Why Gut Matters

The summer heat can play havoc with your gut and upset the microbiome balance, but the right diet will keep you strong and healthy.

The hot and humid Indian summer is back and with it comes a host of health issues, ranging from exhaustion and muscle cramp to sunstroke, dehydration and more. Do not be too worried, though, as a few precautions and some home remedies can ward off many of these heat-related ailments. Doctors advise adequate intake of fluids and electrolytes (sodium, potassium and other minerals) as we lose these when we sweat. Most importantly, eat freshly prepared, non-spicy foods to keep your body healthy and rejuvenated.

What tends to go unnoticed many a time is how the scorching heat can damage the digestive system or the gut. The human intestine contains varieties of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. Our gut microbiome or microbiota - basically all the 300-500 types of bacteria and other tiny organisms living in the digestive tracts - controls our metabolism and, in turn, could have the most significant impact on our overall well-being.

Simply put, these bacteria secrete substances such as short-chain fatty acids and other chemicals essential for energy metabolism, nutrition, growth and body immunity. "But during periods of marked variations in temperature - for instance, when the heat rises above 40 degree Celsius - the balance maintained by this microorganic ecosystem (known as gut flora) within the intestine could change and affect our body's functionality," says Dr D. Nageshwar Reddy, a gastroenterologist and Chairman of Hyderabad-based Asian Institute of Gastroenterology and AIG Hospitals. Consuming unhealthy foods or drinking water that is not safe can aggravate these issues, resulting in different medical conditions ranging from diarrhoea to rheumatoid arthritis to mood swings.

What you eat and drink matters a lot when it comes to gut health, says Dr Reddy. Drink a lot of water (always make sure it is clean) at regular intervals and eat a wide variety of probiotic (mostly fermented) and fibre-rich foods such as yoghurt, buttermilk, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These will help grow microbiota and restore the bacterial balance in the body.

In case of any issue with your gut health, a stool test will be required to identify and analyse the damage. Plus, there could be external symptoms such as diarrhoea, excessive gas, bloating and belching. You should immediately visit your doctor in such cases instead of indulging in self-medication or opting for over-the-counter drugs. The right diagnosis, followed by suitable medicines and a healthy intake of probiotic supplements, will help you recover fast.

Future Lies In Bioengineering

Unhealthy foods and poor lifestyle often affect our gut health. But augmenting the gut's functions or repairing/recreating organ parts with the help of stem cells, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine may soon become the gold-standard treatment where traditional surgery fails to bring the desired results.

"Things are looking up now that we have made the entire oesophagus (the muscular food pipe that connects the throat to the stomach) in the lab," says Dr Reddy. In a 2016 paper published in the medical journal The Lancet, a team from the Medical College of Wisconsin reported the first case of a human patient whose severely damaged oesophagus was reconstructed using stents and skin tissue. The same team is now working on regenerative medicine in collaboration with Dr Reddy's AIG. "We are still at a lab stage in India, but there is a lot of promise in this space," the doctor adds.