Not all bacteria are bad. Sure, there are a few nasty strains out there that can make you sick but it just so happens that you have billions living inside your gut, too. And the majority of these bacteria are friendly. Depending on the ratio of good to bad bacteria present in your gut, you will either be healthy or at higher risk for serious illnesses. It is interesting to consider that something so small can have such a huge impact on your overall health.
What microorganisms can do for you?
The friendly bacteria in our guts help to promote efficient gastrointestinal function, regulate metabolism, protect from infection, comprising more than 75% of our immune system. Immunity, essential to our health and longevity, is dependent on a large number of flora; these small organisms are a big deal. When gut flora are out of balance, unfriendly or pathogenic bacteria have a chance to flourish. You are then at increased risk for diseases or conditions ranging from depression and autoimmune disorders to inflammatory bowel disease and Type-2 diabetes.
A balanced bacterial colony in your gut helps to prevent inflammation and also supports a healthy, efficient digestive tract. When your digestion is moving smoothly, your body is able to break down food properly, absorbing all the valuable nutrients. An unhealthy gut is prone to tears in the wall known as ‘leaky gut,’ which causes excess inflammation through the body as unwanted particles break free and start travelling around the bloodstream. Once bacterial ratios are restored, these health problems can be repaired and reversed so it is important to maintain beneficial bacterial levels in your gut.
The bacteria we house in our gut aid the digestion process, producing enzymes needed to break down your meals. Food that is not broken down not only deprives your body of necessary nutrients, but also slows down digestion. When undigested food remains in the colon, pathogenic bacteria are drawn to it and can thrive. This will throw off the healthy bacterial balance you need. Other bacteria produce essential vitamins such as B12 and K, as well as the feel good hormone serotonin. These elements have been proven to positively impact your brain and mental health, again showing the far reaching benefits gut flora have.
Recent studies have also shown a link between gut bacteria and weight loss. People with leaner body shapes have been shown to have a higher percentage of intestinal bacteria than those suffering with obesity. When more bacteria is present, there is also more diversity, which is likely what contributes to the more efficient digestion. While it is not clear exactly how bacteria cause the weight loss, or even if they do, there is definitely a correlation. Obese individuals have significantly fewer intestinal flora working for them.
Getting the right balance: Improve your gut bacteria
Now that you know what bacteria can do for your health, you need to know how to maintain levels of bacteria. When considering how to improve gut health naturally, you don’t have to look much further than your diet. Bad bacteria and harmful yeasts thrive on sugars so reducing sugar and processed foods from your diet is a great place to start. What about the good bacteria? What helps them to thrive? The answer is simple, fiber.
Most fibers are too short to make it to the bacterial concentrations of the large intestine. There are, however, two types of fiber that are long enough to last the journey and provide sustenance for your bacterial friends. Fructan and cellulose fibers, found in a group of food called prebiotics, encourage the growth of good bacteria. Fructan is found in many fruits and vegetables; cellulose fibers are in the tough parts of vegetables such as broccoli stalks. It might be time to reconsider throwing those out.
When you feed your bacteria fiber, they don’t need to look for another food source. This should be your main motivation for keeping them happy because their alternative food source is usually your body. The first place that gets weakened is the intestinal wall and once bad bacteria can get through, health problems will increase. So work to reduce sugar intake and increase fiber. Additionally you can take a daily probiotic supplement to help provide the additional numbers your bacterial colonies may need. Be sure to always choose a high quality supplement from a respectable brand like 1MD, making sure it has a minimum of 11 different strains.
When it comes to snacking remember that you are feeding more than your appetite. The sweets and carbohydrates may taste good but you are actually depriving your intestinal microbes of food. Limit your calories when snacking. Instead, opt for fresh fruit and vegetables. The complex carbohydrates in whole grains and vegetables are filling and the perfect meal for your bacteria helpers. Regular exercise each day has also been shown to benefit bacterial communities. Not only will the workout trim your gut of some unwanted fat and boost your cardiovascular health, but will also support active and healthy bacteria levels.