our microbiome seem to work on the same 24-hour daily cycle as the rest of our body. In fact, some researchers believe that our microbiome plays an important role in setting our body clock. Sleep deprivation, jet lag and shift-work have all been linked to reduced microbial diversity. Show your microbiome some love by getting seven to eight hours sleep.
3. Make exercise a part of your routine
In 2014, a team of Irish researchers found that elite rugby players displayed an impressive level of microbiome diversity. Further studies have shown that we can all reap the gut-health benefits of regular exercise, which helps to boost levels of healthy, fibre-loving bacteria.
4. Spend time outdoors
A sanitized indoor lifestyle is not the best thing for our microbial health. We know that people who live in the countryside tend to have healthier and more diverse microbiomes than city dwellers. If you can’t make it to the great outdoors, even spending time in parks or gardens can be beneficial.
5. Avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics
Antibiotics have been of incredible benefit to humankind, helping us fight common serious infections such as pneumonia and meningitis. However, if you have a simple cough or cold that your doctor feels will settle without antibiotics, then do your microbiome a favour and take their advice. A single course of antibiotics seriously alters the balance and diversity of the human microbiome.
Another way to avoid excess antibiotics is to remove meat and dairy from your diet. The vast majority of antibiotics used in the world are given to farmed animals. These antibiotics remain in the food chain and affect the human microbiome.
It’s no coincidence that my top tips for a healthy microbiome sound a lot like Steve and Dave’s top tips for health and happiness! A healthy-plant-based diet, exercise, adequate sleep, and spending time in nature are common practices among the inhabitants of the Bluezones; the areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives. Our health and happiness may well depend upon on our gut microbiome. Being kind to our bugs means being kind to ourselves!”
If you would like to hear more from Dr Desmond then join us for our last ‘Happy Pear and Friends’ evening of 2018, with Dr Desmond, on Friday 7th December in our Clondalkin café at 6.30pm. Dr Desmond will give an inspiring talk on the benefits of a plant-based diet, followed by a Q&A session. Our ‘Happy Pear and Friends’ evenings are a brilliant opportunity to grow community spirit and to meet like-minded people! Come along, enjoy some delicious nibbles, and we will have some exciting giveaways on the night too! Click here to book your tickets now!