Top Tip No.4 for a healthy gut: watch what you drink

Limit coffee, alcohol and spicy foods

Drinks

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Some of us just can’t function without those two cups of coffee each morning and we look forward to the Saturday night takeaway all washed down with a few beers or glasses of wine but do we know what these foods are doing to our gut?

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Alcohol and caffeine are both known to increase the amount of acid produced in the stomach.  They also relax the ring of muscle at the top of the stomach (where the stomach joins to the oesophagus), making it easier for the acid to bubble up out of the stomach, causing those unpleasant symptoms of heartburn.

As well as the above, alcohol and caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea and cola) are also amongst the main triggers of IBS symptoms.  These include:

  • abdominal cramps and pain
  • bloating
  • excessive wind
  • frequent need to go to the toilet
  • diarrhoea and / or constipation

Coffee typically contains twice the amount of caffeine as tea (although it depends on how you like your tea – a good mug of ‘builder’s tea’ will contain nearly the same amount as an instant coffee) and cola drinks contain a little less than an average tea. Then there are all these caffeinated energy drinks that fill me with horror, I am shocked by how much caffeine is in these! (Keep a look out for a blog coming soon about caffeine….)

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Alcohol and caffeine both have a particular tendency to speed up the activity of the gut, making everything rush through much more quickly causing diarrhoea; you don’t have to suffer from IBS to experience this though – have you have ever had a runny tummy after a night out drinking or a few too many cappuccinos to get you through a long day?

There is lot of evidence to show that alcohol consumption is linked to a variety of digestive cancers from the throat down to the bowel (particularly mouth, throat, stomach and bowel cancers).

How is alcohol linked to cancer of the gut?

There are a number of theories as to why alcohol causes cancer:

  1. The  alcohol is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde by the liver (as it helps remove the alcohol from our body) or by the bacteria that live in our mouth and gut.  This acetaldehyde can damage the DNA in our body’s cells triggering some cells to divide and multiply uncontrollably, making the cells more likely to turn cancerous.
  2. Alcohol makes it easier for the lining of the mouth and throat to absorb cancer-causing chemicals; particularly those found in tobacco. This is  why people who drink and smoke further increase the damage caused and have especially high risks of cancer.
  3. Folate is an important  B vitamin (B9) that helps our cells produce new DNA correctly. People who drink alcohol tend to have lower levels of folate in their blood and some studies have found that cancers can be more common in people with low folate levels.

The risk of cancer is not just increased for heavy drinkers

We are consuming more alcohol in the home now than ever before.  Cheep booze offers in the shops and the convenience of drinking at home means we often underestimate how much we drink. What is worrying is you don’t have to be drinking excessively to increase your risk of cancer (again, I’ll be blogging about this more on another day).  Regularly drinking 3 units (1.5 pints of  lager or a large glass of wine) a day can still  increase the risk of mouth, throat, oesophageal and bowel cancers.  It also doesn’t seem to make a difference if you drink it all in one go or spread it out over the week (not for cancer risk anyway). Overall, the risk of developing cancer is smaller if you stay within the government guidelines:

  • 2-3 units a day for women
  • 3-4 units a day for men

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Spicy food

Compared to alcohol and caffeine, overindulgence of spicy food can be equally irritating to the gut. Eating spicy food more than 3-4 times per week can cause heartburn and stomach ulcers. A chilli chicken madras balti right before bedtime is certainly a great way to fuel the flame of heartburn.

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So go easy on the drinks and the spices to keep your gut happy. Not all spices are irritating however; ginger can really help with nausea and peppermint is often used to relax the gut and reduce the spasms associated with IBS; these have been used for 1000’s of years to calm the gut!

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Last tip tomorrow 🙂

 

Top Tip No. 1 for a healthy gut: Increase your Fibre Intake

In 2014 I wrote a series of 5 blog posts in support of National IBS monthNational Gut Week and Bowel Cancer awareness month.

