This article was written by Cherojit Goswami, Senior Vice President of Ogilvy Health in India, and was first published on BrandEquity.com.
Gut Health covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status, and a state of well-being. May 29 is celebrated as World Digestive Health Day and the theme this year is A Healthy Gut From The Start.
Do we Indians live to eat or eat to live? A perennial debate that has lit up many social, familial, and sometimes even professional conversations.What starts off in jest, assumes serious proportions. More so if there is one person defending his love for binging and in effect “you just live once and hence eat all what you can” philosophy. We have the tendency to associate overeating with digestive problems and a bad gut. While this is partially true, a lot of other factors go into creating a healthy gut. Gut Health covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI)tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status, and a state of well-being. 29th May is celebrated as World Digestive Health Day and the theme this year is: A Healthy Gut From The Start.
A healthy gut is important for an enhanced immune system, healthy heart, brain and in general a better well-being. To embody the spirit of World Digestive Health Day, I have put down 5 factors that affect gut health and how we can try to improve it.
1) Balanced and Diverse Diet
High fibre diet is of paramount importance when it comes to maintaining good gut health. Foods rich in high fibre include fruits like custard apple, peaches, watermelon, pomegranate and vegetables like spinach, beet, carrot, cereals, and legumes. Cashew and pistachios are known to fuel the gut. Yogurt is also extremely helpful as it has got the gut benefitting bacteria, lactobacilli. While most experts agree that a vegetarian or a vegan diet is healthy so is a diet that includes moderate portions of meat and milk. The diversity of diet is associated with the diversity of microbes that further enhances gut health.
2) The Gut-Brain Axis (GBA)
The Gut-Brain Axis is well researched globally and documented. The gut and the brain are connected most prominently by the vagus nerve besides a host of other nerves. Research suggests, anxiety and depression are affected by the gut and vice versa—they can increase the risk of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and people with IBS are more likely to experience these mental health disorders. Hence it is important to look after your mental health to take care of your gut health. Reduce stress, try to get 8-9 hours of sleep daily, consume Omega-3 fatty acids
3) Staying Active and Exercising Regularly
Longer workouts, active lifestyle, and high-intensity aerobic training contribute to gut bacteria diversity. Regular cardiovascular exercises such as walking and cycling can stimulate the muscles of the gut to move digestive contents through the body. Adopting a consistent exercise routine allows you to provide your digestive system with a gentle massage. That, in turn, will help you digest food better.
4) Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. Prebiotics are types of fibre that feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system. Eating balanced amounts of both probiotics and prebiotics can help ensure that you have the right balance of these bacteria to keep your gut microbiota healthy. Probiotics can be most effective at both ends of the age spectrum, i.e., the pediatric and geriatric population because that’s when the microbes aren’t as robust as they normally are.
5) Reduce Alcohol Intake
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to gastritis and inflammation of the intestine. This inflammation leads to the alteration of the microbiota.The balance of the good and the bacteria gets affected leading to severe complications. It also affects the stomach’s acid producing ability. This can reduce the stomach’s ability to destroy bacteria that enter the stomach, which can allow potentially harmful bacteria to enter the upper small intestine.
Gut Health – Negligence, Ignorance or Lack of Gravitas
When it comes to the ailments emanating from bad gut health, India is at the top of the charts. Some of the unfortunate statistics are:
– 20% of Indians suffer from constipation
– 1 lakh adults and 3.8 lakh children up to the age of 5 die of diarrhea every year.
– The prevalence of GERD in India ranges from 7.6% to 30%.
We are making significant progress when it comes to heart health, mental health, oncology and diabetes management to name a few. While it is still not optimum (the prevalence of these conditions is still huge), the awareness among the lay people has increased. This leads to diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of the above-mentioned ailments in a reasonable manner.The gravitas around gut health is still not as high. One of the probable reasons is that we still tend to associate them with acute conditions. We take symptomatic relief, recover, make the same mistakes again and have recurrent gut problems. The viscous cycle continues, and negligence leads to long-term repercussions on the gut.The recurrent sufferer lives in denial that his gastric problem could be due to some oily food that was recently consumed. The chronic sufferer could have multiple reasons for his gastric problems, including stress and lifestyle and he fails to address all of them. The young children being fussy eaters and devouring on fast food do not develop a strong gut. The elderly believe that their digestive system has weakened over a period of time. They are more worried about hypertension, diabetes, and mental health, which they perceive to be more threatening. The women folk is the ‘Health Guardian’ of the family. She prioritises the health of everyone else in the family. And when she does focus on herself, she battles gynaecological problems and bone health issues. No wonder, gut health seems to be getting a step treatment.
This World Digestive Health Day let’s start with a small commitment. To make a conscious effort to take care of our own gut. Talk to a doctor or a nutritionist, eat and sleep well, exercise a bit, and reduce stress in your life. Easier said than done, but worth a try.Our cultural adage “Pahele Pet Pooja, Baad Mein Kaam Dooja” will continue to hold sway and rightly so. However, please do lace it with a bit of ‘Pet Ka Pooja’. Food for thought!
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