You try hard to eat nutritious food. But whether that food results in the health benefits that you expect, depends on the state of your gut – and specifically the balance of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ bacteria in your small intestine.
When you eat, food is mixed with digestive juices from your liver and enzymes in your stomach and then broken down into small molecules of nutrition. These are then absorbed through the walls of the small intestine. From there they enter the blood stream and circulate to reach the cells of your body.
The friendly bacteria in your intestines - called probiotics - not only break down the food you eat into the nutrients that sustain you. They also manufacture several vitamins directly – like vitamin K2 (vital for heart health), folic acid (helps repair damaged DNA) and biotin (helps convert food into glucose for energy).
Unfortunately your gut also contains harmful bacteria like E. coli and C. difficile. The health of your intestines depends on ensuring that there is a much higher proportion of ‘good’ bacteria to ‘bad bacteria. Doctors call the opposite situation Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), a condition where abnormally large numbers of bacteria are present in the small intestine.
This results in a number of health problems - which include elevated internal inflammation, a weakened Immune System, increased susceptibility to allergens, fatigue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and reduced absorption of nutrients.
Gut "good bacteria" provide vitamins and vital biochemicals
Some researchers calculate that your gut microbes provide almost a third of your body's vitamins and important biochemicals like butyric acid.
Butyric acid is an unfamiliar term to most people, but it is vital for your health. It is a fatty acid and exerts an important anti-inflammatory effect on the body. It has been shown to help fight cancer of the colon and improve insulin sensitivity, which helps prevent weight gain - or assist weight loss.
Butyric acid also helps keep the lining of the walls of the gut healthy and sealed well enough to allow nutrients to pass through, whilst keeping toxins or undigested food particles out. If the gut wall – which is only one cell thick - becomes too permeable, the result can be leaky gut syndrome and serious problems linked to a leaky gut like IBS symptoms.
Therefore, to strengthen your body's ability to absorb nutrients and to create beneficial biochemicals like butyric acid, you need to ensure that the good bacteria crowd out the bad bacteria.
That is the role of a high-quality probiotic formula. It not only can boost the number of friendly bacteria, it can boost the variety of bacteria in your intestines.
Since various strains of probiotic act in various places in the digestive tract, ensuring this variety is important.
You should also increase the amount of fermented foods in your diet – like sauerkraut and kimchee – because they contain probiotics.
Since probiotic bacteria are live, they need their own food source. These are called prebiotics and you’ll find them in fibre-rich foods like beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In parallel you should limit your intake of sugar, processed foods and animal fats as they these provide food for unhealthy bugs.
Antibiotics kill good and bad bacteria
You should also be aware that antibiotics — both taken directly as medicine and indirectly from the food supply — wipe out both good and bad bacteria indiscriminately. This can leave your gut compromised and unable to function properly. So taking a probiotic supplement during and after a course of antibiotics is wise.
What could you expect from an effective probiotic supplement?
The vital role of your gut health in your overall health has only recently become fully appreciated. Research is centred on your microbiome – the collection of microbes that are as unique to you as your fingerprints!
As we have seen, the health of your microbiome is critical to so many aspects of your health. So, whilst a probiotic supplement may have only a marginal effect on some people, on others it can have a dramatic effect – and it is worth trying a probiotic supplement for a period of 8 weeks or so.
If your skin is in poor condition, if you have allergies like hay fever, suffer from asthma, struggle to lose weight, suffer from candida or thrush, or IBS, struggle with fibromyalgia, or even if you have recurring headaches, the underlying reason may be that your gut is unbalanced, a condition called dysbiosis.
What might you expect? The “side effects” of treating the gut with a probiotic supplement, (supported by increased prebiotics in your diet), can be extraordinary. People taking this advice have found relief from allergies, acne, arthritis, headaches, depression, and even reduced symptoms of auto-immune diseases - often after years of suffering.
The links between many chronic illnesses and gut bacteria keep growing every day.
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- Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2013 Apr;24(2):160-8. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2012.08.005. Epub 2012 Aug 30. Bacteria as vitamin suppliers to their host: a gut microbiota perspective.
- LeBlanc JG, Milani C, de Giori GS, Sesma F, van Sinderen D, Ventura M.