We have all heard that having healthy gut flora is important for a healthy immune system but gut bacteria has so many other functions essential to optimal health. The old saying, “good health starts in the gut “, couldn’t have made it any simpler. If you look after your digestive health and nourish your body with wholefoods, including a good dose of fermented foods, you’ll be well on your way to optimal health.
I know what you’re thinking… “I eat a healthy diet and I still suffer from fatigue, headaches, digestive troubles, hormonal imbalance” and the list goes on!
The issue is by the time an imbalance has expressed itself as symptoms in the body, the underlying issues have probably been there for a long time. So many things can disrupt the balance of good gut bacteria and once this imbalance takes hold, damage can be done to the gut lining, making it vulnerable to certain toxins, parasites and undigested foods resulting in a gut that has become more permeable, or “leaky”.
By this time bloating and a fuzzy head is certainly the least of your worries, let’s throw in some altered bowel motions, lots of gas and some fructose malabsorption for good measure, lots of aches and pains and you’re well on your way to the land of inflammation and autoimmunity!
It sounds like doom and gloom, but we know that inflammatory based disease is on the rise and if we can understand more about how we can prevent chronic disease it doesn’t have to be on the horizon.
What are the functions of healthy gut bacteria and how important is it to have loads of it?
To know why these tiny guys are super important to our health, we need to know what the actual functions of healthy gut bacteria are. Good gut bacteria is needed for a healthy immune system but did you know there are many other functions of this special layer lining the digestive tract?
– Healthy gut flora has the ability to neutralise toxic substances like nitrates, heavy metals and other carcinogenic poisons, absorbing them and preventing them from harming our cells.
– They produce anti-biotic like substances to work against pathogenic micro-organisms that can invade our bodies.
– They keep opportunistic and pathogenic microbes at bay by ensuring the pH near to the gut wall is acidic and not alkaline, which is the type of environment needed for the bad guys to thrive.
– Gut flora provides nourishment and energy for the cells on the gut wall. The health of the gut wall is essential to how we absorb nutrients into our body.
– Gut flora has an active part in the digestion and absorption of food. It can break down protein, fats, fibre and carbohydrates. The metabolites of bacterial activity can help to transport nutrients through the gut wall into our blood stream. It could be suggested that without healthy gut flora you may not be getting the most out of your healthy diet!
– Healthy gut flora is essential to activate and synthesize nutrients like vitamin K2 and all of our B vitamins including folic acid.
– We also need healthy gut flora to be able to digest fibre and lactose, the sugar in milk. Your body won’t be able to benefit from healthy fibre found in wholefoods without the help of healthy gut bacteria to break it down. In fact, if the digestive tract is out of balance and there is an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria present, fibre will actually feed this bacteria causing irritation to the gut wall and digestive function
How can we ensure our gut flora is healthy and thriving?
First we need to know what can damage the balance of gut flora. There are a number of dangers that our gut flora has to contend with on a regular basis, especially in our modern busy world, these include:
– A diet full of processed foods will have a detrimental effect on the gut flora. Processed carbohydrates such as breads, cereals and pasta can increase the numbers of different fungi (Candida) and pathogenic bacteria in the gut. These nasties will literally feed on the sugars found in these foods, making it difficult for our healthy gut bacteria to keep numbers under control.
– Long term stress can cause damage to the gut flora.
– Anti-biotic use can cause devastating effects to our healthy gut flora, wiping out various strands of indigenous flora and leaving opportunity for pathogenic bacteria to repopulate the gut if pro-biotics are not administered within a specific window of time after use.
– The oral contraceptive pill, pain killers and steroid drugs can also damage our healthy gut flora leading to dysbiosis and the overgrowth of many disease causing pathogenic bacteria.
Two important ways to promote healthy gut bacteria
1. Eat a diet full of wholefoods with balanced ratios of protein, fats and carbohydrates. Minimal sugar and processed foods will be beneficial and ensure that your meals are not always dominated by grain based carbohydrates.
2. Add some probiotics foods into your diet such as fermented vegetables, kefir, kombucha and natural yoghurt.
These measures may help improve digestive health but for a tummy that is already struggling with uncomfortable symptoms more support may be needed, Emma Tipppett, Naturopath and GAPS practitioner specialises in digestive health and can guide you through the process of how to heal your gut!