There’s been a lot in the news recently about the importance of gut health – gut flora, immune system cells in the gut and your ‘gut brain’. Especially new ways of improving gut health, some of which sound a bit unpleasant – fecal transplant anyone?
So what are we talking about here?
Bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic living things are referred to as microorganisms, or microbes, for short. Trillions of these microbes exist mainly inside your intestines and on your skin.
Most of the microbes in your intestines are found in a “pocket” of your large intestine called the cecum, and they are referred to as the gut microbiome. Although many different types of microbes live inside you, bacteria are the most studied. In fact, there are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. There are roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body and only 30 trillion human cells. That means you are more bacteria than human.
What’s more, there are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, and each of them plays a different role in your body. Most of them are extremely important for your health. Altogether, these microbes may weigh as much as 2–5 pounds (1–2 kg), which is roughly the weight of your brain. Together, they function as an extra organ in your body and play a huge role in your health.
How Does It Affect Your Body?
Humans have evolved to live with microbes for millions of years. During this time, microbes have learned to play very important roles in the human body. In fact, without the gut microbiome, it would be very difficult to survive.
The gut microbiome begins to affect your body the moment you are born and as your microbiome grows, it affects your body in a number of ways, including:
– Digesting many essential nutrients
– Helping control your immune system – 80% of our immune cells are in the gut
– Helping control brain health – there are 500 million neurons in the gut and they function in a very similar way to the neurons in the brain. For example, serotonin is an antidepressant neurotransmitter that’s mostly made in the gut.
There is growing evidence that compromised or unbalanced gut flora can contribute to a variety of health problems:
– digestive disorders
– weight problems
– heart disease
– brain health, including psychological problems.
What causes problems in the microbiome?
Each person’s optimal balance of gut flora is different and it is a very delicate balance, easily upset by:illness
– poor diet, lacking variety
– new environment (especially where new strains of bacteria are introduced in say, drinking water)
– drugs, especially antibiotics
So improving gut health is a really important part of our wellbeing.
So we can we do to promote a healthy microbiome?
Eat a varied diet. Not surprisingly, a key part of ensuring a healthy balance of gut flora is about eating right. So variety is important.
Eat more fibre (what old-fashioned dietary experts called ‘roughage’) – whole grains, pulses, fruit and veg. It keeps everything moving. Add Forever Fiber to your diet if you know you’re not getting enough. We need about 30 grams a day, most of us eat half that amount.
Eat foods which nourish friendly bacteria; these include fermented foods like live yogurt, and prebiotics such as oats, bananas and apples.
Whole grains are important, as are foods rich in polyphenols, plant compounds found in, amongst other things, red wine and dark chocolate. No problem with that one!
But, although this is great dietary advice, a lot of these beneficial compounds are broken down by stomach acid and the digestive processes before they reach the gut. So many people like to take a probiotic supplement which will not be broken down until it actually reaches the gut.
We have only just begun to understand the importance of gut health for our overall wellbeing, mental as well as physical. So did you know about this already? What are you doing to maintain a healthy gut?
Drinking aloe vera can really help to balance your gut health:
And for your probiotic needs (especially for travelling – no fridge required!), just click: