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Gut Feeling: Mumbai-based experts explain why gut health matters and how to maintain it

Updated on: 18 August,2021 12:13 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Anuka Roy |

The balance of microbes present in the digestive tract may impact one's overall health and even influence the severity of Covid-19. Two Mumbai doctors share ways to take care of one's gut

Gut Feeling: Mumbai-based experts explain why gut health matters and how to maintain it

The photo is for representational purpose only

It has been more than a year that we have been anxiously spending most of our time indoors. This has impacted our lifestyle, including our appetite and nutrition. Emotional snacking and poorly-balanced meals are on the rise as many people manage both kitchen and workplace duties on their own. But good digestive health is vital amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, say experts, as a stronger immune system can fight the virus better. 

For instance, a paper published in the journal ‘Gut’ found that the variety of bacteria in the gut -- known as the gut microbiome -- may influence the severity of Covid-19 as well as the level of the immune system response to the infection, PTI reported in January this year. “Covid-19 infection can also lead to gastro-intestinal presentation in the form of loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and pain in the abdomen," explains Dr. Roy Patankar, gastroenterologist and director of Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Chembur. "Many Covid patients are coming with a range of digestive issues like bloating, gaseousness, acidity, acid reflux, constipation, and exacerbation of irritable bowel syndrome, in he recovery phase after the Covid infection.”

While we may have heard about 'gut health', how aware are we about its significance or about ways to achieve it? asked Mumbai-based experts to throw light on what exactly it entails.

Begin to know your gut

Patankar explains that gut health means the balance of microorganisms that tend to live in your digestive tract. Enhancing gut health and maintaining the right balance of these microorganisms is necessary for your overall well-being. “Many microbes are essential and helpful for human health. But, a bad lifestyle takes a toll on your gut,” he says. 

Dr. Roy Patankar

“Studies performed in the last couple of decades have demonstrated a link between gut health and many other diseases such as autoimmune diseases, obesity, skin ailments, mental health etc,” says Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon with Mumbai hospitals including Saifee Hospital and Apollo Spectra.

A compromised gut can lead to digestive and sleep issues, she adds. “It can also lead to nutritional deficiencies. This can ultimately lead to tiredness and fatigue on a chronic basis,” says Bhasker.  This, in turn, has an impact on body weight because lack of energy affects the ability to exercise. “Thus, inviting a host of other lifestyle diseases in addition to those that are directly related to poor gut health,” she adds. 

According to Patankar, there is a strong connection between the gut and the brain. “Your brain and the gut send signals to each other all the time. Hence, issues with your gut or gut bacteria can lead to anxiety, depression, or stress,” he says. 

Red flags to watch out for

How do you know if your gut is doing poorly? Patankar says digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome, gas, upset stomach, food intolerances, autoimmune conditions, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or bloating are signs to look out for. “Sleep issues, skin rashes, and allergies, and sugar cravings can also indicate a problem with your gut,” he says. 

Bhasker observes that body weight can also indicate compromised gut health. “Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can lead to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. On the other hand, gut bacteria also play a role in insulin resistance, glycaemic control and weight gain, and have been implicated as one of the causes for obesity,” she elucidates. 

Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker

Means to a healthy gut

Exercise or a daily workout routine can get your colon moving and aid in regular bowel movements. “You will also be able to tackle irritable bowel symptoms (IBS) such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhoea, or constipation if you follow a good fitness regime,” says Patankar. Eat smaller and frequent meals to aid proper digestion. Chew your food properly to enhance digestion and keep acidity at bay. Manage your stress via yoga or meditation to calm down and enhance gut health. 

Patankar advises, “Do not eat processed, oily, spicy, or canned foods that can irritate your gut. Avoid having foods with artificial sweeteners as well. Do not take antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription as doing so can be problematic for your gut.”

As per Bhasker, when it comes to diet, probiotic foods like yogurt or tempeh are very good and must be included in meals. “Diet must have a moderate amount of fibre in it. Hence have enough salad and fruits. Try not to have juices as the fibre content is low. If you are a non-vegetarian, lean meat is good too. Prebiotic foods like onion and garlic are also good for gut health,” she says. 

Opt for probiotics and fermented food that help support the gut. Patankar notes that probiotics boost the beneficial bacteria in the gut, prevent inflammation, and help you deal with intestinal problems. “Likewise, eating fermented foods can also be helpful for your gut as they are a natural source of probiotics. Thus, try to include fermented vegetables, kombucha, kimchi, and kefir in your diet,” he says. 

Myth vs. Fact

There are several myths surrounding gut health. Patankar and Bhasker list a few of the most common ones and separate them from the facts. 

Myth: Gluten and dairy are responsible for poor gut health.

Fact: Bhasker says, “Unless you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance or coeliac disease, there is no benefit in giving up these food types.”

Myth: Changing the diet or eating probiotics can give you immediate relief from gut problems.

Fact: Patankar reasons, “No, when you change your diet suddenly, even like adding more fibre to the diet, initially it can disrupt the microbiome and you may get gas or bloating. So, do it slowly and gradually.”

Myth: One needs to buy special food products to maintain a healthy gut.

Fact: Good gut health can be maintained easily through regular home cooked food, says Bhasker.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant as a replacement for a medical practitioner’s advice. Readers must always consult their doctor and/or nutritionist first before initiating any changes to their diet or fitness schedules.

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