As we explored in Part 1 last week, gut health is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood aspects of health, especially in our society.
In this article I’ll go over the function and importance of gut bacteria, and the problems that can come with not looking after them correctly.
There are billions upon billions of living organisms in our digestive tract, mainly in the small and large intestines. Together, the gut bacteria of an adult human weigh an average of up to 2kg! These bacteria are vital to our wellbeing, as they play an important part in several aspects of health. Some of these include:
- Immune function: Around 80% of our immune system exists in our digestive tract. That’s a great deal! The helpful bacteria, or “probiotics” in our intestines form a protective barrier to ward off toxins, viruses, and other potentially harmful substances from entering the bloodstream and causing infection.
- Nutrient absorption, production & transportation: The probiotics in your gut play an important role in producing certain nutrients such as Vitamin K, certain amino acids, and a range of B vitamins to name a few. They also produce various enzymes to help absorb the food we eat.
- Neurotransmitter production: Many of the key chemicals responsible for our mood, motivation and focus levels are produced by the bacteria in the gut. It’s easy to see why depression comes hand in hand with poor overall health – It all begins in the gut!
When we explore how important our probiotics are in the big picture of our health, it comes as no surprise that when these bacteria are damaged, our health can deteriorate very rapidly in many ways. When we don’t take care of our gut health, the intestines can become overrun by harmful bacteria, leading to disease. An abundance of these bad bacteria kill the good bacteria, and cause a host of problems such as food intolerance, bloating, constipation, frequent colds & flus, depression and more. To read more about food intolerance, check out my article here.
These harmful bacteria thrive in certain conditions, and here are some of the things that may upset the balance of bacteria in your gut:
- Not adequately chewing food: Large, unchewed chunks of food cannot be properly broken down in the stomach, (as explained in Part I) and pass through into the small intestine where they start to decompose. The bad bacteria love to feed on these undigested food particles, and a steady supply helps them reproduce. They then produce substances called “endotoxins” which kill good bacteria and lead to other problems, including fat gain.
- Eating foods high in sugar: Sugar has been shown to feed just about everything bad in the body, and harmful gut bacteria are no exception. Eat a balanced diet of wholesome, quality foods and the rest will almost always take care of itself.
- Not eating adequate fibre: Fibre plays a major role in detoxification and waste excretion. Without it, your intestines can come to a standstill, giving way to a feeding frenzy for the bad bacteria. Keep your fibrous vegetables up, and throw in some fruit here and there for good measure. This will help encourage a healthy gut environment.
- Consuming pesticides, processed foods and other toxic substances: Eating foods high in pesticides, artificial flavourings and colourings, and other harmful substances will kill your probiotic (good) bacteria, and give way to the spread of the bad ones.
- As I always say, it’s a good idea to stick to clean, organic foods. This is yet another reason for that!
If you’re guilty of one or more of these things, don’t worry. Here are two things you can start doing immediately to get your gut health back on track:
- Introduce fermented foods into your diet: This is a tip I swear by. Start using fermented vegetables as a side dish when you eat meat. Sauerkraut and Kimchi are a couple of examples. Kombucha tea is another example you can easily introduce as an evening habit. Also, if you can tolerate dairy, kefir is one of my favourites to mix with organic natural yogurt, dried fruit & nuts.
- Take a probiotic supplement: It might seem obvious, but I’ll spell it out for you anyway. If your gut is in terrible condition, it’s a good idea to invest in a course of probiotics to get you back on track.
Give these tips a try, and get your gut health on track! It truly is the real foundation to greater wellbeing, and something that is way too often neglected.