That’s right people. We have aliens inside us. Horrifyingly living and growing and multiplying until there’s more of them inside us than there is of us.
The thing is we need them. Bacteria, microbiomes, microbial flora, whatever you like to call them, the colony of micro-organisms living in our intestinal tracts are essential to our health.
This is one of those situations where science is catching up with pseudo-science. For many years I’ve read all kinds of quackery about the importance of looking after my gut. Except that it’s turning out to no longer be quackery. Gut bacteria are now believed to be responsible for a host of health benefits, ranging at the most basic level from how much nutritional value we get from the food we eat, through to links with weight moderation, psychological wellbeing, and immunity.
It turns out that this is an area of human biology that has long been ignored. The growth of antibiotic resistant superbugs has caused scientists to begin exploring our microbiomes, and the discoveries have been astounding. Not only are there more bacterial cells in our bodies than our own cells, they are remarkable diverse, with over 10,000 different types of bacteria. To sum up, our microbial flora are responsible for virtually every process in our bodies and are vital for our health and our survival, which is kind of full on.
Annoyingly, the environment that our gut microbiomes need to flourish seems to be pretty easy to unbalance. Some negative impacts are:
- Overuse of antibiotics – great for ridding your body of infection, but can also take out the good with the bad
- Overuse of antibacterial cleansers – especially soaps, mouthwashes and shampoos
- Chlorinated drinking water – chlorine kills everything
- Highly processed foods – especially those with high fructose corn syrup
- Stress – just bad for everything really
- Lack of sleep
This is not an exhaustive list. Depending on who you read and what you believe, there are a bunch of other things that can negatively impact your gut.
The good news is that there is a whole load of good stuff we can do to get things back on track. The most obvious is avoiding the above! But there are foods we can eat to aid and improve our gut health and function:
- Fermented foods – this is probably the most well recorded. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, keffir, and yoghurt are all amazing and worth integrating into your diet.
- Prebiotic fibre – fibre stimulates growth and maintainance of gut bacteria. We’re not talking bran, we’re talking about fibre found in fruit and vegetables.
- Polyphenols – basically foods that are amazing colours. Blueberries, red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, all good stuff.
- Vitamin D – sadly the downside to staying out of the sun is that we can suffer from vitamin D deficiency, which leads to low immunity caused by negatively impacted gut bacteria.
Apparently exercise is also amazing for gut health. The I guess it’s all the things we’re always being told to do. Exercise, get enough sleep and eat fresh fruit and vegetables.