The Good Bacteria: A Beginner’s Guide to Gut Health
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By JV Valderama
Your gut plays a critical role in keeping your body safe against viruses as well as regulating your mood and stress levels. If you’ve heard of probiotic drinks, kombucha, kefir, or kimchi, then you're already one step ahead on your gut health journey.
Improving your gut health is one of the best ways to have a healthy lifestyle. Read on to find out more about good gut bacteria and their beneficial effects on your health.
Good Gut Health
An estimated 30-300 trillion bacteria are living inside your body, most of which are found in the gut or gastrointestinal tract. Gut bacteria have been linked to various health benefits such as weight loss and an improved immune system.
Good gut bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, for example, promote a healthy gut by preventing disease-causing and harmful bacteria from proliferating in your digestive tract.
The beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome assist in breaking down foods to make nutrients for your body. They help produce vitamins, including B12, K2, and folate, to fight off autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
How to Maintain a Healthy Gut
So, how do you maintain a healthy gut?
The food you eat contributes a lot to your gut health. In particular, yogurt, sourdough bread, and bananas contain probiotics, beneficial bacteria known to improve digestion and increase the body's absorption of nutrients.
According to Board-Certified Naturopathic Dr. Drew Sinatra, homemade fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are the best source of probiotics compared to store-bought probiotic foods that contain lesser probiotics.
Generally, getting enough probiotics in your diet is one key role in promoting a healthy gut.
Fiber-rich dietary supplements are also good for your gut health as fiber provides fuel for the probiotics. However, you might want to talk to your doctor before consuming probiotic supplements to discuss any concerns.
Fruits and vegetables like beans, broccoli, berries, apples, and potatoes are also filled with fiber. Along with probiotics, fiber also offers numerous gut health benefits such as reducing cholesterol levels and blood sugar control.
Importance of Having a Healthy Gut
Digestion and Nutrient Absorption
One of the prime functions of the gut in the human body is to digest the food that we consume. More importantly, a healthy gut helps with the absorption of nutrients your body requires. The digestion process is more efficient when you have adequate good bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
Additionally, it improves bowel function by preventing types of bacteria like pathogens from growing in your gut that can lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). According to a study, people suffering from IBS have a less diverse and imbalanced gut microbiome.
Gut tip: Eating nutritious, high-fiber foods such as bananas, apples, and broccoli is necessary to promote and maintain gut microbiome diversity.
Better Immune Function
Aside from taking in food and turning them into nutrients, the gut is also responsible for flushing metabolic waste and toxins out of your body. If you have an unhealthy gut, getting rid of those toxins will become challenging, which may lead to several health issues such as chronic diseases and fatigue.
Your gut health is an indicator of how your immune system functions. The bacterial cells in your gut communicate with your immune cells to control your immune system's response to infection.
Gut tip: 80% of your immune system is found in the gut. Eating citrus fruits, garlic, ginger, and spinach is also helpful to maintain a healthy immune function. So, granted that you want a stronger defense against harmful bacteria and viruses, keeping your gut happy is important!
Manage Body Weight
You already know that microbiome diversity is the healthy balance of bacteria in your body. In connection with your weight, a diverse gut microbiome helps control your metabolism and in turn, your weight.
On the other hand, the imbalance of good and bad bacteria is called gut dysbiosis. If there is an imbalance in your gut your body is prone to inflammation and increased blood sugar – and this can lead to weight gain.
Akkermansia, bacteria found in the gut are responsible for producing a short-chain fatty acid called acetate which aids in body fat stores and controlling appetite.
The balance of bacteria in your gut does wonders for human health, including lowering inflammation that contributes to obesity.
Gut tip: To boost the abundance of Akkermansia in your gut, you may eat cranberries, black tea, and flaxseeds.
Improved Mental Health
The gut and brain are physically connected by millions of nerves, hence the brain is sometimes called the second gut. So, it’s a no-brainer that if your gut is not functioning properly, your brain might be too!
The gut bacteria directly communicates with the brain by exchanging messages and information. This communication is called gut-brain axi, and this is the reason why you have “gut instinct” or experience “butterflies in the stomach” whenever you are faced with certain situations.
Also, some types of bacteria in the gut help manufacture serotonin– the chemical that regulates your mood.
Gut tip: If you constantly find yourself sleepy or having a brain fog during the day, it might be your brain telling you that there’s something wrong with your gut:
Increased Heart Health
The gut microbiome plays a key role in having a healthy heart. Certain bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract produce trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO)-- a chemical that congests arteries which can lead to heart disease.
Gut tip: Some bacteria like probiotics that are often found in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, tempeh, and kimchi may lower levels of bad cholesterol.
Healthy guts are crucial for nutrient absorption, weight loss, stress management, and bowel movement. It may not always be obvious but a healthy gut actually leads to a healthier body.
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