Let’s talk about our gut…
Post written for The Mummy Tribe
I’m a bit of a gut geek. Over the last few years, my approach to ‘training’ has changed massively, mostly due to the fact that my two little ones (Willa, 2 and Effie, 7 months) have had a huge impact on my life both physically and mentally – both pregnancies were hard, and my recoveries weren’t easy either. I found that my usual approach to training of ‘just get it done’ and leave nothing at the door just didn’t fit with my life as a mother. I needed balance, and that meant I needed to listen to my body better.
I’ve been a big fan of probiotics for a while, but it was only recently that I found Rhythm Kefir, and embarked on their 30 day intensive course to ‘reset my gut’, because I was exhausted, my skin was bad, I was bloated, and suffering serious headaches – all despite the fact that generally I’m a pretty healthy person in terms of diet and lifestyle! Long story short, but it really did work. I felt calmer, more energized, my skin got better and my headaches disappeared…
I spoke with Tara Sinclair, at Rhythm Kefir about what makes their product so great. Rhythm is a small company with a hugely passionate team who are paving the way in the busy market for truly effective probiotic products. They very kindly provided us with their ‘everyday shots’ (which have recently launched in Sainsbury’s) at our last retreat for our new mums - and are generously giving YOU, our Tribe followers, an exclusive discount on both the 30 day intensive range, and their everyday shot range.
Use ’30-day-rh-course’ to purchase their 30 day intensive course for £200.00 (usual RRP £375.00)
Use ‘Rhythm-25-health-off’ to receive 25% off everything from their online shop
SO WHY IS OUR GUT SO IMPORTANT?
When we talk about our ‘gut’ we’re not referring to the derogatory term sometimes used for extra body fat that can accumulate around our waists…we’re talking about the system within the body that up until now, you may have thought was solely designed to digest food.
However, the gut is so much more than that – and it’s incredibly important during pregnancy and beyond into early motherhood, because this is a stage in our lives when our bodies are under huge physical and mental changes.
Your gut is a very delicate ecosystem, made up of more flora (the name we give to good bacteria, not the margarine spread) than all of the other cells in the body combined, which is a lot. When the gut is healthy, your digestive tract has the proper balance of stomach acids and bacteria, to enable your body to break down food efficiently for nourishment and cell repair.
The lining of the gut is also the first line of defence within our immune system: the right amount of good bacteria will enable us to fight off the nasty bacteria that enters our bloodstream through food particles, general dirt and the very air we breathe. We are exposed daily to a certain level of bad bacteria. This is inevitable, as the gut is part of a long tube that is ‘open’ to the outside world via our mouth and our bottoms (!). This isn’t a design flaw though – as by keeping the good bacteria on its toes, the gut becomes more experienced at fighting off these bugs (practice makes perfect, hey?).
Also, there is now increasing evidence that the gut is actually our ‘second brain’. Ever heard the term ‘trust your gut’? Well there’s more sense to that saying than we might think. The gut contains more neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) than the brain itself – which can be why when we’re feeling stressed or anxious, we often reach for the nearest sugary treat, because the body knows that the gut is the quickest route to get these neurotransmitters firing efficiently to fix our emotional equilibrium.
Therefore – if the gut is struggling in any way, it won’t be able to absorb the nutrients from your food properly, nor will it be able to eliminate waste properly, fight off nasty bacteria, or be any use in helping to keep your emotions in check. This can lead to all sorts of health issues that you may think have nothing to do with the gut, but quite likely do. These can include:
WHAT CAN NEGATIVELY AFFECT OUR GUT?
Generally speaking, the biggest ‘threats’ to the gut’s delicate balance include:
Germs and food particles are, in a healthy gut, fairly easy to deal with. The body is designed to deal with these. If you think back to caveman times, there was no such thing as refrigeration, best before dates, and they certainly weren’t as hot on safe food handling procedures as we are now. So, as mentioned before, we’re cleverly designed to be able to deal with a certain level of bad bacteria.
However, our modern day lives have exposed our bodies to even greater threats that can end up overwhelming the gut’s delicate ecosystem.
Just like humans take antibiotics to fight off unwanted bacteria, we also put chemical sprays onto plants to protect them against fungal or bacterial attack. Unfortunately, when these are sprayed onto fruit and vegetables, we wind up eating them, too. Chemical residue can impact our gut flora, so choosing organic is best in this regard to avoid it.
Organic produce is defined as food products that are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are those that come from animals that do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
If our bodies sense that we are threatened in some way, we automatically switch into something called ‘fight or flight’ mode. This was designed (back in caveman times) to help us prepare for an attack of some sort. Back then, ‘stress’ meant we either needed to run fast, or we needed to fight, so our blood is diverted to our muscles rather than our tummies. If your gut is constantly in this stressed state, then it won’t be working efficiently to do any of its other jobs. However, our environment today is very different to caveman times, and we don’t often find ourselves under attack from a wild animal…instead though, what we now perceive to be a ‘threat’ might be a looming deadline, the looks or comments we get when our toddler throws a tantrum in a supermarket or an argument with a partner over who last emptied the dishwasher! Which means, that we are switching into this ‘stressed out’ state far too quickly.
