Few people realise that some 70% to 80% of the body’s immune cells are located in their intestines.
25% of all adults suffer – often without being aware –
from problems related to their gastro-intestinal tract (GI tract) or gut.
Those problems range from noticeable and inconvenient issues like constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal discomfort all the way to serious problems like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), depression and inability to lose weight. Problems they may well not associate as originating in the gut.
These health problems can be caused by intestines that have an unbalanced ratio of good to bad bacteria – and the imbalance can increase with age. The good bacteria should be in a ratio of no lower than 85% ‘good’ to 15% ‘bad’. This predominance of beneficial bacteria keeps the pathogenic ones under control. An unbalanced gut bacterial population leads to reduced immunity and poor metabolism.
Your microbiome – the vast army of microbes that live in (and on us) – not only breaks down the food you eat for energy, but actually creates several vital vitamins.
Breaking down the food we eat is essential for health as undigested food means slower transit time through your body and an increase in harmful micro-organisms and toxins trapped in the GI tract.
More diverse bacteria make you healthier
The more diverse the bacteria in your microbiome, the generally healthier you are. This is may well be linked to the fact that ‘good bacteria’ are important in gene expression – turning on beneficial genes and turning off genes that lead to illness.
A less diverse microbiome has been directly liked to over 50 serious health issues, like obesity, diabetes, arthritis, depression, fatigue, poor digestion of food and what has been called ‘brain fog’.
Unfortunately, in many people this ratio becomes imbalanced. The non-beneficial bacteria increase in numbers, crowding out the friendly bacteria.
This condition – called dysbiosis – is not only a function of increased age; it can be caused by excess sugar in the diet, excess alcohol, stress and the use of antibiotics or certain other medications.
Ways to rebalance your microbiome
- Avoid processed foods and sugar as much as possible. Sugar provides food for non-beneficial bacteria to thrive.
- Add more fibre to your diet. The good bacteria – called probiotics – in your gut are alive and need their own food source. These are called prebiotics and they are plentiful in fibre – especially the fibres in fruits and vegetables.
- Decrease your stress level. The gastrointestinal (GI) system has been called your second brain. There is a direct connection between the gut and the brain – which is why depression can be caused by a gut imbalance. Consider stress busting exercises like this 5 Minute Mind Calmer Take a break each hour that you sit at a desk or computer and ensure a
- Drink more water. Water helps keep moving food through your digestive tract into the colon.
- Increase your intake of probiotic foods which include sauerkraut, leeks, garlic, fennel and kimchi.
- Add a high-quality probiotic supplement to your diet. Although many yogurts are labelled as containing lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. lactis, the truth is that yoghurts are made with these cultures but the process of pasteurisation destroys most or even all of the bacterial count. On top of that many yoghurts also contain quite high amounts of sugar.
Choose a variety of hardy live good bacteria strains
A worthwhile probiotic supplement will contain a variety of strains, a level of over 5/6 billion per capsule and include hardy strains that have been shown by independent research to survive the acid environment of the stomach – and are therefore able to pass through to the lower digestive tract and then colonise.
Bifidobacteria strains primarily work in the large intestine to help detoxify the pathogens in your colon. Whereas Lactobacillus strains primarily work in the small intestine to assist in digestion and absorption of foods, particularly in the better absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Specific strains that should be included in an effective probiotic supplement are:
Bacillus coagulans. This is an endospore strain that has been researched extensively at the University of Nebraska – which itself has been specialising in probiotic research for over 70 years. Endospore strains offer far greater resistance as they pass through the GI tract. Indeed one endospore strain was found in the stomach of a bee that had been trapped in amber for 50 million years - and was still viable!
Lactobacillus acidophilus. The DDS-1 strain is very highly researched and works mainly in the small intestine to help ensure the health of the vaginal and urinary tracts.
Bifidobacterium lactis is found in the colon and vaginal tract. It not only supports GI function, but helps protect against yeast overgrowth, and diarrhoea. It produces lactic acid and helps increase acidity in the gut to help inhibit the growth of pathogenic microbes.
Lactobacillus casei. This strain of bacteria is found in the small intestine where it helps provide immune support.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus. This probiotic strain is found primarily in the small intestine and vaginal tract. It is resistant to stomach acid, which makes it important in a probiotic formula.
Lactobacillus plantarum improves digestion and is linked to reduced brain inflammation that is a factor in depression.
Streptococcus thermophilus – a well-researched strain that is important for improved immunity.
An effective probiotic supplement must also contain some prebiotics. These are fibre-derived nutrients that feed and nurture the probiotics and therefore ensure their viability. Look for prebiotics from inulin and oligofructose.
A well-researched probiotic can be the answer to digestive problems and irregular bowel movements without resorting to laxatives. It can also help in losing weight, reduce hay fever symptoms and even improve mood.
One final thought. External health, as evidenced by the state of your skin, reflects internal health. So after improving the number and variety of the ‘friendly bacteria’ in their microbiome, people report improvements in their skin and even a reduction in the outer signs of ageing.
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- Biagi E, et al. Ageing of the human metaorganism: the microbial counterpart. Age. 2012;34(1):247-267.
- Keenan MJ, et al. Improving healthspan via changes in gut microbiota and fermentation. Age. 2015;37(5):98.
- Vaiserman AM, et al. Gut microbiota: A player in aging and a target for anti-aging intervention. Ageing Res Rev. 2017;35:36-45.