Did you know the drop in temperature can do more than just lead to coughs and colds? With winter edging ever closer, now is the perfect time to get clued up on how the change in season can actually affect your gut health.
To recap, 'good gut health' essentially means boosting and supporting your gut microbiome (the many different types of microbes living in your intestines) to improve mental and physical wellbeing. Because the gut can have an impact on both.
Here, with the help of TV personality Dr Zoe Williams, we take a look at what 'winter gut lag' is, and what you can do to help conquer it and preserve your health.
What is winter gut lag?
"Gut lag often occurs after a long flight when the change in time zone is out of sync with our circadian rhythm, which is also known as our body clock. The body has an internal 24-hour clock, which keeps all of our bodily functions moving correctly and on time. Travelling across time zones can disrupt the rhythm of many of our internal organs, including the gastrointestinal tract and the liver," explains Dr Zoe, working with Activia.
But how can winter affect this? "Much like travelling across time zones, but to a lesser extent, this shift can also occur when you cross seasons," she adds.
"As we go into winter when the colder months hit and the days get darker your circadian rhythm can also be affected. In addition to affecting how your gut functions, your gut microbes also sync with your body clock, so sudden shifts can result in your microbiome landscape changing too."
And the impact on our health? "These changes in turn can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, an upset stomach and more." Luckily, there are some simple yet effective things we can start doing today to get on top of it.
How to combat winter gut lag
1. Eat a diverse, fibre-rich diet
As with boosting our gut health all year round, being mindful of what we put in our bodies can have a huge impact. "Our guts thrive off a diverse diet including a wide assortment of fibre rich foods that help positively impact your gut microbiome, which is an important component of digestion and food absorption," explains Dr Zoe.
The expert advises eating a varied diet consisting of:
a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains
fermented foods like yoghurts
Fermented foods in particular, says Dr Zoe, can help ensure your gut microbiome gets the nutrients it needs. "They're an effective and easy way to start the day to support gut health first thing in the morning during the changing seasons."
2. Stay active rain or shine
You understandably might not be keen on doing 10ks in the cold, but just because it's winter doesn't mean we have to stop moving our bodies entirely.
"Studies show that regular exercise can positively impact the gut, so try fitting in more walking, running, cycling or any activity of choice," says Dr Zoe. "In the colder months when you don’t feel like going outside, even simple daily stretches can help you feel energised and prepared for each day.
"Plus, when we exercise our brain releases a powerful cocktail of feel-good hormones that can make us feel good."
3. Sleep your way healthy
Studies indicate that a lack of sleep can directly impact our hunger hormones and, therefore our food choices, digestive system and gut health," Dr Zoe points out. "You’re more likely to reach for unhealthy foods which contain less nutrients and higher levels of sugar and unhealthy fats when you haven’t slept well, so it’s important to get into a regular sleep pattern to encourage healthy eating."
This, she explains, will likely have a positive impact on the diversity of your gut microbiomes when the clocks go back.
4. Stay hydrated
While we all know water is key to our overall health, are you really drinking enough? And did you know it's also key for combating winter gut lag?
"Drinking water helps your gut function well and aids digestion by helping to break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. It also helps prevent constipation," says Dr Zoe. "Most people need 1.5 to 2 litres a day to stay hydrated, so always keeping a bottle close by can serve as a reminder to support your gut health.
For a full list of gut health-friendly foods, see our useful guide on foods to eat and avoid to improve your wellbeing
For information on Vitamin D supplements, see our guide on when and why you should take Vitamin D
And to improve your chances of sleep this winter, here a feng shui expert reveals 10 things you should never do if you want a good night's sleep
Watch: Keys to improving your gut health