More attention than ever is being put on your gut health, and understandably so because 70 to 80 percent of your immune function resides within your gastrointestinal tract. As such, optimizing your gut microbiome is a worthwhile pursuit that will have far-reaching effects on your physical health and emotional well-being.
A first important step toward balancing your gut flora is to eliminate sugar from your diet, especially sugars found in processed foods. Then, you will want to begin eating fermented foods — some examples are kefir, kimchi, natto, sauerkraut and raw grass fed yogurt. A healthy diet, including the consumption of prebiotic foods, influences your health because it helps create an optimal environment for beneficial gut bacteria, while decreasing pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria, fungi and yeast.
Taking a probiotic or sporebiotic supplement can also be beneficial, especially during and following antibiotic treatment, to restore and promote a healthy microbiome. Many don't realize your gut bacteria can influence your behavior and gene expression. Gut bacteria have also been shown to play a role with respect to autism, diabetes and obesity.
Mounting scientific evidence continues to suggest a large component of nutrition centers on nourishing the health-promoting bacteria in your body. In doing so, you can keep harmful microbes in check, manage your weight and protect against chronic disease. Given its importance to your overall health, now is the time to "go with your gut!"
What Is Your Gut Microbiome and What Does It Affect?
Research has determined about 100 trillion bacteria comprise your body's microbiome. However, it is far greater than that as for every bacterium there are at least 10 viruses and fungi living on or inside your body, helping with life-sustaining functions that would not be possible without them. Your microbiome takes shape very early in life.
In fact, if you were delivered via a vaginal birth, you were coated with your mother's microbes as you passed through the birth canal. More microbes were passed along during breastfeeding, as breast milk contains many gut-nurturing properties.
During the early years, your family, dietary and environmental exposures contributed to your microbiome in ways that have and will continue to influence your lifelong health. Your microbiome is made up of several distinct areas, including your eyes, genitals, mouth and skin, as well as your intestines, which comprise your gut microbiome. Everyday activities such as brushing your teeth, eating, kissing someone or handling a family pet affect your microbiome. Notably, your gut microbiome has been shown to play a role in:
•Autism: Establishment of normal gut flora in the first few weeks of life is vital to your baby's immune system. Babies with abnormal gut flora have compromised immune systems and are particularly at risk for developing ADHD, autism and learning disabilities, particularly if they are vaccinated while their gut flora is imbalanced.
•Behavior: A study published in Neurogastroenterology and Motility1 found mice lacking in gut bacteria behave differently from normal mice. Their altered behavior was construed as "high-risk" and was accompanied by neurochemical changes in the brain. It is widely known that your gut serves as your second brain, producing more of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known to have a positive influence on your mood, than your brain does.
•Diabetes: According to a Danish study,2 the bacterial population in diabetic guts differs from those of nondiabetics. According to researchers, Type 2 diabetes in humans is linked to compositional changes in intestinal microbiota, highlighting the link between metabolic diseases and bacterial populations in the gut.
•Gene expression: Your gut health has been shown to be a very powerful variable of epigenetics, a cutting-edge field of medicine highlighting the role your lifestyle plays with respect to genetic expression. As noted in ScienceDaily:3
"New research is helping to tease out the mechanics of how the gut microbiome communicates with the cells of its host to switch genes on and off. … the study4 … reveals how the metabolites produced by the bacteria in the stomach chemically communicate with cells, including cells far beyond the colon, to dictate gene expression and health in its host."
•Obesity: Because probiotics may help fight obesity, optimizing your gut flora is an important consideration if you're struggling to lose weight.
The Importance of Fermented Foods
I often mention the value of fermented foods in helping to "heal and seal" your gut as a means of boosting your health and/or reversing disease. As demonstrated in the video above, culturing vegetables is easy and inexpensive. You can also make your own homemade yogurt. Other examples of fermented foods include kefir, kimchi, natto and sauerkraut. These foods are not only packed with good bacteria, but also are associated with the following health benefits:
•Nutrient rich: Some fermented foods are outstanding sources of essential nutrients such as vitamin K2, which helps prevent osteoporosis and atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. