Tags: digestive health, probiotics
All disease begins in the gut.
An average-sized human body comprises over 37 trillion cells. Most of them specialize and work in groups, like as skin, muscle or organ, for the common good. Our digestive system breaks food down into proteins and nutrients that cells need to function and communicate. However, good digestion requires the support of a wide range of microbes that live in our gut. They estimate there is 10x more microbes living in our gut than cells in the body.
“‘Gut health’ is a term increasingly used in the medical literature and by the food industry. It covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a state of well-being.”
— research paper
Our gut has turned out to have more neurons that our brain, leading to the term “gut brain”. The gut is also a central part of our immune system.
The microbes help us and we support them. But if some of them get carried away and overpopulate, we need to bring them back into balance.
For example, if we have too much sugar (including low quality carbs) in our diet, microbes like yeast (candida) become excessive. The yeast signals a demand for more sugar and we crave it. But anything in excess overwhelms the other microbes and throws the gut balance off. What we need to properly digest other foods is reduced.
This is chronic for some people. Too far out of balance and GI issues migrate to other parts of the body causing skin problems (thrush, age spots, rashes, adult acne), yeast infections, bloating, food and chemical sensitivities, bad breath, chronic fatigue, allergies, reduced immune function, stubborn gut fat, reduced serotonin (happiness), and so forth. Every piece of research I looked at had still more that could be added to this list.
This process can lead to the gut barrier being compromised, leaking particles into the blood stream and on into places they don’t belong. Known as “leaky gut”, this leads to increased infections, inflammatory problems, metabolic disorders and intestinal diseases. Research suggests gut imbalance can have a key role in autoimmune diseases.
Our modern diet has a few foods said to cause the most trouble with gut health.
1 – azodicarbonamide – an additive to whiten flour that is banned in the EU and other places but legal in N. America. It’s widely used in fast food buns.
2 – diet soda – the artificial sweeteners. Yeast loves all sweeteners.
3 – coffee – due to its acidity. Even worse with added sugar, especially found in fancy coffees.
4 – alcohol – kills friendly microbes
You may recognize some of these from the cancer risk list too.
A lean chicken burger and diet soda isn’t as healthy as you might think. More so if this is your regular diet.
Another thing to mess with gut health is antibiotics. They are very useful for bringing problem microbes under control but do this by cutting a wide swath. It’s thus important to restore our microbiome after taking antibiotics. NSAIDs like aspirin and Advil can also cause trouble.
“The effect of ciprofloxacin [an antibiotic] on the gut microbiota was profound and rapid, with a loss of diversity and a shift in community composition occurring within 3–4 d[oses] of drug initiation. By 1 wk after the end of each course, communities began to return to their initial state, but the return was often incomplete.”
— research paper
If we restore gut balance, the many symptoms subside. However, starving the sugar-loving yeast can take several months. Even if we fast for a few days and break the sugar craving, until gut balance is restored, there will be a much greater tendency to “fall off the wagon” on diets, etc.
To restore gut health, you need sources of healthy microbes like:
2) fermented veggies like Sauerkraut or Kimchi
3) probiotic supplements
Probiotic yogurt is a popular solution these days but commercial yogurt is usually pasteurized for longevity, killing the microbes. Most also have added sugar.
Ironically, if you have a yeast issue, fermented foods like sauerkraut may cause more bloating. They become more suitable after some balance is restored for maintaining balance.
Thus, a supplement is a good idea to restore gut health. You want one with billions of microbes and a number of strains. Somewhat like a good multivitamin.
(Unless you have a specific issue like Crohn’s that is better served by very specific strains.)
My local health food store recommended a more expensive one with more strains and numbers for post-antibiotics but a regular one for general restoration.
These probiotic supplements don’t last for more than a couple of weeks in the gut but they “elbow out” the bad guys and give the chance for beneficial microbes to get reestablished.
When you begin a supplement, it’s common to notice quick changes with digestion and elimination. Even with a colicky baby for a supplementing nursing mother.
Foods recommended to feed your gut flora (called prebiotic) included whole oranges, bananas, artichokes, yams, lentils and garlic. Overall, you want a diet emphasizing whole foods with a plant base for optimum health.