Ever since the inception of health cafes, certain buzz words have been floating in and out of conversations. Kombucha quickly made it onto our menu’s, leaving many of us puzzled until our waitress would confirm that it was ‘really good for gut bacteria’. We’d politely nod and accept this random bit of scientific information about our stomachs – but did we ever stop to question what the hell that even meant?
Since then, the general population of health-conscious individuals have grown to question and research these supposed health claims. They’ve challenged the outdated perspective on ‘all bacteria are bad’ and further explored the development, purpose, and measures needed to be taken to determine a healthy and balanced digestive system.
So far, we’re starting to get a good hold on the fact that we need to nurture our gut bacteria (especially if we’re kombucha drinkers). But where does it all begin? Well, it begins with the gut microbiota.
So, what is the microbiota?
The microbiota is the term used to describe the collective group of microorganisms (microbes) that exist on or within the human body. The microbiota is made up of many bacteria and they spend most their time trying to populate on our bodies and in our intestines. It has become increasingly obvious to scientists, researchers and everyday health nerds that these little guys play an important role in both our health and our vulnerability to disease.
Due to differences in environment, diet, and behaviour, the specific types of microbes that make up the microbiota can vary massively between individuals and this ‘variable information’ is called ‘the microbiome’. The microbiome is the DNA carried in each microbe that makes up a human. It is now becoming obvious that every person’s microbiome is slightly different. In fact, research is underway to investigate the use of microbiomes to identify individuals, much like fingerprints.
These guys can be greatly impacted by many environmental factors, such as antibiotics or diet and can lead to a pro-inflammatory state. Inflammation is known to aggravate chronic conditions like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease IBS and SIBO.
So, when did the development of our microbiota begin?
It all begins as a baby. When we’re making our way through our mothers’ birth canal, we’re exposed to the microorganisms of her vagina. Good news for the C-section babies, you kids relied on breast milk, formula and food to make up for your initial loss. Throughout our lifespan, our bodies will continue to build gut bacteria to support our health.
Gut bacteria have had a hard time colonizing the tract, because of certain substances that are secreted by other organs. Stomach acid, bile acid and certain enzymes have prevented the inhabitation of bacteria in the stomach, or beginning of small intestine.
Therefore, it generally inhabits within the last part of your small intestine but dominates the large intestine. Researchers suggest that there are more than a thousand bacteria’s in our body and they make up approximately 60% of our stool!
So what do all these floating bacteria actually do?
As mentioned, gut bacteria support two of the most important roles within our health! Our immune system and our metabolism. For these important functions, there needs to be an optimal multitude of ‘good’ bacteria.
The immune system can be targeted by bacteria in two different ways. The first way is that helpful bacteria provide direct protection for the lining of our larger intestines, keeping out substances that are harmful to us.
The second is that gut bacteria work with the immune system at the level of the lining of our intestines to fights back against disease-causing bacteria. The bacteria also have very helpful metabolic effects, playing an important role in providing us with vitamins and other nutrients essential to our health.
With this research in mind, it’s time to question the harmful effects of less than optimal good bacteria.
There are many health problems that can and have stemmed from an unbalanced gut and they could be:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Metabolic syndrome
- Atopic Diseases
How do we avoid these situations?
There are many routes to better self-care. Keeping stress down would be a great start. Attempt a form of meditation, whether that’s reading, cooking or sitting in a quiet room taking time for yourself.
Stay off the medication – it destroys all the little good guys (bacteria) in your gut. Eat a well-rounded nutritious diet (we recommend the anti-inflammatory diet), including foods that are considered prebiotics. Prebiotics hold the potential for nourishing pre-existing gut flora. Probiotics also aid and generally don’t make things worse, as long as you choose a recommended one by a practitioner.
Furthermore, from the standpoint of a writer who has ulcerative colitis, it’s extremely important to note (and actually quite ironic), that fermented foods can actually aggravate our symptoms, so please seek a doctor before attempting at any ‘gut bacteria’ nourishing food trends.