And what happens to our gut in times of stress? Well when we switch into ‘fight or flight’ mode the stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) actually work quickly to suppress the digestive system, meaning it won’t be working at full capacity when trying to perform its other jobs. Signs that the gut is working (and possibly becoming overwhelmed) in this suppressed state include bloating, constipation, and even diarrhea.
Antibiotic medications interfere massively with the balance of our microbiome within the gut. While antibiotics are designed to attack bad bacteria, they indiscriminately wipe out our ALL the good bacteria as well, whose job it is to prevent the bad stuff from entering our bloodstream.
Having said that, we know full well that during pregnancy and early motherhood, if we are struck down with a bacterial infection we often want to get well as quickly as possible, and we are by no means saying don’t take antibiotics – just know that this will leave your gut in a vulnerable state afterwards.
HOW DOES PREGNANCY, CHILDBIRTH AND EARLY MOTHERHOOD AFFECT OUR GUT?
The human body really is quite clever. It’s ability to adapt to, prepare for, and recovery from life experiences is pretty impressive, if given the right environment to do so.
During the third trimester of pregnancy – a woman’s gut microbiome undergoes a dramatic change, and its ‘profile’ becomes similar to those seen in people who are likely to develop diabetes. This is typically linked to higher inflammation within the body, less bacterial diversity, increased blood glucose and body fat.
In a non-pregnant person, this gut flora profile would be considered pretty unhealthy (as mentioned above, it would put you in the bracket of those likely to develop diabetes!), however, it is a temporary ‘adaptation’, designed for a certain purpose, and that is putting the mother in an optimal position to provide proper nourishment and an optimum environment for their babies during the period of most intense growth before birth. Once baby is born, the mother’s microbiome begins to revert back to its pre-pregnancy state.
However, there can be a number of factors that prevent the gut from having the resources or space (quite literally) to revert back to it’s healthier, more diverse environment.
Stress, which can be triggered by broken (or a complete lack of!) sleep, and/or too much high intensity exercise (I’ll bang on about taking it easy when getting it back into exercise another time!) can massively inhibit this ‘recovery process’ after birth – as can the effects of any antibiotics you might have had to take during pregnancy, or during or after your delivery.
Then we have to talk about the delicate issue of your bowel health after delivery too, and the delicate issue of constipation. As many a mother will tell you, going for your first poo after labour can be a daunting experience. You may just be feeling tender down below, or have tears, stitches or haemorroids, or you may just be worried about putting too much pressure on your c-section scar by pushing. Apprehension alone can cause us to become ‘bunged up’, but there may also be physical reasons’ behind it too, including:
Anaesthetic used during labour
Temporary lack of muscle tone in abdominal area
Medications used for postpartum pain relief
Vitamin use (particularly iron supplements)
Constipation can lead to the gut becoming overwhelmed by ‘waste’ products, meaning it’s again not able to help perform its other functions – like rebalancing it’s own ecosystem, managing an effective immune system, or helping us to balance our emotions appropriately.
HOW CAN WE IMPROVE OUR GUT HEALTH?
Consume Plenty of Fibre
One of our body’s main methods of eliminating the ‘bad stuff’ is through our poo! However, we can’t do this job properly unless we’re getting enough fibre to keep things moving along and passing though. As discussed above, after childbirth our digestive system can be affected physically in a number of ways, and won’t be as strong or capable of helping things ‘pass through’. Remember to eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, chia seeds, legumes, soaked/activated nuts, quinoa and brown rice to really boost your fibre intake.
Think of your intestines as one giant tube that propels food along. As this food travels through the tube, nutrients and water are absorbed. The body also puts toxins, metabolic by-products and excess cholesterol back into the tube for elimination. But without sufficient water, the intestines blocks up and transit slows down. Staying hydrated helps to keep materials moving through your digestive ‘tube’ soft and moving freely, thereby supporting the entire absorption and elimination process.
Digestion really does begin in the mouth. Your saliva contains enzymes that start to break down starches in food as you chew. Plus, the act of chewing also signals to your brain that the process of digestion is beginning. The other benefit of eating slowly is that you’re less likely to overeat: eating slowly gives your body plenty of time to actually acknowledge that you’re full!
Don’t Eat When You’re Stressed
Although I’m a big supporter of snacking in early motherhood (healthy snacks, might I add!), it is important to try and avoid reaching for snacks just for an emotional hit. We now know that when we feel stressed, our body switches into ‘fight or flight’ mode. As this happens, our body focuses on the physiological functions that are designed to help us to run from, or ‘fight’ an enemy; blood is diverted to the muscles, our breath rate increases and external senses become hyper-alert. As this happens, systems that are nonessential to fight or flight are quickly suppressed - this includes digestion. Therefore, try not to eat when you’re feeling stressed and your body isn’t in an ideal state for digestion.
