There are more bacteria in your gut than there are humans on this planet!
Your body contains about 100 trillion bacteria, which can weigh up to 2kg - they can be found on the skin’s surface, inside the mouth and the uro-genitary tract, but most live in the large intestine. More than 1000 different types live in the large intestine and many of these are helpful but some can be harmful. This balance between good and bad is crucially important to your health.
Why do we need a good balance of friendly bacteria?
• Help the body to break down undigested food & neutralise harmful by-products of food breakdown
• Help with the absorption of nutrients
• By controlling levels of oxygen and acidity in the gut, the beneficial bacteria help to create an environment which encourages a healthy gut microflora to proliferate and wards off unhealthy microorganisms
• Support the production of B vitamins and vitamin K
• Play an important role in the immune system
• Reduce the risk of developing allergies and intolerances
• New research suggests that maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut may help to support reduced cravings, weight loss, and reduce the risks of metabolic problems such as type 2 diabetes
• Gut-brain link – Research is still in its infancy, but some early studies have linked anxiety, depression, autism and hyperactivity to alterations in the gut microflora
• The gut microflora is an exciting area of research – there is a lot we still don’t know but what we absolutely do know is that nurturing a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria is vitally important to your health
Symptoms that tell you your gut bacteria may be out of balance
• Gas and bloating
• Constipation / diarrhea
• Sugar cravings / cravings for refined carb foods
• Low mood
• Weight gain
• Low immune health
• Allergies / intolerances
• Foods to support beneficial bacteria
How to nurture a healthy balance of good bacteria
Feed the good – Beneficial bacteria thrive on a diet rich in wholefoods, fruits and vegetables so you need to include lots of these in your diet. Foods for beneficial bacteria are known as ‘prebiotics’. Particularly useful prebiotic foods include asparagus, bananas, onions, garlic, cabbage, chicory root, dandelion greens, beans and lentils, wholegrains, artichokes, root vegetables and apples.
Starve the bad – Avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine, refined and processed foods as these can feed unhealthy organisms.
Probiotic-rich foods – As well as providing food for the good guys and starving the bad, it’s also useful to consume foods, which naturally contain high levels of probiotic organisms. Many people think of live yoghurt when it comes to upping your intake of good bacteria, however there is a range of foods, which are far superior to live yoghurt when it comes to supporting your gut microflora. Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, tempeh, natto, lassi, sauerkraut and kombucha naturally contain high levels of a variety of beneficial bacteria and are a great addition to your daily diet.
Probiotic supplement – A daily probiotic supplement is now considered to be as important for your health as a daily multivitamin & mineral. Choose a probiotic supplement that contains scientifically proven strains to ensure it will be effective. It is also important that your probiotic can demonstrate that it can survive the stomach acid and reach the intestines intact, otherwise it will be ineffective.
Antibiotics only when necessary – Antibiotics wipe out both good and bad bacteria so it’s important to take them only when necessary. If you do need to take antibiotics however, make sure you follow up with a high strength probiotic supplement to replenish your beneficial gut microflora. In addition, be particularly careful with your diet whilst using antibiotics and afterwards too. Consume plenty of prebiotic foods that will help the good bacteria to repopulate and avoid refined, sugary foods to limit the growth of unhealthy microorganisms.
Minimise exposure to environmental & lifestyle factors – Friendly bacteria are highly vulnerable to damage by lifestyle and environmental factors. Chlorinated and fluoridated water, antibacterial soaps, agricultural chemicals and pesticides, pollution, stress, noise and food additives can all interfere with a healthy gut microflora, so it’s worth assessing your exposure to these factors and taking steps to minimise where possible. Incorporate regular relaxation into your lifestyle to reduce stress and support beneficial bacteria. Yoga and mindfulness are ancient techniques that have a long history of use for reducing stress and supporting overall wellbeing.