One of my favorite topics is gut health. I find the gut so fascinating in its ability to control the way the rest of the body functions, especially when it comes to our health. We hear the medical world talk about the gut but usually in regards to the infamous ulcer or digestive upset. It is important to understand how this actually works and what gut health is. Gut health is more than just 'staying regular' and avoiding foods that can make your tummy upset. Gut health actually dictates our overall health and total well being. True wellness actually resides in the gut. The immune system lives in the lining of the gut and an unhealthy gut is what leads to disease and sickness. Our belly holds an incredible micro biome that carries the bacterias we need to thrive and live a healthy life. Gut bacteria affects everything from our breakdown of foods, our immune system, and how we feel throughout our life span emotionally and physically. Have you ever noticed how sluggish or tired you can feel from a lack of a regular bowel system or digestive routine? This is because the gut system controls our hormone balance and the ability of our other organs to do their job like the intestines; even the brain. When we have a happy gut, we have a happy life!
The gut micro biome can be affected by many factors in our lives but especially from the foods we eat. It is important to consume a diet high in fiber, low in processed sugars and meats, and low in fast foods. But we have heard this before, probably many times from our grandmother or doctor...what does this diet plan actually do for us? Our guts thrive when we eat a balance of foods that produce healthy, good bacteria for the gut. Foods that protect and balance the gut include fermented foods like yogurt, Kiefer, kimchi, kombucha, etc. These fermented foods hold tremendous amounts of probiotic healthy bacteria that the tummy thrive on to stay balanced. But its understandable that these gut staples are not necessarily common place for all people alike. We can also incorporate simple, single food items into our daily consumption routine like garlic and other anti inflammatory spices like turmeric and cinnamon. Alkaline food and water also helps the gut to maintain proper levels and the easiest incorporation to the diet would be drinking alkaline water. These foods can easily be added to almost every meal or by simply making sure to include these anti inflammatory choices once a day. These food choices help to balance the bacterias and aid in the natural gut process to create more good bacteria. When we think of what we plan to eat for the day, try to include as much anti inflammatory and high in probiotic items as possible. There really cannot be too much anti inflammatory options in your diet. In the world we live in today, we are exposed too often to inflammatory internal and external factors that create an inflamed and oxidized body. This healthy diet structure also helps to keep our body and skin youthful by fighting off our oxidized cells and keeping an antioxidant flow through the body.
Pre and probiotics are components of some of these healthy foods and they help to keep the biome of the gut balanced and at a healthy pH. Probiotics exist in fermented foods and they help the “good” bacteria thrive while helping to eliminate the “bad” bacteria. The gut pH is a low, acidic pH to help digest foods more readily but when the pH is out of whack, this is where we can have problems. Gut Ph is so important to keep balanced because when the gut becomes unbalanced this is when 'dis-ease' occurs. Diseases that the gut can help avoid or recover quickly from would be anything from the common ulcer to a bad case of the flu or even in killing carcinogens causing cancer. Ulcers are the consequence of bad bacteria build up and an unbalanced pH in the stomach lining. Gut micro biome is not exclusively maintained by diet but also stress levels. The well-known ulcer is created by an increase in stress hormone cortisol secretion coupled with a diet that does not make up for the increased bad bacteria levels. So, a healthy balanced pH diet with stress maintenance will pave the way for a healthy gut and allow for stronger and better immunity. When the gut is happy and balanced we can almost avoid or quickly recover from most diseases that can make many people sick.
Processed foods like sugar or meats actually break down the stomach and intestinal lining that directly impact how efficient the got micro biome is at fighting off disease. Many studies have been conducted to show a direct relationship between gut health and impacts of disease. Many of these studies include using probiotics as a treatment/prevention plan for the patients. As many probiotics blends are on the market these days we need to be informed about how they actually work and which ones will have the most efficient impact on the gut. When it comes to probiotics, there are many different strains of these “good” bacterias. According to many of these studies, the bacterias need to be strong enough to thrive in our low, or acidic, pH tummies. Our stomachs have an acidic ph to help break down food we eat. But when we are looking for probiotics on the shelves to purchase we need to look for three thriving strains that can survive in the gut. Probiotics blends can be expensive and knowing more about the product you are buying is very important. The three strains that thrive most efficiently in the gut pH are lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus, and bifidobacterium lactus. If you can find probiotic blends that have high levels of these strains you can be more confident that they will do their job. A study I presented in college showed the comparison of an unhealthy gut to an increase risk in non alcoholic liver disease and how probiotics helped to alter the gut-liver axis coupled with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. These lifestyle changes helped significantly decrease weight and cholesterol levels and increased healthy gut bacteria to help reverse changes in the liver and in some cases help patients come to liver disease remission.
Other bacterial changes to consider for your gut are antibiotics. Antibiotics are extremely important when we have certain types of infection, however, when you are feeling a little under the weather consider your body's innate ability to heal before jumping to the doc for antibiotics. Although more often letting the body recover on its own takes longer, sometimes the use of antibiotics can have more adverse affects than you started with. When we do have a bacterial infection, doctors are quick to prescribe antibiotics to combat the illness and get you back up and running. Although these are definitely necessary at times, we tremendously impact our gut with these high powered bacteria killing medications. They affect the gut and can lead to more disease and Ph imbalance. Yeast infections are common after the use of antibiotics because the medication throws off the gut Ph and that creates an overgrowth of candida, causing the yeast infection. When taking antibiotics its important to also take probiotics to avoid these secondary infections in women.
Happy tummies give us more energy, an ability to heal efficiently, regular patterns of sleep and digestion, healthier brains, and a better quality of life. The gut and immunity are the ultimate relationship that manage the life we live. A compromised immune system can be a large factor in our mortality. Taking control of your diet through incorporating gut healthy foods will help to live a longer, healthier and therefore happier life.
■Prasad, J., Gill, H., Smart, J., & Gopal, P. K. (1998). Selection and Characterisation of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium Strains for Use as Probiotics. International Dairy Journal, 8(12), 993-1002. doi:10.1016/s0958-6946(99)00024-2