Food really can be Medicine, and here at Kultured Wellness, we love foods that support a healthy colon, through diversifying the microbiome, directly nourishing the gut, and supporting healthy regular bowel motions.
Some of the most common daily complaints we see in clinic and within our community include constipation, slow transit time, bloating, cramping, and flatulence. Let’s look at these issues before diving into the benefits of functional fibres.
How common is constipation?
According to data published in 2019, the prevalence of constipation among Australians is 24%. Next time you are at a party look around. 1 in 4 isn't pooing properly...and suffering the ill effects!
Why do regular bowel motions matter?
This is a huge question, but there are a few simple answers:
- Regular bowel motions prevent autointoxication, a reabsorption of toxins, hormones or other compounds that should be eliminated
- Putrification of food in the gut
- Decreased ability to clear hormones such as excess oestrogens
- Creates pressure in the colon leading to hemorrhoids and prolapse
What causes constipation?
Your microbiome - Good Bugs: The movement of fecal matter through the colon is influenced by your microbiome, motility (or peristalsis), and large contractions (called haustral contractions) of the colon, and are stimulated by neurotransmitter hormones such as serotonin and melatonin. The production of these neurotransmitters is influenced by your gut microbes.
Your Microbiome - Bad Bugs: If you have a pathogenic overgrowth in your gut, they can turn off peristalsis in the bowel, leaving you without the urge to use your bowels more than a couple of times per week, with slow transit time, or symptoms of bloating, cramping or flatulence.
Stretch receptors: These receptors in the bowel wall trigger peristaltic contractions. If you eat a diet low in fibre, you may not bulk the bowel enough to trigger the receptor that drive the movement of fecal matter through the bowel. It is also important to know that gut infections can blunt the function of the nervous system in the gut and impair the ability to sense stretch.
Excess use of laxatives - This can decrease bowel tone over time and reduce the ability of your body to trigger a natural bowel motion. If this is you, you are in exactly the right place here.
Slow Transit Time
Slow transit time, often called a sluggish bowel, lazy bowel, or slow transit constipation, this is defined as a mouth to toilet bowel (tum to bum) period in excess of 72 hours. This slow transit can increase your risk of inflammation in the bowel, candida overgrowth, reabsorption of compounds that should be eliminated (eg toxins and hormones), diverticulitis and even some cancers.
You can still have a nice normal type 3 or 4 bowel motion (check out the Bristol Stool Chart), less frequently or even still, daily, but have slow transit time. Transit time is affected by the balance of your microbial community. Different microorganisms can cause paralysis of the bowel wall or turn off the contractions that move matter through the small and large bowel through affecting the nerves that signal the bowel wall.
Bloating, Cramping and Flatulence
Even if your transit time is normal, or you pass a nice big type 3 bowel motion daily, you may be experiencing those unpleasant symptoms of digestive upset. Bloating, cramping or flatulence may be a sign that you have underlying issues including:
- Irritable bowel
- Gut infections
- Food intolerances
I would recommend a stool test if you are experiencing any of these symptoms to establish the root cause of the issues. Functional fibres are an important part of re-establishing a healthy microbial community and a nourished, healthy bowel wall. If you have trouble tolerating the extra fibre, please reach out for support and we can help you identify the best gut supporting program for you.
Now we have covered the basics, let’s look at the main benefits of incorporating functional fibres into your diet.
Assist in the detoxification of hormones and specifically estrogen
The emerging realm of the estrobolome is creating much excitement among the gut health community. Within the gut, the estrobolome describes the microbes that influence hormone balance in our body, specifically, the superstar here is beta glucuronidase (β-glucuronidase), this microbe acts to break down the binding capacity of glucuronic acid with toxins and also hormones. In a nutshell:
- high fibre diets lead to a decrease in β-glucuronidase activity
- decreased β-glucuronidase activity means less reabsorption of oestrogen in the colon
- when β-glucuronidase is low (ideal), glucuronic acid is able to bind and eliminate oestrogens more effectively
Why do we want your oestrogen elimination on point? Higher circulating oestrogen is associated with certain cancers, histamine issues, and sympathetic dominance. Balanced oestrogen means balanced progesterone, healthy menstrual cycles, enhanced fertility, stress balance and so much more.
Feeds our gut microbes so they can multiply and thrive
Plant fibres are powerfully prebiotic. Prebiotic means that they act as food for probiotics and your indigenous microbes. In order to feed up our beneficial microbes, we need to give them the nutrients and fuel they need to grow and multiply.
