Sometimes, you just have to trust your gut when you feel like something might be up with your health.
If you’re always sluggish, holding on to extra weight or feel like your immune system’s just not up to scratch, the answer may well lie in the type of bacteria setting up camp in your gut. IQS dietician Marieke Rodenstein has the lowdown on what’s going on down there.
Bacteria: our friendly allies
Most people think of bacteria as dangerous, more foe than friend.
Yes, there are many bad bugs that can have serious consequences on our health. But bacteria also plays a critical role in keeping us healthy, too.
Healthy gut = healthy body
The majority of these microbes hang out in our gut (in fact, the gut is one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet.) There you’ll find both “good” and “bad” bacteria. In a healthy gut, the number of bad bacteria are limited and tightly controlled by the good bacteria. If, however, the good bacteria are weakened, the bad bacteria can get out of control and wreak havoc on our overall health and immunity.
Research has linked disturbances in our gut flora to an increasing number of issues such as IBS and acid reflux to allergies, autoimmune issues, diabetes, depression, ADHD and autism.
What leads to an imbalance?
- Sugar: The sweet stuff promotes the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, hampering the growth of the beneficial kind. Diets high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods basically provide an all-you-can-eat buffet for the bad bacteria to thrive.
- Antibiotics: They are prescribed to kill off bacteria but unfortunately they don’t discriminate between the good and the bad guys. While antibiotics can be lifesaving, public health officials are calling for far more prudent use in both medicine and agriculture. (Our over-enthusiastic use of antibacterial soaps, lotions, wipes and sprays doesn’t help matters either.)
- Stress: Stress can also impact our gut bacteria. Scientists have so far as to call the gut “the second brain” due to its connection with our mental health and wellbeing.
Love your gut for life.
There are heaps of simple steps you can take to help create a healthier balance of bacteria in your gut and improve your overall health.
- Cut out sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods: This should be your number one priority. The gut simply cannot function at its best if you continue to eat them.
- Introduce fermented foods to your diet. Sarah is a huge advocate for the gut benefits of fermenting your veggies. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir are rich in beneficial probiotic bacteria, helping to inoculate the gut with more good bugs.
- Eat plenty of prebiotic foods: Prebiotic foods rich in soluble fiber are like fertiliser for the good bacteria in your gut. Sweet potato, raw onions, garlic, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and avocado are some of the best ones to add to your diet.
Because if you love your gut, it’ll love you back!
We originally posted this article in February 2014. We updated it in July 2016.
Have you reversed any health conditions by restoring your gut health? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.