Not all bacteria are bad for our health, and many are needed to flourish. While it might initially make you squeamish to think about, we share our bodies, inside and out with tens of trillions of microbes! More microbes are living with our human cells than there are human cells in our bodies. Living commensally and symbiotically throughout your body and especially in the gut, these microbes help synthesize vitamins, contribute to digesting your food and increasing nutrient absorption, help your immune system fight infection and even help balance your mood! The bacteria found in the human gut alone can weigh over four pounds! Our gut microbiota is a part of what links us to others, and partly what makes us unique. About one-third of your gut microbes is shared in common with other people. The other two-thirds are as unique to you as a fingerprint. So, what are they doing in there? Let’s explore some of the ways bacteria can improve your health.
What are the bacteria doing in our guts?
These microbes help to break down food particles that you have not been able to digest on your own. While our stomachs and small intestines contain important acids and enzymes to break down our food, some foods are not completely broken down until they find their way to helpful bacteria to complete the job. Fiber-rich foods including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are especially beneficial to these bacteria as well as to our health. The breakdown of specific foods may also be reliant on specific gut bacteria to break them down. Seaweed, for example, needs enzymes from marine bacteria to be digested.
They also synthesize several important vitamins, such as the spectrum of B vitamins and Vitamin K. Just as important as a multivitamin, these microbes are hard at work creating the nutrients their friendly hosts need.
Microbes form a barrier in our intestines to keep the bad bugs out. Just like a good neighborhood, if your intestines are full of good bacteria doing their best to be helpful, there is just no room for the bad guys to move in. Instead, as potentially harmful bacteria may enter your intestines, they are simply swept along to your colon with no chance to move in and set up shop.
Regulating body weight
Researchers are looking into the ways our gut health affects our weight. Studies have shown that some gut bacteria are more able to convert carbohydrates into energy and that having a population of these bacteria make it difficult to lose weight. When compared to people with other kinds of bacteria on the same diet and exercise regimen, the weight came off more slowly or not at all.
Beneficial gut bacteria help the lining of your intestines to recognize pathogens and neutralize them quickly. Studies have shown that positive gut bacteria reduce signs of inflammation in the intestines which in turn reduce inflammation throughout the body.
If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from anxiety, depression or other mood regulatory disorders, your gut bacteria may be to blame. Current research shows that the communication between our brains and our digestive organs, including the microbiome within our digestive organs is close and constant. Current research is looking for answers as to how and why our moods are affected by the health of our gut flora.
Supporting our health means supporting the health of our gut bacteria. So, how can we support our diverse, busy, individual and helpful microbiomes? Here are a few tips:
Eat a rainbow for your bacteria!
This means eating a range of fruits and vegetables. While at some point we might know which types of bacteria like which foods best, for now, we just know our bacteria really like diversity. Try a new fruit, vegetable or herb from your grocery store or farmers market. For an in-town adventure, travel to a new neighborhood and purchase something you’ve never eaten before.
Eat more fiber. While it is recommended that we eat twenty-eight to thirty-five grams of fiber a day, most adults get far less than that. You can consider a fiber supplement, but eating a well-balanced diet of plant-based foods, including whole grains will get you closer to the ideal number of grams. The more fiber you eat, the more your microbes will thank you.
Eat probiotic foods.
These include things like yogurt, fermented cheeses, sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. You can even make fermented foods at home and experiment with different vegetables.
Take supplements to support your microbiome.
These will include prebiotics as well as probiotics. Probiotics are the organisms themselves and prebiotics are the things that support them. You will also want to balance the flora throughout your intestines. If you have slow digestion, have needed to take antibiotics or have a history of a poor diet, your gut bacteria might be populating the wrong parts of your gastrointestinal tract. In severe cases, some people are diagnosed with SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). Some of the symptoms of an imbalanced gut include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, nausea, fatigue, and foggy-headedness. Dr. Todd Watts from Microbe Formulas says that the good form of gut bacteria do not belong in the small intestine, but instead they belong in the colon. He has created a line of supplements that optimally support your microbes right where they are supposed to be! By harmonizing gut motility you can get the right bacteria in the right places. This can have a widespread effect on your health.
Talk about your gut health with your healthcare providers.
Certain patterns of abdominal pain, gas, bloating and bowel habits can be signs of an underlying imbalance or disorder. As research about gut bacteria improves, more practitioners are educated about ways to help.
There is a lot of research going into what makes up a healthy gut bacteria and a healthy microbiome. We can look forward to knowing a lot more details about what to do to support our beneficial, invisible friends so that they can, in turn, help us live full, busy and satisfying lives. For now, let’s do our best to support ourselves and our microbes with a healthy diet, great supplements, and holistic lifestyle. Your immune system, digestion, and mood will thank you for it!