Like almost everything else in life, bacteria is about balance. Too much of the wrong kind, and you may find yourself sick. But not enough of the right kind can have the same outcome. And by sick, I don’t necessarily mean a case of the sniffles!
The gut is home to 70-80% of the body’s immune cells. In the gut, there are up to 100 trillion bacteria. According to a recent article on gut health at www.cnn.com, this outnumbers all of the body’s other cells by a ratio of 10 to 1.
If you don’t have enough good bacteria in your digestive tract, you are likely to suffer from one or more of these maladies:
Increased Body Fat
So, you need good bacteria. What’s the right kind of bacteria to have? If you watch TV, I am confident you’ve heard of probiotics. (Mostly likely on a yogurt commercial of some sort.) But what are they? Probiotics are specific bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and help to encourage a healthy digestive system. And a healthy digestive system has absolutely everything to do with the symptoms listed above. After all, an unhealthy digestive system is incapable of absorbing nutrition and putting it to use within the body. (Research the GAPS Diet for more information on this phenomenon.)
Here are a few things that can influence the affluence of your body’s probiotic reproduction:
- First, let’s examine the ongoing sugar debacle in this country. Sugar is added into an estimated 80% or more of the packaged items you buy at the supermarket. Americans now consume 100 pounds of sugar per year, per person. Probiotics, whether naturally occurring in the gut, or added into foods, are affected by high-sugar environments. (An important reason to seek out a plain yogurt, with no sugar added, if you are seeking the food for its probiotic benefits.)
- Next, we have alcohol. The research information on this one is mixed. It is clear that probiotics can improve the liver function in an individual whose liver is damaged. But can drinking too much alcohol damage the probiotic balance in your tum-tum? Again, this is more of a balance issue. Is one glass of wine going to destroy your gut flora? Likely, no. Will a 750mL of vodka? Yes, probably, along with a lot of other systems in the body. In general, moderation is key here.
- Now let’s look at exercise. A new study, published at www.medicalnewstoday.com suggests that exercise is an important factor in the gut flora equation. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me, since it is widely accepted that stress can have a negative impact on gut health. Since exercise is a stressor, one might assume that it could negatively impact the good bugs. However, the study concluded that athletes have a wider microbial diversity than non-exercisers.
- Not eating enough fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of fermentable fibers. Simply put, if you starve your body of these fibers, your good bacteria will not multiply.
- Consumption of prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that nourish gut flora and help promote probiotic health. These foods include onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus, to name a few.
- Chronic stress. Chronic stress has negative impacts on overall health, but more specifically, the intestines. Whatever you do to reduce your stress load—meditation, yoga, prayer, breathing techniques, not over-extending yourself, etc.—do it.
So, to simplify: avoid sugar, consume alcohol only in moderation, exercise, eat your fruits & veggies, include prebiotics, and avoid stress. Simple, right? Sometimes all of those things are easier said than done. If you feel like you are someone who struggles to complete one or more of these six tasks, you may want to include a quality probiotic supplement in your diet. Most health food/supplement stores can point you in the right direction, but caveat emptor: a high-quality probiotic should generally require refrigeration. This means you should look for one that has been stored at 40 degrees or cooler.
One last thing, before I leave you to your bacteria-building. There are many cases in which I support probiotic use in the office. But one time I very strongly encourage clients to be on a probiotic supplement, is if they are taking antibiotics for any reason. Antibiotics do not discriminate; they wipe out the good bacteria, along with the bad. If you elect to take a probiotic to offset this, do so one half-hour or more after you take the dose of antibiotic. Taking it with your antibiotic or before will have little effect.
So grab your fermented foods, reach for those kombucha drinks, and pass on the chocolate pie. In the long run, you’ll feel better for it. 🙂
Yours in health,