How to Nurture Healthy Gut Bacteria For Good
Did you know?
There are more bacterial organisms residing in your gut than there are humans on this planet!
In fact, your body is estimated to contain around 100 trillion bacteria, which can weigh up to 2kg (that’s weight equivalent of 2L bottle of water!)
These bacteria 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 furthermore within these types can be a total of up to 5000 strains (think of it like families and different types of family members).
Many of these are fundamental to our health and well-being but some can be harmful. The balance of functional and potentially disease-causing bacteria is crucially important to health.
We all have our own unique microbiome very much like a fingerprint, but it can be easily disrupted by a number of factors such as:
• Medication and antibiotic-use
• How we were born and those first crucial minutes, hours & years
• The diet we choose to consume
• Our environmental toxins in our home, school, offices, cars & air we breathe
• Our emotional health and any trauma we experience
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, thus reducing the likelihood of developing food allergies & intolerances.
• Help with the absorption of nutrients via the gut wall.
• Control levels of oxygen & acidity in the gut, thus helping to create an environment which encourages a healthy gut microflora to proliferate and wards off unhealthy microorganisms; this means by having sufficient & appropriate ‘commensal’ bacteria, let’s call them the friendly guys, we are able to crowd out and ward off the unfriendly ones, the hooligans, that enter our digestive tract via the food we eat.
• Play an important role in the immune system; it is thought that 80% of our immune system resides in the gut and the bacteria here work synergistically as part of this defensive ecosystem.
• Reduce the risk of developing allergies and intolerances by helping to modulate immune function and keep the gut wall in tiptop condition.
• Research suggests that maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut may help to support healthy weight by reducing cravings and supporting other metabolic pathways, which then reduce the risks of metabolic problems such as type 2 diabetes.
• Reinforce the gut-brain connection – Emerging research in the field of mental health & related conditions are linking 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 may reveal your gut bacteria may be out of balance
• Gas and bloating
• Constipation / diarrhoea
• Sugar cravings / cravings for refined carb foods
• Low mood
• Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
• Poor immune health
• Allergies / intolerances to foods, or anything else in our environment such as pollen, pet dander & household chemicals
How to nurture a healthy balance of good bacteria
Feed the good – Beneficial bacteria thrive on a diet rich in wholefoods, fruit and vegetables so you need to include lots of these rainbow foods 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 & lentils, wholegrains, artichokes, root vegetables and apples.
Eat Diversely – We now realise that diversity is the key to health, over and above the outdated and inadequate 5-a-day message that we receive. It is understood that in order to feed our microbiome with the food it needs to thrive, we need to be eating at least 30 different plant foods per week; this includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, legumes, nuts & seeds.
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 food, which can be 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.
Antibitiotcs only when necessary - Antibiotics wipe out both good and bad bacteria, so it is important to take them only when necessary. If you do need to take antibiotics, make sure you follow up with a high strength probiotic supplement to replenish your beneficial gut microflora. Or better yet taking a combination of Saccharomyces boulardii and a blend of bacterial strains alongside the antibiotic may help minimise disturbances to the gut microbiome and reduce those all-to-frequent side effects. Finally, 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 lfactors. Chlorinated and fluoridated water, antibacterial soaps, agricultural chemicals and pesticides, pollution, stress, noise & 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.
So, you can see that anything we choose to put in our mouths, will ultimately have an impact on our microbiome for the better or worse. We are excited to see more and more research coming through in relation to probiotic therapy and the function of our microbiome, so we would be doing ourselves and our state of health a huge injustice by ignoring these little bacteria and not treating them with the respect they deserve.
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