Bacteria and Digestion
I quite often get asked about bloating. But did you know that you don’t have to have digestive symptoms to be suffering from ‘dysbiosis’ or wrong bacteria in the gut? It might be easy to think of this as something that’s just a minor inconvenience. However – gut problems are not just miserable & uncomfortable, they can also possibly play a role in auto-immune diseases like MS. In fact Hippocrates, the ‘Father of modern medicine’ is quoted as saying that ‘all disease begins in the gut’.
If the health of the gut breaks down, undigested food molecules can pass into the bloodstream. This is known as ‘leaky gut’. These undigested food molecules can be interpreted by the body as ‘bad guys’, and activate an immune reaction, causing a food intolerance. According to the theory of ‘molecular mimicry’, the confused immune system can then mistake other molecules, of the body’s own tissues, which are similar to these undigested food molecules, to also be ‘bad guys’ or pathogens, and launch an immune response to its own tissues, setting up an auto-immune disease.
So let’s take a look at this one aspect of gut health; bacteria, & how it affects us. The gut is basically a long tube, that travels from the mouth to the anus, with many shapes & sizes along the way, to accommodate the different stages of digestion! I’ve discussed constipation, diet and stool health, and the link between auto-immune disease and food intolerances before in this blog , but today I’m thinking about the tiny beings who live with us, lovingly help to keep us healthy but also depend on us too for their existence – Bacteria!
From the 1600s, and the invention of the first microscope, we have known about the existence of our internal bacteria, but up until quite recently, the focus for medicine has been more about the ‘war on germs’, and the eradication of infectious disease. We now understand that our gut is home to approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms. Did you know that: Bacterial cells outnumber our human cells to the extent that you could say that we are actually only 10% human, and 90% bacterial? Or that three pounds of your body weight is bacteria?
75% of our immune system is comprised of intestinal bacteria – and it also helps to regulate metabolism, digestion and the absorption of nutrients from food. The health of our gut depends on this intestinal ‘flora’ being in balance, and gut health is critical to overall health, with poor gut health implicated in a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune diseases, autism spectrum disorder and even depression. So what can disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut? Top of the list is
- Antibiotics – life saving but also seriously disrupt the ‘biome’
- Steroids and other medications like birth control and non- steroidal anti-inflammatories
- Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
- Diets low in ‘fermentable fibres’ – food for the good bacteria
- Chronic stress & Chronic infections
What can we do to help repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria? And what to do if suffering from ‘digestive discomfort!’?
- Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke, yams, dandelion greens, leeks, onion, garlic, or bananas) or take a pro-biotic ( good bacteria) capsule that includes Pre-biotics ( food for the good bacteria)
- Eat fermented foods like kefir, live yogurt,( be aware these 2 are dairy based), kombucha, sauerkraut, kim chi, – traditionally most societies do, but we’ve forgotten to!
- and/or take a high-quality, MULTI-STRAIN PRO-BIOTIC ( good bacteria) capsule daily – Bio-Kult is a good one, many others too
- Keep your diet as close to whole foods as possible
- Learn how to manage stress healthily
Taking regular probiotics helps to re-establish the strength of our gut and digestion, reducing the incidence of food intolerances, and allowing the body to free up more of its energy for healing painful conditions. It has also been found to help prevent recurrent infections like urine infections, and increase our ability to fight off the bad bacteria. The cheapest dairy-free way to get good bacteria into your diet is by making your own sauerkraut – It’s super easy to make – just get a head of organic cabbage, chop it up, punch it in a bowl, sprinkle salt on it, let it sit for half an hour, then put it in jars with a bit of salt water and let it sit on your kichen top for a week. There’s loads of instructions on the internet, but that’s about the size of it. Then use it like pickle. Til next time