Take a probiotic
And my biggest piece of advice for new mothers, who find themselves in a stressed state due to broken sleep patterns (and especially those that have taken a course of antibiotics in the last two years), is to give your gut a boost with a probiotic supplement.
So what are ‘probiotics’?
The term “probiotics” itself is relatively new; it’s a combination of the Latin word for “for” and the Greek word for “life.” However, the concept of consuming ‘good microbes’ to aid health has been discussed since the early 1900s.
The official definition of a probiotic is:
“A microorganism introduced into the body for its beneficial health qualities. Broken down further, these microorganisms (or good bacteria, as they are also known) then go about improving or restoring gut flora which leads to the various health benefits”.
Probiotics can be found in various natural food sources, such as:
· fermented cheeses, such as:
· fermented vegetable products, such as:
Or you can opt to take a probiotic supplement, and as evidence has grown to support the use of these sort of supplements, so has the market. Generally speaking you want to look for supplements that have:
Multiple bacteria strains: There are six strains commonly found on supplement labels (the most common being Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. A combination of the six common strains is usually more effective than a single one.
Large enough quantities of bacteria to form colonies: This is measured in colony-forming units called CFUs.
Live cultures: Check the expiration date on the label. To be effective, the probiotic should be “live” when you take it.
DRUMROLL: please say hello to Rhythm Kefir…
Wooahhh, hold up - what the hell is kefir, you might be asking?! Well, as mentioned above, fermented foods are an ancient source of getting probiotics into our diet. And kefir is a cultured, fermented drink that has been drunk by our ancestors for optimum health for over 2000 years.
Tara explains further: “it’s made using kefir grains, which are actually complex micro-organisms themselves. These grains are a perfect symbiosis (or harmonious balance) of bacteria, yeasts and enzymes. The complexity and composition of these living organisms varies from one type of kefir grain to another, however, it is the harmony of these micro-organisms that gives kefir its unique status and qualities.
One way of explaining it simply is when these grains are put into a ‘carrier’ such as coconut milk, they then feed on the nutrition inside the liquid whilst they are fermented and in exchange they give out baby probiotic bacteria. Much like humans though, they are live and therefore need to be constantly fed or they get stressed and starve to death.
You can only get kefir from kefir grains (they are naturally occurring and cannot be man made). They grow and multiply in milk/plant based milks/water and small pieces break off the big cluster, which also start growing - and so it goes on...”
OK, so how does kefir differ from other probiotic food sources?
“Let’s take yoghurt as an example of a natural probiotic food source:
Normal yoghurt is make with two different strains of bacteria – whilst there can be as many as forty different strains of bacteria and twenty strains of yeasts living in a kefir cluster.
The strains kefir contains also behave more pro-actively in the body in the sense that the bacteria found in yogurt is ‘transient,’ meaning it passes right through the body as you digest it. The bacteria found in kefir, on the other hand, actually ‘re-colonizes’ the digestive tract, so it continues building upon itself to get your gut healthy even after the kefir has been digested”
But probiotic pills seem to be everywhere, how is kefir different from these powdered probiotics?
“When compared to probiotic pills, kefir also comes out as being more beneficial. Besides the fact that it’s almost always better to get nutrients from whole food sources, kefir also delivers more beneficial bacteria than probiotic pills, as the food itself actually protects the bacteria from being killed off by your stomach acid as you digest it.
The bacteria in the pill form is less protected, and more likely to be inactive by the time it reaches your intestines, plus they are freeze dried which is a bit like turning a grape into a raisin and expecting it to have the same nutritional properties.
Providing healthy bacteria is also not the only benefit of kefir. It is also contains other nutrients and minerals that your body needs”
So why choose Rhythm Kefir over other milk based kefirs on the market?
“There are numerous kefir brands on the market these days. However Rhythm is the first non-dairy, unpasteurized kefir on the market with such a large diversity and high potency.
The reasons why Rhythm Kefir stands out against the competition…
· Live grains unlike other kefirs which use freeze dried cultures.
· Made using coconut milk so 100% dairy free, vegan and gluten free
· 100% natural
· Raw pressed
· Billions of live bacteria
Rhythm stays as close to mother nature as possible and have had incredible results with various customers on array of gut related and immune issues which can be seen if you click here”
And finally, why Rhythm is great for mums and mums to be…
Rhythm kefir also, importantly for us mums, has several health benefits for pregnant and nursing women. Studies have shown that when women increase their probiotic intake during pregnancy and after birth there is almost a 50% chance of reducing the risk of allergies in their babies.
Some of the other benefits of taking them during pregnancy include:
• Reduced risk of preeclampsia
• Minimize morning sickness
• Improves your digestion
• Probiotics build your baby’s immunity
• Avoid postpartum depression
• Decrease chances of gestational diabetes
• Postpartum weight loss
• Prevents Eczema
• Keeps colic away
• Helps prevent nappy rash and nappy yeast
 Nuriel-Ohayon, M., Neuman, H., & Koren, O. (2016). Microbial Changes during Pregnancy, Birth, and Infancy. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01031