If there’s a magic bullet out there to promote great overall health, it just might be probiotics. Probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria in the human body, are linked to numerous elements of our health, from allergy risk to immunity.1 These friendly “bugs” can enhance the quality of our microflora – the teeming community of bacteria and other substances that line our digestive tract – and help our bodies in seemingly unlimited ways.2
A balanced microflora is critical – many consider it the foundation of health. Without these beneficial probiotics, our body can become a house of cards, with increased vulnerability to a storm of ailments.
When environmental and lifestyle factors throw off the balance of bacteria lining our intestines and cause pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes to increase in number, overwhelming “good” gut flora, chronic inflammation and gut lining damage can occur.3 This inflammation can be the source of a myriad of health issues, even anxiety and depression – and that’s just one reason why balanced microflora so strongly impact good health.4
A healthy gut ecosystem also produces enzymes that break down food to assist with absorbing nutrients.5 And there’s more. Beneficial bacterial species help the body process a host of vitamins.6 Without adequate microflora production, the body suffers as a result of nutritional deficiencies.7
Just How Creepy Crawly Are We?
Now that you know how dramatically our microflora impact our health, did you know our bodies are comprised of more microflora than actual human cells?8 It’s a bit humbling to think we are simply walking microbe colonies, but we can never underestimate the good these microscopic powerhouses do for us when properly balanced. Unfortunately, our modern world does little to help them flourish.
The Good Old Days of Healthier Foods
Days gone by really were better for our microflora. Years ago, when our society was more agriculturally based, the soil was richer, and fresh and organically grown fruits and vegetables were plentiful. Processed foods, such as boxed cereals, chips, and crackers were unavailable, so people made healthier food choices.
Because refrigeration was not yet invented, most cultures around the world also ate a variety of sour, fermented foods. Instead of throwing away “spoiled” foods, our ancestors intentionally allowed some foods to decay. Broken down over time by yeasts and microorganisms, these foods are terrific for your microflora – and practically all cultures have created them. Foods such as kimchi, a spicy Korean fermented cabbage dish, and of course, the more familiar yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles, are all fermented.
Today, nutrient-poor soil, pesticides, and antibiotics diminish our food’s nutritional value.9 And an abundance of high-calorie, low-nutrient choices – actually designed to be addictive – reduce consumption of fruits and vegetables.10
How We Can Improve Our Microflora
So, how do we ensure our guts contain healthy microflora in a world designed to undermine these helpful critters? Thankfully, there is a way that centers on an avoid-and-embrace process. This means avoiding certain habits and lifestyle choices that negatively impact our microbiome – the living organisms we carry around with us – and embracing those choices that cultivate a healthy biome.
The Sugary Stuff
One important avoidance tactic is to steer clear of a sparkly, white substance that’s everywhere in our modern world: sugar. Did you know that ancient Greeks and Romans had better teeth than we do, even with our much more robust dental health practices?11 You can guess why: They consumed only natural fruit sugars. This should have been our first clue of the internal havoc this substance wrecks.
But you don’t need to pound candy and cake to experience sugar overload. Watch for hidden sugar in foods like jarred spaghetti sauce, breakfast cereals, breads, salad dressings, and canned baked beans. Check labels carefully. It’s everywhere!
The Anti-Health Factor in Antibiotics
Antibiotics were a miracle for humanity when first developed. Over time, however, they became the go-to remedy for every scratchy throat and stuffy nose. Studies now indicate that the use of antibiotics alter the state of the gut microflora, decreasing its ability to absorb iron, digest certain foods, and create essential molecules.12 It’s important to use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy biome.
Remember those sour, fermented foods we discussed a moment ago? If you’re on a mission to improve your intestinal flora – and you should be – they ought to be a part of your diet. Try adding quality yogurt and kimchi and/or sauerkraut to your diet. If you’re not a fan of these foods, apple cider vinegar offers similar benefits. Simply add a tablespoon to your beverage (or simply to water) twice per day, and you will be off to a great start.13
Probiotics need the right fuel to flourish in your body, and fiber is that fuel. Chia and flax seeds are fantastic sources of high-quality fiber that drive friendly flora growth. Scatter them over your oatmeal or pop them in a smoothie. Sweet potatoes and standard baking potatoes are also outstanding sources of fermentable fiber.14
Taking a quality probiotic supplement can be extremely beneficial. Your selected product should have at least 30 bacteria strains. These varied strains will provide benefits unique to each strain and improve colonization. High-quality manufacturers list their potency (in Colony Forming Units, or CFUs) on the date the supplement actually expires. Board-certified neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of The New York Times best-sellers Brain Maker and Grain Brain, states: “Avoid products that indicate a specific number of bacteria ‘at the time of manufacture,’ and instead look for products that, like other supplements, have a shelf-life.”15
It’s clear our ancestors’ microflora was healthier than ours for a few simple reasons: they ate a diet rich in wholesome fruits and vegetables grown from nutrient-rich soil; they included little to no sugar in their diets; and they enjoyed a steady diet of fermented foods. While our lives are certainly easier than theirs, our microflora could no doubt benefit from a return to these time-tested practices.
Pass the kimchi!
For more helpful article follow the links below:
1. Weintraub K. Findings from the Gut–New Insights into the Human Microbiome. Scientific American. 2016. Accessed January 19, 2017.
2. Weintraub K. Findings from the Gut–New Insights into the Human Microbiome. Scientific American. 2016. Accessed January 19, 2017.
3. Ferreira C, Vieira A, Vinolo M, Oliveira F, Curi R, Martins F. The Central Role of the Gut Microbiota in Chronic Inflammatory Diseases. 2014.
4. Sanders L. Microbes can play games with the mind. Science News. 2016. Accessed January 19, 2017.
5. The Brain-Gut Connection. Hopkinsmedicineorg. 2017. Accessed January 19, 2017.
6. Brown K, DeCoffe D, Molcan E, Gibson D. Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease. 2012.
7. Scarlata K. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth — What to Do When Unwelcome Microbes Invade. Todaysdietitiancom. 2011. Accessed January 19, 2017.
9. PBS – harvest of fear: should we grow gm crops?: full arguments. Pbsorg. 2017. Accessed January 19, 2017.
10. Moss M. The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. Nytimescom. 2013. Accessed January 19, 2017.
11. Squires N. Ancient Romans ‘had perfect teeth’ thanks to healthy low-sugar diet. Telegraphcouk. 2015. Accessed January 19, 2017.
12. Effects of antibiotics on gut flora analyzed. ScienceDaily. 2013. Accessed January 19, 2017.
13. amazoncom. 2017. Accessed January 19, 2017.
14. amazoncom. 2017. Accessed January 19, 2017.
15. amazoncom. 2017. Accessed January 19, 2017.