Tending to Your Microbiome
We now understand that the GI tract is a highly evolved microbiome (the combined mircroorganisms found in a particular environment) that serves as the body’s second brain. In fact, the specific types and ratios of organisms your gut contains determines how your body responds to the food you eat—whether it’s used for immediate energy or stored for future use; recognized as a source of beneficial nutrients or rejected as a pathogen.
Gut microbes can actually cause food cravings by influencing taste receptors. Researchers have determined that women who crave chocolate, for example, have different bacteria colonies than those who don’t—and that those food cravings can be eliminated if they’re not fed.
The dramatic increase in gastrointestinal disorders has been conclusively linked to the over prescription of antibiotics, which not only kill disease-causing bad bacteria but health-enhancing good bacteria. Like it or not, the inside and outside of our bodies are populated by all kinds of bacteria, both beneficial and harmful. In fact, the bacteria in our bodies outnumber the cells in our bodies by about 10:1.
Most of these bacteria live in the gut. In a healthy digestive system, the beneficial bacteria render the harmful bacteria benign. And they are always on duty, manufacturing vitamins (including vitamin K and some of the B vitamins) and endlessly patching holes in the intestinal lining to prevent pathogens from entering the bloodstream. In fact, these actions account for 80% of the immune system’s total activity.
Most adults have at least six or seven different kinds of bacteria or flora living in their gut. The two most common are the Firmicutes, which help with the conversion of energy from food. And the Bacteroidetes, which rob their host of energy. Those with fewer Lactobacilli are more predisposed to suffering from anxiety, hypertension, and sleep disorders. Recent research has shown that traumatic injuries and illness can alter the type of bacteria living in the gut. These changes can significantly impair the recovery process.
While the wrong bacteria in the wrong place can cause problems, the right bacteria in the right place can have numerous health benefits. This is why probiotics have become an increasingly popular, dietary supplement. In Greek, the word probiotic literally means ‘for life.’
The use of probiotic supplements does, in fact, enhance both our physical and mental health. They have been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of:
- Depression and anxiety
- LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
- Blood pressure
- Immune dysfunction
- Skin disorders
- Systemic inflammation, the underlying cause of many diseases
Supporting and encouraging the growth of a balanced probiotic population is the key to achieving better gut health. In general, whole foods—not supplements—are always the preferred form of probiotic support; they are more active, more easily absorbed, and effectively utilized. So it’s important to eat a variety of live cultures from fermented foods like kombucha, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kim chi. Many women can, however, also benefit from the use of a probiotic supplement.
The probiotic puzzle can be difficult to piece together since no two individuals house the same strains or amounts of intestinal flora. We are all different–inside and out. New scientific evidence, however, suggests that certain probiotic bacteria strains do appear to yield consistently positive results among diverse populations of women.
One of the major issues with many probiotic products on the market is that they do not survive the body’s harsh, digestive environment. Bacillus probiotics, however, are spore-forming bacteria that are heat stable and able to survive passage through the acidic stomach and into the gut where they impart a range of tangible, health benefits. While Bacillus strains have been used in probiotic formulations in Europe for over 50 years, spore-based probiotics have only become popular in the United States during the last decade.
Spore-based probiotics come from the soil, which humans have been interacting with since the beginning of time. We evolved eating food covered with it and getting our hands and bodies dirty with it. So it should not come as a huge surprise that the human immune system has adaptively learned how to derive health benefits from it. Bacillus microbes are an integral part of our natural flora; and our bodies know exactly what to do with them. In fact, it’s their absence, not their presence, that typically disrupts normal immunity and metabolism.
In an effort to protect the probiotic population living in your gut, it’s best to avoid antibiotics whenever possible, anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s) including Ibuprofen, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods. All of these increase the prevalence of Firmicutes, the intestinal bacteria or microbes that are most efficient at extracting sugar from carbohydrates. The greater prevalence of this bacterial division makes it easier for cells to derive energy from otherwise indigestible starches, which encourages fat storage and weight gain.
Prebiotics (non-digestible carbohydrates) are what feed probiotics, allowing them to flourish. In addition to supporting the general health of the gut biome, the use of prebiotics may increase calcium absorption and bone mineral density, particularly in postmenopausal women.
Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, oatmeal, apples, and slightly-green bananas are all good sources of prebiotics. Potatoes that have been cooked and cooled are also an excellent source; the starch they contain becomes modified (and resistant to digestion) during the cooking and cooling process.
And consider using a gastrointestinal supplement such as Clear Colon Defense to relieve one of many disorders associated with toxin build up, working to actively cleanse your body, balance your intestinal flora, and expel toxins. By supporting your gut microbiome you will boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, increase your all-day energy, and repair your body on a cellular level.