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Love your Gut: Plant-based Diet Promotes Digestive Health 

Love your Gut
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Love your Gut: Plant-based Diet Promotes Digestive Health

Recent scientific research studies into digestive health are finding, and better understanding, the complex connections between gut health and overall health and well-being. Not only our guts, but our entire systems, are affected by our diet and nutrition, from immunity to mental health.

The latest research into gut health suggests that adopting a plant-based diet may help increase the diversity of health-promoting bacteria in the gut while also decreasing the risk of developing other health conditions (1).

Benefits of plant nutrition

Plant-based diets are growing increasingly popular worldwide, and especially in Western societies, mainly due to health benefits and environmental concerns. Plant-based (vegetarian and vegan) means deriving most or all food from plant-sourced origins and limiting and / or abstaining from using or consuming animal products and / or any products of animal origin.

Several recent studies have identified a link between plant-based diets and the decreased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and other health issues. Furthermore, current research suggests that a plant-based diet may help increase the diversity of health-promoting bacteria in the gut (1).

Healthy gut flora

According to current studies, diet and nutrition are important determinants in the makeup of human gut microbiota (the community of microorganisms living in the gut commonly referred to as gut flora), which is crucial for metabolising nutrients into active postbiotics, and which supports the immune system. Postbiotics are the bioactive compounds that the probiotic bacteria produce when they consume prebiotics (fibre) (2).

Our gut flora plays an essential role in our overall health. Changes in gut flora composition and fermentation metabolites (the microbes fuelled by nutrient consumption) have important implications for gastrointestinal disorders. Monitoring the microorganisms therein can help predict the risks of developing certain gastrointestinal diseases. 

The composition of our gut flora is directly influenced by our dietary habits – reports suggest that adopting plant-based diets increases beneficial bacteria in our gut, such as the phylum Bacteroidetes, leading to gut and overall health promotion (1).

The therapeutic potential of dietary fibres

Furthermore, studies have consistently demonstrated the benefits of dietary fibre on gastrointestinal health (for example, for digestion and absorption, transit time, and stool formation) through consumption of unrefined whole foods, such as wholegrains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables (3). 

While the relationship between the functionality of different dietary fibres (such as their solubility, viscosity, and fermentability) continues to be studied and interpreted, evidence strongly supports the therapeutic potential of dietary fibres (3).

Listen to your gut

The prevailing shift to plant-based diets has opened up opportunities for groundbreaking research into the impact of plant-based diets on other areas of health and well-being, such as cognitive functions, mental health, and neurological health, and the development of innovative therapeutic strategies that could aid obesity and eating disorders (4).

Ongoing research supports the existence of a relationship between the mind and the gut (interestingly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the gut has long been considered the second brain). 

For example, Dr Katerina Johnson’s research at the University of Oxford involves analysing the connection between our stomachs and minds – she refers to two-way communication between the gut microbiota and the central nervous system. This would suggest that improved gut flora is directly linked to mental health (5).

The deepening understanding of digestive health and its effect on the entire body organism would suggest that digestive health should be prioritised. Meanwhile, we can be confident that choosing a plant-based diet is not only good for our guts, but also better for the planet.

(See also our related articles on Leaky Gut Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Diverticular Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Heartburn / Indigestion, Peptic Ulcer, Constipation, Diarrhoea and Food Intolerance, )

References

1. Sidhu SRK, Kok CW, Kunasegaran T, Ramadas A. Effect of Plant-Based Diets on Gut Microbiota: A Systematic Review of Interventional Studies. Nutrients. 2023 Mar 21;15(6):1510. doi: 10.3390/nu15061510. PMID: 36986240; PMCID: PMC10057430.

2. Raman R. What Are Postbiotics? A Comprehensive Overview. Healthline, May 19, 2021.

3. Gill SK, Rossi M, Bajka B, Whelan K. Dietary fibre in gastrointestinal health and disease. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2021 Feb;18(2):101-116. doi: 10.1038/s41575-020-00375-4. Epub 2020 Nov 18. PMID: 33208922.

4. Medawar E, Huhn S, Villringer A, Veronica Witte A. The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: A systematic review. Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Sep 12;9(1):226. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0. PMID: 31515473; PMCID: PMC6742661.

5. Healey N and Javis S. The link between gut health and happiness. Patient. 14 Feb 2020.

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