In a simplistic explanation, refined sugars and processed foods encourage the growth of pathogenic microbes, and functional fibres, feed and encourage the growth of beneficial strains.
The ultimate microbiome food: Did you know there are over 200 different types of sugars in a mothers breast milk, most of those are to feed bubs gut microbes exclusively? Even as adults, we need to feed our microbes and every meal. We need some food for us, and some food for our gut bugs, remember that we are out numbered by them 10:1 - they need to eat and eat well - because they regulate almost every function in our body.
Add vegetables into each meal of your day (aim for 6-9 cups raw or 3-6 cups cooked) to feed up your intestinal best friends! Keep using functional fibres such as the ones in this bundle, click here to go to the bundle. Our Diversity Dough Starter and Diversity Dough Premix are an excellent source of diverse fibres to feed your microbiome.
Helps to control insulin spikes, blood sugar and cravings
When carbohydrates are consumed along with fibre, we have slowed absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This regulated dosing of sugar means we have a measured, and slower, rise in blood sugar and a gentle rise in insulin.
In a nutshell, unopposed sugar, refined carbohydrates in their simplest form are absorbed directly into the bloodstream - the rapid increase in blood sugar leads to a matched response from the pancreas, to secrete insulin. Elevated insulin and elevated blood sugar over time are both known to contribute to chronic disease, diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions.
Further to that - the rapid rise in sugar and insulin leads to an inevitable rapid drop! Leaving you low in blood sugar and hungry. Not only does your now swinging sugar affect your appetite, but the chronic increase in insulin from eating sugars leads to insulin resistance over time. This can be an issue as it sets up an inflammatory state in the body and leads to fat storage. Fat itself exerts a powerful effect on the body by negatively influencing other appetite hormones such as ghrelin and leptin.
The answer? Moderate your carbohydrate intake and always consume your carbohydrates with the fibre they are naturally wrapped up in (for example, an apple not apple juice, a carrot not carrot juice)
Bulks up stools and helps with evacuation and bowel health
High fibre diets have higher amounts of water-attracting (hydrophilic) foods (eg. flax). These fibres will attract fluid to them, some of these foods can absorb up to 12 times their weight in water (eg chia). This helps to hydrate the bowel and bulk out the bowel. You have all seen that nice big plump moist bowel motion and experienced how much easier it is to pass as opposed to a dry hard stool.
The most important mechanism though, for bulking the bowel, is the triggering of receptors in the bowel that detect stretch. Stretch receptors act when there are bulky stools, leading to an increase in motility (wave-like movement in the bowel pushing its content towards the outside world).
Not only does dietary increase the strength of peristaltic contractions in the bowel, but fibre also softens the stool making a bowel motion easier to pass.
Motility - the contractions that move food matter and then fecal matter through the intestines and bowel on their journey to the outside world, is based on bulk and on the number and quality of microbes. Some pathogenic microbes will slow motility, leading to stagnation and autointoxication of the bowel. Feeding up your beneficial microbes also means growing the microbes that support the movement of matter through the bowel in a timely fashion
Assists in weight management and regulates cholesterol.
Soluble fibres (for example, flax, slippery elm and psyllium) bind to cholesterol in the small intestine and aid in the regulation of your cholesterol. This is only true for cholesterol carried by low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Importantly, to lower those triglycerides, you would still need to focus on a lower-carb diet.
The only fibre to regulate LDL cholesterol is soluble fibre, eg, psyllium, nuts seeds, fruits (preferable fermented) and some vegetables.
The mechanisms through which functional and dietary fibres regulate weight are multiple.
- Fibre plays a role in hormonal regulation which has flow-on effect on weight regulation. As mentioned above, oestrogen balance is beneficially affected by dietary fibre and excess oestrogen is linked to weight gain
- Another role is satiety (the sense of feeling full), a diet full of whole foods and high in fibre is more nutrient-dense, plus makes you feel full – taking away the vicious cycle of empty calories and untamed hunger.
- A higher fibre diet also promotes and supports a healthy microbiome which plays a role in weight regulation, insulin and blood sugar balance
- Research shows that populations with a higher fibre intake are leaner. So although it is not a direct, causal link, we see those who eat a higher fibre diet have a healthier weight.
So there you have it, functional foods such a psyllium, flax, slippery elm and aloe can support your gut in an amazing way.
Food really is medicine and with time and patience, your gut can improve - leading to a happy human (You)!