This article is written by Allen Brown.
The digestive tract. One of the body’s most mysterious organs. Other than its enormous length and the fact that it is embedded in a much smaller body, science tells us that within the digestive tract lives over a trillion microorganisms. Over four thousand different species of microbes happen to inhabit the gastrointestinal tract; each with its unique, specialized role in the digestive process.
From metabolizing basic nutrients to harmful substances gut bacteria, also known as gut flora, prove to be of a high value to our bodies. Those tiny, noodle-shaped, blobs affect several aspects of the body. They control weight levels in the body, they are responsible for our intestinal health as a good balance between the bacteria prevents diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and most surprisingly, they also have an impact on mental health; at least the physical part of it.
Some bacteria are capable of producing different types of neurotransmitters which transfer messages from the nerves to the brain. Now, guess what happens to be one of those neurotransmitters. That’s right, serotonin, a powerful antidepressant neurotransmitter. In fact, several researchers have proven that most people with mental disorders had a species of gut bacteria that differed from those possessed by relatively healthier people.
Above, we mentioned that there is a balance of gut flora that needs to be kept at a certain level. There are several ways to do that in order to keep your gut flora diverse, healthy and working at full capacity. Keep in mind that at the end of the day, they are living organisms and they benefit from us the same way we benefit from them.
There are two parts when it comes to maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria; same with everything, there are things that you should do and things you should avoid like crappy movie sequels.
What Should You Stay Away from?
“But they fight diseases,” you might say.
Well, it is true that they fight diseases but, once you remember that we are talking about bacteria, it does not become much of a shock for many people.
There are harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E.coli and the infamous Mycobacterium tuberculosis. On the other hand, there are healthy bacteria like, lactobacillus, which actually treats some ailments such as; eczema and diarrhea.
Antibiotics are like huge machines of mass destruction, they do not possess the power to tell the difference between good and bad bacteria. For them, it is simply, seek and destroy. They are good at it because they have been specifically made for that purpose only. This means that when an antibiotic enters the gut, it’s Armageddon for our microscopic amigos.
On the other hand, if an alternative is not available and you must use an antibiotic, accompanying it with a probiotic is one thing you can do to limit the drawbacks and keep the numbers of the “friendly” bacteria high enough.
According to an article in the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases journal, smoking is one of the factors that lead to Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. Not only that, but also, smoking leads to a significant decrease in microbial diversity.
One factor that sets apart our gut from other organs in the digestive tract is the massively diverse number of microbes. The diversity indicates a healthy system since different species of bacteria perform different functions and contribute in their own unique way to overall gut health. As it has been proven by the medical journal mentioned above, smoking compromises this diversity by killing off genomes of some of the microbiota in the gut.
Personal note: I genuinely apologize for what you are about to read because desserts are awesome and tasty, and in a life fully dominated by hardships, such simple pleasures should not be taken away.
Unfortunately, sugar does not only mean the marketing name for sucrose, but it also means the raw material which is in almost every processed food manufactured today. In other words, if it is packaged, it has sugar.
The reason sugar is no good for gut health is fairly simple. Sugar and processed foods are made of simple carbs, monosaccharides; only one molecule of glucose or fructose. They are very easy to digest and by the time they reach the small intestine, they are already ready for absorption; gut microbes don’t need to do anything.
Our relationship with gut flora is mutually beneficial, they help break down what we eat by taking some of it for themselves. A diet that mainly consists of simple carbohydrates means that gut flora are left with nothing to eat for a very long time. As they starve, some of them die but, most start eating through layers of our small intestines causing inflammations.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you should completely abstain from eating sugar. You can still do that but, in moderation; as long as you remember to give your little buddies something to eat, you will be okay.
Our bodies are designed to release adrenaline whenever they sense danger. Among the adrenaline’s various effects, it tells the body to redirect all blood flow to the necessary muscles needed to escape said danger. This additional blood has to come from somewhere, this somewhere happens to be the digestive tract for digestion is not deemed as essential during fight or flight mode.
Funny enough, stressing about your finances or your accumulating university/work deadlines elicits the same response from the body as that of being chased down by a pack of flesh-eating zombies (the running kind not the clumsy walkers). In both cases the body releases adrenaline.
Stressing for prolonged periods of time causes adrenaline to stay in the bloodstream for long periods of time and in turn, its effects which happen to result in the digestive tract remaining without fresh blood. Such an environment is not optimal for the good bacteria; survival becomes more difficult for each strand and the gut flora population ends up with so little diversity.
