Meet the Bacteria That Control Your Health
We share our bodies with somewhere around 100 trillion other organisms. Just think about that for a second. 100 trillion. On our skin, in our mouths and nose, and especially in our digestive system, our own human cells only represent around 10% of the living cells in our bodies.
Most of these organisms are the “good bacteria” that live in your large intestine. Generally, our relationship with these bacteria is symbiotic, so we’re all benefiting in some way. We give them a nice place to live, and they help us digest food, absorb vitamins, and fight off disease.
Amazingly, considering their importance, we’re still only just beginning to understand the importance of all these bacteria and other microorganisms. Even just 10 years ago, we knew of about 200 species in our bodies. Now it’s closer to 10,000.
Why Are These Gut Bacteria Important?
The more we learn about the good bacteria we live with, the more realize how connected they are to our health. Research shows that when the mix of gut bacteria is out of balance, it may play a significant role in a wide variety of diseases and health issues, including:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Migraine Headaches
- GI Reflux
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Even more remarkable are recent developments showing some connection to mental health, from depression and anxiety to possible links with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The good bacteria in our gut are so important because of their critical role in regulating our immune system, controlling inflammation, and managing digestion. These bacteria allow us to take nutrition from most of the food we eat. They’re responsible for training our immune system to know what will hurt us and how to stop it. They even protect our very genes by preventing toxic material from leaking through our gut tissue.
As a result, whenever a patient comes to me with an illness or ailment, I’m going to look at a gut imbalance as a likely cause.
How to Maintain a Balanced Gut and a Healthy You
The real key to maintaining a healthy gut is maintaining a well balanced diet to ensure a rich diversity of good bacteria. A diet too low in fiber saps energy from the good bacteria and makes it difficult for them to thrive. A diet too high in refined sugars and carbohydrates allows pathogens to grow.
In general, the more fruits and vegetables you consume, the better. You can also eat and drink more fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, pickles, and alternative dairy products like coconut yogurt and kefir. These fermented foods are full of natural probiotics that add to the diversity of your gut bacteria, and you can take probiotic supplements as well. In addition, you can eat prebiotic foods such as onion, banana, and baked whole grain wheat flour to encourage the growth of existing bacteria.
On a broader scale, you may want to be more aware of limiting your exposure to antibiotics and anti-bacterial soaps and solutions, all of which take out the good bacteria with the bad. And as with almost anything health related, regular exercise has been shown to encourage a strong community of gut bacteria.
My training, education, and experience as a functional medicine practitioner has led me to focus a great deal on the role your gut bacteria play in our overall health. It’s a complex, fascinating, and evolving topic, so I’ll certainly be talking a lot more about it in my office and on this blog. If you have any immediate questions or concerns, or just want to learn more, please reach out to our office. Otherwise, look for more posts to come in the future on a range of related topics.