Gut Health & “Good Bacteria”
Have no fear – gut bacteria is here! From probiotics to kombucha, the “good bacteria” associated with gut health has a trendy new reputation that is both tasty and evidently super healthy! The “microbiome” is a buzz word in scientific communities and mainstream media alike. In fact, researchers are so interested in this new scientific frontier that some are viewing the gut “microbiota” as an additional organ system. A healthy gut is important to overall health, so giving our intestinal insides a little extra attention is undoubtedly well deserved.
Why is gut health important?
Gut bacteria serve many purposes (which makes sense given that there are tens of trillions of micro-organisms and more than 1,000 species of bacteria). It is vital for everything from healthy digestion to proper immune function. Bacteria in the gut also play a role in the production and synthesis of essential human nutrients, like vitamins B12 and K.
While much more research is needed, early results show that specific gut bacteria can also play a key role in the treatment and prevention of several diseases and chronic illnesses. More specifically, in a healthy human host, gut microbes are helpful in preventing gastrointestinal distress and avoid developing gastrointestinal diseases like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What are the factors that influence gut health?
The trillions of bacteria involved in gut health are affected by several factors, including:
- Mode of delivery at birth and infant feeding
- Certain medications:
- Antibiotics, for example can harm the gut microbiota, wiping out the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs (think your everyday painkillers eg. aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) may also disrupt the ecosystem inside your gut by damaging the small intestine and putting users at risk for ulcers.
- A 2016 study on the connection between long-term use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) and the risk of Crohn’s disease complications showed that the extended use of the pills was linked to a higher chance of patients needing surgery.
Emerging research seems to suggest that your DNA might also be a major determinant in gut health and the makeup of your microbiome.
How do I improve my gut health?
A diet that includes a wide variety of different foods can promote diversity of gut bacteria, which helps maintain good overall digestive health. Probiotics, live micro-organisms that aid in digestive processes, may improve the overall make-up of the gut microbiome. Some foods are naturally rich in probiotics, while others become rich sources through the process of fermentation.
Early research has also found that consuming the “live cultures” found in foods such as yogurt and fermented milk products (like raw Kefir) can be especially beneficial for gut health. Fermented foods such as tempeh, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi also host a wide variety of healthy probiotics that can improve gut health.
Foods to avoid when trying to improve gut health
Although there is less research on specific foods to avoid while trying to improve gut health, the available resources suggest avoiding:
- Heavily processed foods, including deli meat
- Foods high in sugar, including dried fruit and fruit juices
- All grains, including gluten
Interested in trying to improve gut health? Try adding some of these deliciously fermented foods to your next dinner plate!
Whether you’re ready to go all-in on learning to make your own fermented veggies or simply want to add some probiotic-rich yogurt to your diet, one thing is for sure: eating these foods is good for your gut microbiome. And a healthy gut seems to have a significant impact on how you feel. So, grab a mason jar and hop on the fermentation train because probiotics are here to stay!
Hungry for more tips? Check out more of our great Nutrition posts here!