By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
What is Your ‘Gut Flora’?
There is a whole community–a whole universe–living within our intestinal tract. Roughly two pounds of microbes live in and on our bodies; the vast majority of these are located in our gut. With this many guests setting up camp inside of us, we must take precautions, just as we would if we were hosting guests in our homes, to ensure we are only inviting good company.
How Your Gut Flora Affects Your Health
Our gut flora is responsible for more than you might realize. It can cause cravings, impact our mood, and affect allergies and food intolerances. By keeping our gut bacteria balanced, we can control how fast our metabolism works, boost our energy, prevent disease, and extract more nutrients from our food. If you don’t have a healthy gut balance, your immune system will be severely compromised. Poor gut health is tied to many health issues and diseases, including:
- Asthma and allergies
- Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, IBS)
- Cognitive decline (Alzheimer’s, dementia)
- Fatigue and brain fog
- Fungal overgrowth
- Gluten sensitivity and other food allergies and intolerances
- Learning disabilities (ADHD)
- Mood disorders (anxiety, depression): The human body has a “second brain” that we are just starting to learn about, located in the gut. Breakthroughs in science are being made on how the trillions of bacteria in our gut— the microbiome— communicate with the neurons in our gut lining. This effectively means the bacteria living inside of our intestines have an effect on our mood! Science is showing depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are linked to the microbiome.
- Parasitic infections
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Type 1 diabetes
Just as bad bacteria negatively affect your health, good bacteria have a positive influence on your health! Good gut flora assists in the following ways:
- Gut flora is responsible for helping your body absorb and store nutrients, like vitamin B.
- It produces vital nutrients. For example, your body doesn’t store or produce vitamin K, and the food you eat can only provide you with a little of what you need. Luckily, your gut flora produces the majority of the vitamin K you require, and since your body isn’t good at storing vitamin K, it’s crucial that your gut flora is always producing more for you!
- Good bacteria keep the walls of your intestines strong and prevent you from developing leaky gut.
- Balanced gut flora trains your immune cells to fight inflammation.
- Good gut flora is energy-efficient. Having an imbalanced (“bad”) gut flora means your body has to hold on to more food to get the same amount of energy, which causes more food to be stored as fat. On the flip side, if your gut flora is in good shape, you get maximal energy out of the food you eat and excrete what’s left over!
Nine Ways to Fix Your Gut
We’ve seen how gut flora is responsible for keeping us healthy or making us sick. How can we make our gut stronger? Here are 9 ways to fix your gut flora!
- Reduce or cut your sugar intake: Sugar is one of the bad bacteria’s favorite foods!
- Avoid inflammatory foods: Some studies have shown that fats and oils ruin your health, but this research studied diets comprised largely of refined vegetable oils, such as soybean oil. On the other hand, grass-fed butter, organic coconut oil, and extra-virgin olive oil have been shown to promote a healthy gut flora and aid in weight loss!
- Eat a variety of healthy foods: Eating a wide range of healthy foods ensures we have a diverse microbe population, which is very important!
- Eat vegetables with every meal: If you can fill half your plate with vegetables and plant-based foods, your good bacteria will have plenty of fiber and nutrition to feast on and use to boost your health!
- Choose organic: Not only are GMOs and toxic pesticides are bad for our microbiome, they also affect the soil they’re grown in, and our gut bacteria and the bacteria in the soil are related.
- Eat prebiotic rich food: Sweet potatoes, asparagus, and other prebiotic foods feed the good guys!
- Incorporate fermented foods into your diet: Sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and pickles are all delicious fermented foods.
- Take prebiotics and probiotics: The use of pre- and probiotics feed the good bacteria that keep your gut healthy.
- Take steps to lower your stress: Try meditation, yoga, a walk or a jog, or partaking in your favorite hobby to reduce your stress. Studies have shown that stress can actually negatively affect the composition of your gut flora!
The state of your gut is responsible for both your physical and mental health. Luckily, even if your gut is in bad shape, it is easily remedied by following the nine steps listed above. The good bacteria are always ready to move back in, all you have to do is provide them with the right environment.