If you've struggled with digestive issues, you've likely heard or read about “good” and “bad” bacteria. And, as with most things’ health-related, when the balance is upset that's when the problems start.
Bacteria is usually something people try and avoid, however, what most people may not realize is that it's always with us. In fact, there are more bacteria in your intestines than there are cells in your entire body. In spite of the negative connotation the word conjures up in our minds, not all bacteria are bad.
Too much bad bacteria creates an imbalance, or dysbiosis and can wreak havoc, causing things like diarrhea, constipation, weight gain, chronic health issues, auto-immune issues, skin problems, SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), leaky gut – all those things we feel rumbling around inside, literally.
So, the question then becomes,
“WHAT CAUSES DISRUPTION TO THIS DELICATE BALANCE AND WHAT CAN WE DO TO RESTORE IT?"
There are more than 100 trillion bacteria in our gut that make up what we call the “gut flora” and keeping that gut flora healthy is vital for keeping the micro-biome balanced, which allows us to achieve and maintain optimal health. What we do as far as diet and lifestyle, along with environmental factors, and the stress from any of these, either positively or negatively affects gut flora and impacts our overall health.
Stress, as presented in a 2008 study following college students at exam time, showed an increase in harmful bacteria, while at the same time found the helpful bacteria decreased. Lack of sleep was also shown to disrupt the balance, even after being deprived for just two nights. We all know smoking is not good for the lungs, but did you also know it prevents gut bacteria from diversifying and doubles your risk for Crohn's disease? Another study found that those who exercise regularly, even at low to moderate intensity, have a greater abundance of health-promoting bacteria. Many people like to enjoy a drink now and again, however, when taken to excess, inflammation caused by the alcohol alters the micro-biome in the colon. Again, you are not doing your body any favours. Antibiotics have long since known to be a cause of poor gut health. Although we do sometimes need them to battle bacterial infections, they destroy all bacteria – good and bad – in the process of helping you get well. Healthy bacteria typically start to return anywhere between one and four weeks but does not normally come back up to the same levels and in fact, can remain like this for up to 2 years. You can see by the length of time it takes for good bacteria to fully recover, how some may end up living in a constant state of imbalance and ill health.
Healthy, good bacteria are important for proper digestion, production of vitamin K, folate, short-chain fatty acids and they help destroy bad bacteria.
GOOD NEWS IS, THERE ARE SOME THINGS WE CAN DO TO HELP CREATE AND MAINTAIN HEALTHY GUT BACTERIA, BALANCE GUT FLORA AND ENJOY A HEALTHY MICRO-BIOME.
What we eat or do not eat, has a direct correlation with our level of internal health. Diets lacking in a variety of nutrient dense foods, limit the diversity of good bacteria, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and restore healthy bacteria following antibiotic treatments. Diets high in sugar as well as refined foods that turn to sugar when we eat them, actually feed bad bacteria and cause imbalance in the gut flora. Eliminating sugars and replacing refined foods with nutrient-rich fruits and veggies, cuts off the fuel supply to the bad bacteria and begins feeding the good, to help restore balance and health.
Pro-biotics are very popular and many people with digestive issues are using them. Pro-biotics are actual live, good bacteria. They are found in fermented foods or can be purchased as a supplement. Although that sounds like the perfect solution to restore healthy gut bacteria, using pro-biotics alone may only provide temporary relief. Without “feeding” the new healthy bacteria, any positive results may be short lived. Enter pre-biotics. Pre-biotics are an undigestible fibre that passes through the upper digestive tract and stimulates the growth and activity of good bacteria. World renown heart surgeon and health advocate, Dr. Steven Gundry even goes so far as to say that pro-biotics are useless unless taken with a pre-biotic. Just like pro-biotics, pre-biotics are found in some foods (garlic, leeks, onions, bananas, apples, flaxseed, cocoa; jicama to name a few) and can also be purchased as a supplement.
NOW WHAT IF YOU'RE DOING THE RIGHT THINGS AND STILL AREN'T GETTING RESULTS?
If you're putting the right foods into your body, exercising, non-smoker, etc., and are still not getting relief, you need to look at your environment. Stress, as we touched on at the beginning, plays a huge role in the outcome of your health. Stress causes the body to go into “fight or flight” mode. The body restricts blood flow to the viscera, (gut and organs) sending it instead to the arms and legs in preparation to either fight or run away. This is very helpful in escaping or avoiding dangerous situations. However, living “stressed out”, even if you are putting all those good things into your body, lowers the immune system and deprives the gut, organs and even the brain of blood flow and necessary nutrients.
If you're experiencing one or more of the conditions I’ve referred to, or any digestive or health issues at all, I encourage you to begin taking steps to eliminate stress, restore gut flora and create an environment for your body to thrive. Bottom line here is, you want to create healthy gut flora and balanced micro-biome. And in order to do that, you need to listen to your gut!
Tania, owner/founder of FIT Nutrition, is currently one of only five health professionals licensed and certified in Canada to coach a proven, three-phase program providing education on the importance of blood sugar stabilization, not dieting.