If you aren’t familiar with the term, gut flora, you really should be. Gut flora is the community of microorganisms that call your digestive tract home. In humans, the gut microbiota has the most bacteria and the most varied number of species of bacteria compared to any other part of the body. In fact, there are about three pounds of bacteria living in the human intestinal tract.
Not all of this bacteria is good either. Depending on some factors including lifestyle, we can have an imbalance in our gut bacteria. This is known as dysbacteriosis.
We need the healthy bacteria to keep the intestinal lining strong and when bad bacteria moves in and takes over the intestinal tract becomes very susceptible to damage. Inflammation in the gut leads to ulceration and breaks in the intestinal wall. Disease-causing bacteria, toxins, and even undigested food particles pass directly into the bloodstream where they wreak havoc.
Digestive problems caused by too much bad gut bacteria
Many people have symptoms of a gut out of balance but don’t even know it. Here are some of the problems that can occur when your intestinal lining is compromised:
Vitamin B deficiencies
Breast enlargement in men
The gut is your “second brain”
The gut is so important to overall health and well-being that it has been labeled as the “second brain.” Gut health impacts more than just digestion. According to Rob Knight, PhD., and co-founder and principal investigator of the Human Gut Project,
“Gut bacteria are connected to aspects of health we never suspected. Cardiovascular disease, the immune system, liver disease, even neural function and the brain—it’s far-reaching in a way that wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar ten years ago.”
The influence of gut bacteria is vast
Here are just some of the reasons why healthy gut bacteria are essential.
Weight loss: According to research, gut bacteria and weight loss are closely related. Scientists at the University of Iowa gave mice a drug that caused them to gain weight and discovered that the microbe composition of the rats changed, slowing their resting metabolic rate.
John Kirby, Ph.D., professor microbiology and urology at UI Carver College of Medicine, had this to say about gut bacteria,
“Our research leads to the conclusion that it is probably bacteria (in the gut) that are responsible for the calories you burn while you are asleep.”
A study in BioEssays notes that too much of the wrong type of bacteria in our gut may cause unhealthy cravings, leading to weight gain. Bacteria can control hormones and manipulate us into making poor food choices.
Allergies: According to Canadian researchers, it may be possible to predict whether infants will develop food allergies simply by looking at their gut bacteria. Those infants with less diverse bacteria at 3 months are more likely to develop egg, milk or peanut sensitivities by the time they are a year old.
Anxiety: Researchers at the College of William and Mary found that eating a diet rich in fermented foods such as miso soup and kimchi is associated with less social anxiety in people who are considered neurotic.
“It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut, in turn, influence social anxiety,” said Hilimire, assistant professor of psychology. “I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
8 Ways To Improve Gut Flora
If having a good mixture of healthy bacteria is as important as research seems to indicate, just how do we best tend the garden in our digestive tract? Here are ten ways that you can love your gut as much as you should.
1. Be done with sugar
Refined sugar is like fuel for bad gut bacteria. A study out of Oregon State University found that a diet rich in sugar caused changes to the gut bacteria of mice. This change in gut bacteria had a negative impact on the mice’s long-term and short-term memory. Also, the mice were less able to adjust to changing situations, a condition called “cognitive flexibility.”
Mice began to experience a drop in mental and physical function just four weeks after starting a high fat and sugar diet. Foods containing a single molecule of glucose and fructose disrupt gut flora because they are easily digested and absorbed into the small intestine without any help from the bacteria. The bacteria become hungry, and they start to munch on the mucous lining of our intestines. The wall is permeated, and particles of food enter the bloodstream. As mentioned earlier, when this happens, our immune system notifies our brain and other organs of the foreign invaders. This causes inflammation which is the precursor to many serious health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Also, sugar feeds Candida Albicans, a fungus that grows in your gut and attacks the intestinal wall.
2. Eat more veggies
One of the easiest and quickest ways to change your gut bacteria for the better is to eat more vegetables, especially green leafy ones. A diet rich in vegetables helps to build a diverse microbiome which leads to clearer thinking and overall health and wellness. For best results, eat 39 grams of dietary fiber per day.
