The average person has about 3-5 pounds of bugs living in your intestines. That’s over 100 trillion bacteria – more than the number of cells in our bodies!
Don’t freak out though; these bacteria are little workers and keep us healthy, if they are good gut bacteria.
Gut health is the new heart health. Well, it’s not exactly new, because even Hippocrates back in the day knew that “All disease begins in the gut.”
First of all, 70% of our immune system is in our gut. When your gut flora are overtaken by bad bacteria, yeasts, or parasites, your immune system is busy trying to fight these off to provide full support from other microbes in the environment. If you’re further providing your body with inflammatory foods (sugar, processed foods, etc.), your immune system will be too overloaded, and your gut will become damaged. Your digestive tract is a barrier system – if the gut lining is damaged or inflamed, all those toxins or bad bacteria have a chance to get into your body.
Your gut flora is like a garden. When it’s healthy, there’s a wide variety of flowers and plants, and all varieties are balanced. Your gut flora wants hundreds of different bacterial varieties, and they work together in balance. When your gut flora is overloaded with bad bacteria, parasites, fungi, or yeasts, it’s like all those weeds in the garden that grow and take over.
When your gut flora is healthy, it helps you:
- Absorb and create nutrients – vitamin B12, vitamin K, butyric acid
- Protects against bad or opportunistic bacteria
- Prevents inflammation
It likely plays a role in all diseases. The gut flora is now being looked at for obesity, metabolism, weight regulation, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and more. Keep your eye out for new research that I guarantee will be coming out all about the gut flora. If you’re interested, take a look at this site where they are mapping out the human microbiome of different populations around the world to find differences and the role of different bacteria on health.
Paying attention to digestive health and fixing up your gut is so important. First, take a look at gut busters – the things that destroy a healthy microflora. These include antibiotics (!!!), processed food and sugar, chronic stress, lack of sleep, nutrient deficiencies, certain medications, and infections.
The good news is you can cultivate a healthy community of bacteria to create a bulletproof immune system and a happy, healthy gut.
Eat a nutrient-dense diet.
I think I’ve covered this pretty well in past posts, but eliminate the processed foods and sugar. Sugar and all the chemicals in processed foods make your gut flora into a war zone. Choose whole, real foods that your body recognizes and your gut flora can use to create nutrients. Eat anti-inflammatory foods, such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines), to prevent inflammation forming in your gut.
Eat probiotic-rich foods.
These foods are my favorite! Probiotics are healthy bacteria, and foods that are fermented or cultured contain live cultures to inoculate your gut. These include kombucha, kefir, certain yogurts (look for the words: contains live cultures, NOT made with live cultures), kimchi and other fermented vegetables. Kombucha and kefir are my top recommended probiotic foods because they contain very high amounts of bacteria, and kefir contains multiple strains. Try whole milk kefir with berries for a delicious snack! Lifeway whole milk plain kefir is my favorite brand – it’s organic and comes from grass-fed cows.
Consider a probiotic supplement.
Not everyone will need a probiotic, but if you have digestive distress or a history of excessive or recent antibiotic use, I would recommend a high-quality probiotic. Read the label carefully for dosage and if the product needs refrigeration – remember these are live bacteria, so they need to be in an optimal environment!
Prebiotics feed your probiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers, so although we can’t digest them, they serve as food for our healthy gut flora, so they can out-populate the bad bacteria. Prebiotics can be found naturally in foods, such as onion, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, and bananas.
Determine possible food allergies or sensitivities.
It’s possible to be sensitive or intolerant to a food and not realize it because symptoms may not be obvious. Instead, an intolerance to dairy may show up as acne or skin issues rather than a stomach ache or anaphylactic shock.
If you are having digestive distress or other symptoms, consider a 3-4 week elimination diet. Use yourself as an experiment to figure out what foods work and don’t work for you. Eliminate some of the common sensitivities – gluten, corn, soy, eggs, and dairy products. Focus on what you can eat during that time and how you feel. At the end of the month, add back in ONE food item ONE at a time and wait 3-4 days until adding another food in. If you notice ANY reaction or symptom, you’re reacting to that food! An elimination diet is very motivating because you’ll realize and actually feel what a certain food is doing to your body.
Stress is an enemy of the immune system. When I’m stressed out, I don’t sleep well, and within a few days, I have a cold. Stress impairs your immune system and makes you susceptible to sickness. Help your immune system by finding a way to relax, such as meditation, deep breathing, being social, or exercise, especially walking or yoga.
Your digestive tract is 25-35 feet long, so it’s essential to keep it running efficiently and protect it from breaking down and leaving you vulnerable to disease. Your gut flora is key to maintaining digestive health, overall health, and keeping your immune system on high alert.
Digestive health is essential to overall health, so don’t ignore that recurrent stomach ache or constant bloating! It’s not normal, and you can make changes for a happy, healthy gut.
My gut plan includes daily relaxation, kombucha & kefir, a probiotic, tons of nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory foods, especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines 4-5 times/week, and avoiding gluten due to an intolerance.
What’s your healthy gut plan?