Why our Gut Health Depends on More Than Just Good Bacteria
Photo © Antonika Chanel
Have you heard the term “gut health” and “good bacteria” thrown around a lot? It’s not just hype — there have been many research studies that have emphasised the importance of gut health and good bacteria and how they can directly affect your health and well-being. If you do not know much about gut health, it is more than just how you digest food. Gut health affects mood, memory, mental health, obesity, diabetes and more.
How does gut health work?
Your gut is full of trillions of bacteria that are also known as microbiomes. Microbiomes are a massive colony of diversified bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. However, not all of these bacteria are bad. In fact, the “good bacteria” has many roles and can provide many benefits to the body.
Here's how good bacteria can improve your health:
- Ensures that harmful bacteria in the gut does not colonise.
- Regulates the immune system in the gut.
- Maintains the physical intestinal barrier to protect against infection.
- Produces blood-clotting protein, which is Vitamin K.
- Regulates inflammation in the body.
Your gut health is extremely important to your body, and there are many ways that you can ensure your gut is as healthy as possible.
So, how can you maintain your gut health?
1. Incorporate probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are the most researched solutions to gut health because they are full of good bacteria making them highly beneficial to both the body and gut health. They are defined as “microbial food supplements that beneficially affect the host by improving its intestinal microbial balance.”
Probiotics are live microorganisms also known as good bacteria that repopulate the microbes in the gut, absorb nutrients, fight infection and can be found in both food and supplements. When taken, the live bacteria in the probiotics make their way down to the gut where they work their magic and repopulate the good bacteria and can change the overall dynamic of the bacteria strains to keep the diversity of bacteria changing. The more bacteria strains in the probiotic, the most diverse the bacteria in your gut will be, and the healthier you will be. Probiotics are so essential to gut health that scientists are saying that probiotic supplements can be more important to your body than a daily vitamin.
2. Incorporate prebiotics into your diet. When gut health is discussed, probiotics are usually the first thing to come to mind. However, prebiotics is just as important. Prebiotics are officially defined as “a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and activity in the gastrointestinal microflora, which confers benefits.”
In other words, they are non-digestible fibres that promote the health of the host by feeding the good bacteria in the gut. Since the human body is unable to fully break down prebiotics, they pass through the upper gastrointestinal tract undigested and make their way to the colon where they are then used to ferment the gut microflora. Because probiotics are live microorganisms, the prebiotics is used to ultimately feed those microorganisms to grow more good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics and prebiotics work hand in hand and have many benefits for gut health. Foods that are rich in prebiotics include ripe bananas, garlic, onions, leek, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, oats, wheat bran and dandelion greens.
3. Eat more fermented foods. Fermented foods are known to strengthen your gut microbiome because they are full of probiotics. Over a century ago, Elie Metchnikoff, a Nobel Prize winner, theorised that “health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in yoghurt.” Throughout history, fermentation was used to preserve foods for a more extended period. However, with today’s technology and refrigeration, fermentation is no longer needed which means that we are not getting as many probiotics that our ancestors did. Luckily, fermented foods that are beneficial to gut health are readily available and are not restricted to just sauerkraut. Other fermented foods full of good bacteria include kombucha, kimchi, yoghurt, kefir, pickles, tempeh and miso.
4. Only take antibiotics when necessary. Scientists have discovered that while antibiotics kill the harmful bacteria in the body, they also kill the good bacteria in our body as well. Antibiotics have a profound effect on microbiota because the overuse of them is correlated with an increase of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. This can result in a long-term decrease in the diversity of the bacteria in the gut (remember that bacteria diversity is good). While antibiotics are found in the medicine you get at the doctor when you aren’t feeling well, they are also found in many foods such as chicken. Therefore, you want to pay attention to food labels and look for labels that say “antibiotic-free” to ensure good gut health.
5. Be conscious of your food choices. As much as society loves their processed foods, sugars and artificial ingredients, these foods have absolutely no positive effects for gut health. Unfortunately, these foods deplete the good bacteria in the gut and can affect gut health within just a few hours of eating.
Instead, try incorporating more gut-friendly foods into your diet other than fermented foods and probiotic supplements. Lucky for you, gut-friendly foods are waist-friendly too! Mangoes are great for gut health because they aid in keeping the good bacteria alive. A study conducted at Oklahoma State University unveiled that eating just one mango a day can help maintain gut health, control blood sugar and reduce body fat. Foods in the cruciferous family also help support a happy and healthy gut because they contain distinct compounds that can be utilised by gut bacteria. These foods include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage.
Start viewing you and your gut health as a symbiotic relationship. If you practice a healthy, probiotic diet, your microbiome will practice keeping you happy and healthy.
Other sources used in this article can be found at draxe.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, onlinelibrary.wiley.com, sciencedirect.com.