Ensuring healthy gut bacteria is one of the most important things you can do for your future health.
Many of us aren’t aware of the extent to which our health is in the ‘hands’ of an army of benevolent microbes! Studies are showing that these microbes (collectively called our microbiome) determine more about our health and mental wellbeing than we may have realised.
Our microbiome consists of about 100 trillion bacterial cells, the highest concentration of which is in your gut.
Most of these microbes are beneficial, with only around 5% associated with disease. In fact, studies have associated a healthy microbiome with a lower incidence of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, asthma, depression, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, colic, Parkinson’s and many allergies.
- The bacteria in the human gut can weigh over 4lbs!
- Bacteria may influence our behaviour via the 100 million neurons in the gut
- The types of foods you eat have an impact on your microbiome
- Recent studies show that analysis of the bacteria in your gut can predict obesity with an accuracy of more than 90%
- The microbiome plays an important role in immune related diseases and disorders
It’s incredible to think that so much of our health and wellbeing depends on this population of bacteria in our gut!
Unfortunately modern life hasn’t been kind to our gut bacteria. Processed foods, insufficient fibre and frequent antibiotic use are not conducive to a diverse microbiome.
So what can you do to encourage a more diverse, ‘healthy’ microbiome?
- Eat more fermented foods: fermented foods like sauerkraut are created when bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food to create lactic acid. This process of natural fermentation creates an incredibly digestible food, bursting with beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins and various strains of probiotics.
- Eat more plant foods rich in prebiotics: A plant based diet naturally supports a healthy microbiome. Chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, asparagus and onions are particularly good sources of a type of fibre called FOS (fructooligosaccharides), which can help to maintain healthy gut flora. The fibre passes into the colon and promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. For optimal gut health eat a wide variety of different whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Aim for 30 different plant foods a week.
- Yoghurt and kefir: high in protein and easier to digest than milk due to the presence of live cultures of beneficial bacteria which make it a partly pre-digested food. Stick to natural yoghurts as flavoured yoghurts tend to be high in sugar.
Should I Take a Probiotic Supplement?
More research is needed to increase our understanding of the benefits of healthy people taking probiotics, however, there is well documented research to support taking a probiotic supplement to help in the following situations;
- After taking a course of antibiotics; antibiotics can wipe-out the protective gut bacteria – probiotics can help to restore it.
- If you are lactose intolerant; a certain strain of probiotics, Lactobacillus acidophilus, may help reduce the stomach cramps, flatulence and diarrhoea associated with lactose intolerance.
- If you suffer from IBS; probiotics are reported to reduce the associated bloating and discomfort.