Your Gut and Your Health

Bacteria

By, Mike Gill

The body is an amazing thing. That is an understatement that should probably start any article written on the body.   This article will be focusing on your intestines, the billions of squatters that have taken up residence, and how to evict the ones that are causing problems.

The average person has around 100 trillion bacterial cells in their gut. This number means little, since most of us can’t begin to picture the size of a cell, bacterial or otherwise, so let’s give it some context. You have between eight and ten bacterial cells in your gut for every personal cell in your entire body. You are outnumbered more than eight to one by these bacteria. When these bacteria are healthy and appropriate, they provide an outstanding defense mechanism, attacking any invading bacteria that enter. When your gut bacteria become unhealthy or inappropriate, they wreak havoc on your system in a wide variety of ways.

We evolved a synergistic (mutually beneficial) relationship with bacteria in our bodies over thousands of years. Bacteria that could live on what passed through our intestines took up residence, breathing and eating as any living thing does. Our bodies learned to use the byproducts of their metabolism. For thousands of years we ate natural foods fresh from the source, so these are the bacteria that we evolved to have in our bellies.

Like our bodies, bacteria are also amazing. They can live in almost any condition, even adapting to live in undersea volcanic vents. There are countless varieties with differing metabolisms, allowing them to thrive in many different environments. The issue with modern humans and bacteria is that we have drastically changed our lifestyles and diets in a short amount of time (a hundred years is a very short time for evolution); our biology has not had the time to adapt. The high amounts of sugars and chemicals in our diet, which take the place of natural foods, are something the bacteria in our bellies don’t know how to process. There are many other types of bacteria that do fine with these chemicals, even thrive on them. They are the ones starting to take residence in our bodies. Our bodies have no experience with the byproducts of their metabolism and treat them as toxins. This leads to digestive problems, immune problems, inflammation, poor absorption of nutrients, toxicity, and many other issues.

What can we do? The simplest, most important thing is to shift back into eating as many natural foods as possible. More specifics are in other articles, but that is the basic idea; put a food source into your belly that favors the bacteria you want. If you show signs of an unwanted bacterial colony, you would also do well to take a high dose of probiotics for a short period. This will help restock the bacteria you want. There is no problem with continuing use of these high dosage probiotics long-term, but once you have a healthy colony, it shouldn’t be necessary. Recommendations on probiotic labels will say otherwise, but this is a reflection of our country’s bizarre laws governing supplements. A healthy colony of bacteria should keep itself strong as long as you are giving it the proper natural foods. It is a good idea to assume that the colony needs to be restocked after any antibiotic treatment or intestinal sickness with severe diarrhea.

Along with this initial blast, it is a good idea to find ways of getting additional probiotics in your diet as you can. Kombucha, yogurt, miso and fermented vegetables are all great ways to do this. For most people they won’t do enough on their own to fix a colony of problem bacteria, but they can help keep a healthy colony healthy.

Restocking a Healthy Colony

As mentioned before, the most important thing in stocking your bacterial colony is to give it a food source that it likes. For us, that simply means food. It sounds like common sense, but most Americans are so accustomed to food-like products that we don’t even know how to tell the difference. When eating something, think, “Could I find this on a tree or bush? Did it used to walk or swim around? Did it come from a farm or factory?” Take a look in your cabinet and freezer. Those chips and crackers are part of what I’m talking about. So are the pre-prepared boxed foods. Sorry, so is the juice that sits in its sealed container, boasting its health benefits on the label. Now open your freezer. Those chicken fingers and prepared meals are what I’m talking about. So are the frozen desserts.   I’m not saying that you need to throw those items away, only that the less often you eat them, the less of a problem they present. In the overall food picture, they should be the garnish, not the meal.

Finding a good high dose probiotic

There is some debate over which type of probiotic is best. Some therapists prefer them to come in capsules, while others prefer them to be in some type of food base. Either way, a probiotic should always be refrigerated. The argument for capsules is that the acid in your stomach will kill many of the probiotics before they can reach your intestines (where they are meant to live). The argument for food based supplements is that it is easier to keep them alive and healthy when they have a food source. I prefer food-based for that reason, and because I always try to keep things as close to natural as possible when I have a choice.

Bio-K

Bio-K is the premier choice for a food based supplement. It is also the most expensive. Most products out there have not been tested scientifically by a third party. Bio-K has been shown to be effective[1] in a clinical trial on humans in a hospital setting in alleviating the effects of antibiotics. Though the price is high, you know you getting quality. You’ll find it in the supplement aisle refrigerator of any health food store.

Others

American Health makes a yogurt based probiotic that seems to perform like Bio-K, but with a much lower price tag. I have no data to back that up other than the experience of myself and a few clients. Inner-eco is coconut water based and tastes pretty good. I can’t swear by its quality, but like the American Health supplement, it seems to work for my family.

[1] Sampalis J, Psaradellis E, Rampakakis E. Efficacy of BIO K+ CL1285® in the reduction of antibiotic-associated diarrhea – a placebo controlled double-blind randomized, multi-center study. Archives of Medical Science : AMS. 2010;6(1):56-64. doi:10.5114/aoms.2010.13508.

Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Michael Gill is a Clinical Nutritionist and Massage Therapist. He has a BS in Health Sciences and has been in the alternative health field for 13 years. He also has a black belt in Poekoelan Indonesian Martial Arts. To find out more, check out his website: www.pdxthaimassage.com