When it comes to your overall health, all roads lead to and through your stomach. That's where your gut is, and it is in your gut where trillions of bacteria reside. That's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, there are what is known as good bacteria (probiotics) and there are bad bacteria, and a core philosophy of staying in good health is making sure the former outnumber the latter. Per webmd.com, there are between 300 and 500 varieties of bacteria containing nearly 2 million genes residing in our gut. Together, with other microscopic organisms such as fungi and viruses, they comprise the microbiota, also known as the microbiome. No two people have the same microbiota – just as it is with fingerprints. There are bacteria throughout our body, but those found in the gut have the most influence on our overall well-being. They are in the digestive system as well as in the intestines and colon, and they affect every aspect of our health, ranging from our metabolism, to our mood to our immune system and, presumably, practically every other aspect of our health in between.
Gut Health Continues Gaining AttentionInterest in gut health is increasing, not only in terms of scientific study but in general awareness among health-conscious people. Per forbes.com, scientific evidence is mounting that gut microbiota plays a vital role when it comes to various health challenges, notably obesity and inflammation. Bottom line: be careful and discriminate about what you put in your stomach. You can take a proactive approach in controlling your health and how you feel by what you eat, beyond just a weight-loss consideration. Always be thinking about your microbiome/microbiota. For example, some gut bacteria in your body are capable of fermenting carbohydrates that are non-digestible to create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). In turn, these fatty acids nourish cells lining our guts while diminishing inflammation and aiding in appetite control, per forbes.com. On the other side of the coin, Studies have shown that deficiency in SCFAs has been associated with many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, says Dr. Liping Zhao, a Rutgers University professor of applied microbiology, quoted at forbes.com.
Caring for Your Gut HealthIf your gut bacteria is out of whack – meaning bad bacteria outnumbering the good, you might experience symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, as well as abdominal pain and cramping, various autoimmune diseases (such as diabetes or fibromyalgia), neuromuscular diseases, and a B12 deficiency, per globalhealingcenter.com. Following are some suggestions for maintaining and, if necessary, restoring your gut health:
- Use probiotics. Various foods contain probiotics, which also are available in nutritional supplement form. These contain various strains of bacteria that help with digesting fiber, absorbing vitamins, and promoting bowel regularity, per globalhealingcenter.com.
- Beware excess reliance on antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria, including those that make you sick. But more and more, doctors are being more judicious about prescribing antibiotics, because the more they are used, the less effective they are as some bugs build up a resistance and become immune to the medicine.
- Add fermented foods to your menu. These contain good bacteria beneficial to the gut, although some store-bought products are pasteurized and can kill good bacteria. See below for some suggested foods good for probiotics consumption.
- Consume less refined sugar. Definitely an enemy of gut health. Per globalhealingcenter.com, this type of sugar can induce the growth of bad bacteria, leading to an imbalance of gut flora. Other unsavory results include inflammation, weight gain, and hormonal imbalance.
- Reduce stress in your life. When you experience stress, your brain sends out chemicals that serve as messages to your gut, and these chemicals can influence the workings of your gut. Meditation, exercise, and diet are among the factors that can help relieve your stress.
Eat Your Way to Optimal Gut HealthHow's your appetite? Ready to eat a lot of bugs? It's OK, we're still talking good bacteria. Following are eight foods that are healthy sources of probiotics, although there are others out there:
- Yogurt. Look for those that carry a notice of live active cultures.
- Kefir. This form of yogurt is 99 percent lactose-free, per health.com.
- Sauerkraut. In another words, cabbage. In ancient times it was fermented for the sake of preservation.
- Sourdough bread. This slightly sour but popular bread contains strains of lactobacillus, a good bacteria. Certainly a healthy choice for diabetics.
- Pickles. Search out those made with brine in place of vinegar.
- Soymilk. Or more specifically, cultured soymilk.
- Chocolate. Not all brands of chocolate have probiotics, but one brand in particular, Attune, per health.com, is bolstered with probiotics.
- Lassi. Not the famous TV canine for those of you who grew up in the '60s. This is a type of smoothie found at Indian restaurants, which is a mix of milk, yogurt, fruit, honey, and cardamom.