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Gut Bacteria


Gut Bacteria

When it comes to our health very few people consider their inner body and how it works. One area people are becoming more aware of however is the subject of gut bacteria and how it affects our health.

We have hundreds of different kinds of bacteria and billions of them in our intestine and gut, as well as trillions of microbes such as viruses and fungi in and on our bodies. Everyone’s mix of these bacteria is different and is affected by our genes, our diet and environment.

The takeaway message here, is bad bacteria encourage an unhealthy body, increasing your risk of infection, allergies, diseases, digestion issues and numerous other health issues. While good bacteria improves your immune system and helps fight against ill health, improves digestion and helps regulate body weight.

Gut bacteria and our health

Health issues can often come down to having missing or less of a certain good bacteria and/or more of a bad type of bacteria being present.

These good bacteria not just give us a healthy digestive system, but help our immune system and help:

Reduce:

  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Bad cholesterol
  • Bowel disease
  • Colon cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Inflammation
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Type 2 diabetes

Improve:

  • Behaviour
  • Immune system
  • Mental health improvement that allows neurotransmitters to communicate with our nervous system
  • Metabolism/digestion
  • Our appetite
  • Our mood
  • Physical health
  • Sleep
  • Weight control

Essentially our body works as a system and an unbalanced gut microbiome can weaken our immune system which can affect the rest of our body..

What can you do to improve your gut bacteria balance?

One of the biggest things you can do is make changes to your diet. This can have an effect on your gut microbes as soon as you start digesting the food. Changes can happen very quickly and within just a few days your gut bacteria can have a complete turnaround in its diversity and balance. But be careful here as too much of a change too quickly can lead to an upset stomach, constipation and headaches for some people.

In order to supply your gut with a mix of various good bacteria, eat a healthy varied diet. One of the most important and one of the biggest impacts on our health and wellbeing, but often overlooked is the importance of how your body digests and utilizes the food you eat rather than just the food you eat. If your gut health is subpar your body wont breakdown and use the nutrients you consume effectively.

Interesting to note that good microbes also provide over 25% of the vitamins in your body.

What food will help feed and grow good gut bacteria?

Prebiotics

Let’s start with prebiotics. Everyone’s heard of probiotics, well prebiotics are non-living, non-digestible soluble fibre that actually feeds the good bacteria and helps them grow. They essentially act as a fertilizer for good bacteria and improve nutrient absorption. They are mostly found in fruits and vegetables

Some good sources of prebiotic foods:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Beans (various)
  • Beets
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Chia seeds
  • Chickory root
  • Cocoa
  • Dandelion
  • Flax seeds
  • Garlic
  • Grape fruit
  • Hemp seeds
  • Honey
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Konjac root
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Lentils
  • Mango
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Pulses
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Radishes
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat bran
  • Yams/sweet potatoes

Probiotics

These are living and active bacteria and yeast that promote good health within the human body, especially gut health and digestion.

Some good sources of probiotics foods:

  • Fermented food – these provide live bacteria. Some fermented foods include, kirfir, sauerkraut, miso , kimchi, kombucha, fermented teas, natto, tempeh and yogurt. Warning, be careful of some fermented foods as they can be high in salt and even sugar content.
  • Dark chocolate
  • Greek yogurt
  • Green bananas
  • Natural yogurts
  • Non pasteurized cheeses (especially soft cheddar, gouda, mozzarella type cheeses)

Note: that while these foods contain healthy bacteria, much of the bacteria doesn’t reach the gut due to the acid in the stomach destroying it. Also Interesting to note that a study has shown some people are not able to benefit from probiotics, as it appears some people may not be able to easily digest many fermented foods. However those that do eat a lot of it have been shown to have a healthier gut and reduced gut related health issues, diseases and other health related issues.

Polyphenols

Eat more polyphenol rich food. These are plant compounds found in foods that are in part digested by gut bacteria. Polyphenols work well together with probiotics to help maintain or increase our health. They promote the growth of various good bacteria as well as inhibiting certain bad bacteria.

Foods rich in polyphenols include:

  • Artichokes
  • Berries
  • Black currants
  • Celery seed
  • Cherries
  • Chestnuts
  • Chicory
  • Cloves
  • Dark chocolate (cocoa)
  • Flaxseed meal
  • Green tea
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Plums
  • Star anise

What foods are bad for your gut bacteria?

Sugary and processed foods are digested quickly and do not feed your gut microbes and this then means that your gut bacteria will then feed on the cells that line your gut. This can then lead to leaky gut, where the gut lining is weakened allowing bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream, causing health issues and illness. On top of this while your immune system will try to get rid of these bad bacteria and toxins it will also attack the good tissue, causing inflammation.

Foods to avoid include:

  • Sugar – high sugar and refined sugar foods (including sugary yogurts) – these disrupt digestion of some microbes.
  • Artificial sweeteners as these also disrupt digestion of some microbes.
  • Processed foods – these have many preservatives and additives that promote bad bacteria and can lead to health issues.
  • Fried food and other high fat foods – these tend to unbalance the good and bad bacteria in your gut, leaning towards more bad bacteria being present.
  • Gluten – many people are sensitive to this protein and it can also lead to some damage to the small intestine.
  • Farmed fish – many farmed fish are treated with antibiotics and may affect gut bacteria. Research is on-going.
  • Possibly dairy – some people may also need to avoid dairy. Many suffer from lactose intolerance that give you gas and bloating, upsetting your stomach.
  • Minimize red meat – red meat increases bad bacteria called TMAO. This can lead to heart related health issues.
  • Soy – This can be an issue, especially if the food product has been grown and treated using various types of pesticides, which can upset your gut bacteria balance.
  • Corn – same as Soy.

What else affects our bacteria?

Antibiotics – This destroys both good and bad bacteria and in fact has been linked to infections occurring due to a weakened immune system with its use.

Our environment – We live in a much more cleaner home environment compared to our ancestors and therefore our bodies haven’t built up the resistance it needs to fight some bacteria. Unbelievably it also appears that what bacteria we are exposed to as babies and children can have an effect on our lives later on as our bodies develop our immune system based on what we come into contact with at an early age. Believe it or not, germs and kids are great, snotty nosed kids allow the body to build its immune system up. Of course all within reason obviously….some germs needs to be cleaned immediately! Conversely however, we are also living in a lot more of a toxic environment with air pollution and contaminants from our modern lifestyle that our bodies find difficult to cope with.

Other ways to increase microbial diversity

It’s not just your diet and lifestyle, but also our physical health, such as our stress level, exercise and our rest/sleep patterns. All these can have an effect on our gut health, so make sure you look after yourself in these respects.

As a side note, it has been shown that aerobics and jogging and other types of exercise can help you break down and digest (metabolize) more microbes and protect the gut wall.

Finally

Like all things in life, striking a balance is key. Don’t get hung up on one area of dieting/nutrition, but try to eat a healthy balanced diet and remember there is no miracle or superfood that will do it all.

As far as supplementing with probiotics, I would suggest seeking medical advice first to ensure they are safe for you, as some could trigger an allergic reaction.

Bottom line is to eat a healthy, diverse and varied diet that contains a mix of the good food mentioned above and avoid the bad foods. A healthy gut maximizes the chance for a healthy body.