Furthermore, stress leads to the gastrointestinal tract becoming more permeable, leading to the release of undigested food particles into the bloodstream; a condition also known as, leaky gut, which means that neither the body nor the gut bacteria will be receiving much nutrients. So, while the state of the body deteriorates, gut bacteria will be eating through the gut wall. Overall, it is not a good thing.
What Should You Do Instead?
Now that you know how to cut your losses, prevent and predict any further damages to your gut flora, it is time to know more about what you should do in order to stimulate their growth, preserve their diversity and maintain the balance between them and the evil gut bacteria. Following these steps will ensure that you keep the bacteria at bay.
1. Keep Your Body Guessing
One of the best things you can do is to make sure that your diet consists of all food groups, as well as, different items from each group. For example, when eating fruits, it is preferable to eat different kinds of fruits rather than stick to apples.
This diversity in food intake guarantees that all species of bacteria in your gut will be receiving their nutrients, thus, growing in size and number which leads to more diversity within the aggregate microbiota population, and consequently, a healthier body and a healthier mind.
I know we talked about probiotics briefly, but, in more details here is why you should try to include probiotics within your diet.
Probiotics increase the amount of friendly bacteria in your gut. They provide the body with an additional amount of bacteria and at the same time, promote the growth of existing bacteria by providing essential nutrients for all strands.
Although probiotics can be taken as supplements in case you need an easy way to get an additional boost of microbes, it is not necessary since they exist naturally in fermented foods such as;
- Yogurt which happens to be the result of fermenting milk using lactic acid bacteria. Note that the bacteria may sometimes be killed during the post-fermentation stage so, checking the label before you buy it goes a long way.
- Sauerkraut is made by allowing cabbage to ferment using lactic acid bacteria, too. One of its advantages is that you don’t have to eat it alone; but instead, you can find easy ways to incorporate it in your diet like using it as a topping on your sandwiches.
These are only two from a wide selection of foods that provide the body with more probiotics.
Note: When you’re shopping for probiotic foods in general – not only yogurt – make sure to read the label because some brands pasteurize their products to kill all bacteria which means you will not be getting any friendly bacteria.
Often confused with probiotics, prebiotics differ a great deal.
For starters, they differ in function. While probiotics provide the body with living bacteria directly, prebiotics only provides the existing bacteria with nutrients. Probiotics are what you should take when you want to increase the total number of bacteria in your gut. On the other hand, prebiotics are what you should take to keep them alive and well.
Secondly, they cannot be obtained from the same sources because of their chemical structure. Prebiotics are usually found in carbohydrates; they are a type of fiber indigestible by the human body yet, highly nutritious to gut bacteria.
Prebiotics are found in several forms but the two most common ones are fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides. You can easily find these prebiotics in plants; try to aim for the more fibrous fruits and vegetables like;
- Chicory Root that contains the highest concentration of insulin found in nature. Inulin is a fructooligosaccharide; a prebiotic fiber known for its popularity among digestive health supplement manufacturers. Chicory is quite bitter if eaten raw so, unless you like the bitter taste, it is better if you cook it. You can get as creative as you want since, it is a highly versatile vegetable that tastes good grilled, steamed or boiled.
- Garlic which, in addition to its beautiful, heavenly taste, contains fibers composed mainly of both, fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides. It contributes greatly to the growth of several types of bacteria including Bifidobacteria; a type of bacteria highly effective in treating various health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, and lung infections. Not to mention that garlic is one of the easiest and cheapest foods to incorporate into your diet as it is a household herb. Bonus tip: add garlic to chicory as it boils for better flavor and a higher prebiotic content.
An amino acid used by the body as a building block for protein. It has an array of benefits which include anti-inflammatory effects, treating the previously mentioned leaky gut and strengthening the gut wall.
Being a building block of protein, it is usually found in foods with high protein content. These include meats, fish, milk, and eggs but, there are also other lesser known sources such as:
- Nuts mostly almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts.
- Cabbage when its raw has a high glutamine content; keep in mind that red cabbage has more L-glutamine than green cabbage.
Although incorporating prebiotics and probiotics in your diet might seem like an arduous task from afar, once you put it as a target in your mind, you won’t find it to be so daunting. You will be surprised by how many prebiotic-rich foods you’ve unknowingly had in your kitchen all along. Be sure to always keep yourself well informed and up to date with new discoveries by doing your fair share of research.
Finally, take into consideration that a little goes a long way; even something as simple as a good night’s sleep, or a cup of yogurt and a handful of nuts to go with your morning coffee will make all the difference. Keeping the information we’ve provided in mind and doing your best to change your lifestyle and the food you allow to enter your body is something that you’re bound to reconsider from here on out.
Author bio: Allen Brown is a keen writer covering a range of topics such as health, family and more! When not writing, he’s found behind a drum kit.
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