3. Play in the dirt
We are obsessed with cleanliness, and it is making us sick. Although this sounds ironic, it is very true. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that children whose parents cleaned their dirty pacifier by sucking on it instead of boiling it were less likely to develop eczema than those who did boil it. Also, researchers have also discovered that kids who grow up in a home with a dog are less likely to develop allergies and asthma. Having a dog in the house creates a type of dust that exposes us to very important strains of bacteria including Lactobacillus. If you love to garden, you are in luck. People who spend time with their hands in the dirt are likely to develop a strong immune system.
Note: Gut experts recommend choosing natural cleaning products, not those that are chemical based. Many of the household cleaners that are sold commercially to disinfect behave like antibiotics in that they annihilate everything including helpful bacteria. Consider nontoxic cleaners such as vinegar, castile soap, and lemon juice. Also, avoid antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers.
4. Limit your use of antibiotics
Regular use of broad spectrum antibiotics destroy all bacteria, good and bad including strains of bacteria needed to fight other infections. American children who are prescribed one course of antibiotics per year can sustain long-term impacts on their health due to a permanent change in microbiota. Of course, there are times when an antibiotic is necessary, but it pays to limit your use and always take a probiotic when you are taking an antibiotic and eat a very healthy diet while on the antibiotics. Supplemental probiotics help to balance the bacterial pH level so that the good bacteria crowds out the bad bacteria and repopulate the gut to replace those killed by the medication. Be sure that you always select a high-quality probiotic (we reveal the best here) or you are wasting your money. Remain taking probiotics for at least two weeks after you finish your course of antibiotics. Of course, it is also a good idea just to take a high-quality probiotic on a daily basis.
5. Eat fermented foods
People have been fermenting foods for thousands of years as a means to keep food from spoiling. With the discovery of the refrigerator, the process of fermentation went by the wayside a bit. Fermented foods provide a very broad combination of bacteria which makes them the absolute best type for probiotic you can feed your gut. Some healthy fermented foods to include in your diet include kefir, pickles, kombucha tea, pickles, and sauerkraut. Try to include at least three tablespoons of fermented foods in your diet daily.
6. Sleep well
If you are not sleeping well; at least 6-8 hours of good sleep per night, your gut could be out of balance. Dr. David Perlmutter, the author of Brain Maker, notes that balancing gut bacteria is critical for a good night’s sleep and that when we don’t sleep, we don’t balance our gut, so it becomes a vicious cycle. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE ” “demonstrated that circadian disorganization could impact intestinal microbiota which may have implications for inflammatory diseases.”
Yes, exercise is great for the body and the mind, and as it turns out, it is especially great for your gut flora, at least sweating is. Researchers in Ireland studied the feces of 40 professional rugby players. They found that athletes had far more diverse microbiomes than the average person. Other studies have conferred that exercise does, in fact, change the gut microbiota. So, add a good workout daily to your healthy living regime and your gut will thank you.
8. Don’t sweat the small stuff
The body has a tremendously powerful response to stress. It releases natural steroids and adrenaline along with inflammatory cytokines from your immune system. If you are being chased by an angry bear, this response could save your life. However, we live in a go-go culture, and many people are in this “fight or flight” mode daily – and not because they are being chased by a bear. Chronic stress does not allow the immune system to rest and it keeps sending inflammation messages to all parts of the body – your gut included. Over time, stress causes the microbiome to be unbalanced, and this causes a number of immune diseases including Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and ulcerative colitis. Getting a grip on your response to stress will help keep your gut microbiome balance and dangers conditions at bay.
Bonus: Test Your Gut Bacteria At Home & Get Personalized Recommendations
It’s difficult to make improvements when you don’t know exactly what’s wrong with your gut bacteria. Luckily, a brand new at home testing kit from Viome allows you to find out exactly what’s wrong with your gut microbiome and then delivers specific advice (including foods to eat and avoid) to help you make improvements.
If you can’t shift stubborn weight or are unexpectedly gaining weight, if you are always tired, are ill more often than normal, have digestive issues like constipation, gas, bloating or acid reflux, experience regular acne breakouts or feel depressed or anxious with no obvious reason, then you should consider getting your gut bacteria tested. You can learn more and order your at home gut testing kit from Viome here.