  • 1 in 4 people across all ages and genders in the UK are affected by poor digestive health
  • IBS affects 10-20 % of individuals
  • Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.

As you can see, digestive problems affect many people but for many, small and simple changes to our diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in terms of our digestive health and overall well-being. Here is my first tip to make your gut a happier place.

1. Increase fibre intake

Dietary fibre helps to keep our gut moving, reduces the likelihood of becoming constipated and getting haemorrhoids (piles) and lowers our risk of developing bowel cancer. Current dietary advice states we should be eating a variety of fibre containing foods. In the UK most people do not eat enough fibre (the average intake is just under 14g/day) which is some way off the recommended 18g per day; many other countries recommend more and it is likely that UK dietary guidelines will suggest a further increase soon (30g / day for adults).

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Ideally we should be having a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibre in our diet; eating more fruit and vegetables (with the skins on where possible) will help you on your way. Soluble fibre is like a sponge and absorbs water. It becomes like jelly (making it easier to pass stools) and is broken down by the bacteria in our bowel (they ferment it).  So we have a nice symbiotic relationship with our friendly (good) bacteria; we give them fibre from which they have the ability to salvage some energy, and in return they help us out.

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Particularly eating more soluble fibre, will help boost the numbers of good bacteria. In return, they provide us with some nutrients (vitamins B & K), keep harmful bacteria at bay and the by-products of their action can help lower cholesterol levels and help us better manage our blood sugar levels (reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes).

Good sources of soluble fibre include:

  • oats
  • bananas
  • apples
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • peas
  • beans
  • lentils

Foods that will particularly help increase the numbers of good bacteria in our bowel include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, soya beans and certain honeys.

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These are known as prebiotic foods; you can buy prebiotic-containing foods from the supermarket; look for prebiotic ‘live’ yoghurt and yoghurt drinks, breakfast cereals and cereal bars (but do watch the sugar content of some of these ready-made foods).

Insoluble fibre does not absorb much water and is completely indigestible but it is this feature that gives ‘bulk’ to our stools and gives its laxative effect.

Good sources of insoluble fibre include

  • wholemeal breads
  • whole grain breakfast cereals
  • bran
  • nuts
  • dried fruit
  • brown rice

If you decide to increase your fibre intake it is important to do this gradually. A sudden increase can make you very windy (passing wind more than the average 15 times a day anyway), leave you feeling bloated and cause stomach cramps. Too much insoluble fibre can do this and can increase symptoms in those that suffer from IBS.

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In IBS sufferers beans, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peas and onions can certainly cause painful wind and bloating.

If you experience this, try eliminating these trigger foods and it might be worth approaching a registered dietician or nutritionist and asking them about a low FODMAP diet. Such qualified professionals can be trained in this specialist area.

A Low FODMAP diet

FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and PolyolS. These are short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. FODMAPs can alter the fluid content of the gut and affect bacterial fermentation in the large intestine which may trigger undesirable symptoms in individuals with IBS. Removing FODMAPs from the diet has been seen to be effective in improving symptoms. There are many low FODMAP diets available over the internet and they can be very restrictive and limiting so it is essential you get professional guidance to ensure you still eat everything you need and you are making the right choices for your body.

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When upping your fibre intake it is vital you drink plenty of fluids; at least 1-1.5 litres a day as the fibre will absorb this water which helps soften it and gives it a more gentle action.  It doesn’t have to be just water; just be sensible about what you are drinking but get those (low sugar) fluids down 🙂

Here are the rest of posts to help you love your gut:

Top Tip No.2 for a healthy gut: probiotics

Top Tip No.3 for a healthy gut: cut down fat and processed food

Top Tip No.4 for a healthy gut: watch what you drink and those spicy foods

Top Tip No.5 for a healthy gut: relax!

Further information on IBS can be found here at the IBS Network

NICE released new guidelines in February 2015 on Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome in primary care

Bowel Cancer UK have a very informative website that you can access here