Your Little Helpers in the Gut – Microbiota

Do you know that you have trillions of bacteria in your guts that help you stay healthy? The so-called microbiota, accounting for 3 to 5 pounds of bacteria per person, helps to control the immune system and regulate our digestion. The gut provides shelter to the largest collection of bacteria in a person. Other areas of habitat are the mouth, skin, nose, lungs or ears. We have more bacteria than cells in our bodies!

Microbiologist studies have verified that these good bacteria help absorb nutrients, produce enzymes and certain vitamins, and break down chemicals that otherwise could cause cancer or other diseases. They help keep the intestinal mucus lining healthy and support the immune system. Research has shown that the microbiota is wired to the brain as well. It may influence mood, and may have a direct impact on your mental health.


Eat more dietary fiber

The microbiota in the gut thrives on dietary fiber. Consume foods that are rich in dietary fiber, so eat a variety of complex carbohydrates in fruit, vegetable and grains. Fiber-rich foods are, for instance, apples, avocados, barley, beans, berries, broccoli, cabbage, kale, lentils, nuts or seeds. – What happens if you don’t eat enough fiber? Simply put, the bacteria starts to eat you! Studies in microbiology have confirmed that a starving gut microbe eats the mucus that lines and protects the inner walls of the intestine. This may result in lowered immune function and increase of inflammation in the body, and may cause obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), autoimmune diseases, allergies or asthma.


Limit antibiotics to a minimum

Overuse of antibiotics may harm our gut health. Most antibiotics don’t differentiate between the good and the bad bacteria they are asked to eliminate. Each antibiotic exposure takes a toll on one’s microbiota’s diversity which opens the risks to infections afterwards. There are times when taking antibiotics is unavoidable. But as a society, we are overusing them, so limiting the use of them helps sustain overall health.


Avoid use of antibacterial soap and limit household cleaners

Antibacterial soap and household cleaners are harmful to our microbiota. In fact, we are too clean and hygienic! The over-sanitization in our Western society makes encounters with good bacteria far less numerous than when floors were made of earth and people worked in fields and gardens. Putting your hands into an organic garden helps create more microbiotic diversity in your gut! Likewise contact to pets provide added microbes to counterbalance our ultraclean existence. Research has proven that children who live on farms are less prone to develop asthma or allergies than children who live in urban environments.


Consume probiotics and fermented foods

Humans have a long history of eating bacteria living on our foods. Before refrigeration and sanitation became widespread, eating bacteria on food was part of everyday life. Fermented foods are still common in many cultures today such as kimchi (Korea), sauerkraut (Germany) or miso (Japan). When using fermented foods in your diet regularly, you should get enough probiotics. However, it may be beneficial to take a probiotic supplement, especially after using antibiotics, when coming down with a cold or after food poisoning. Try a variety of probiotic supplements to find the one that works for you. Or consult with a nutritionist or naturopath.

You can find more information and tips in the book “Good Gut” by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg (researchers and microbiologists). I highly recommend this book to get a good grasp on the importance of your microbiota!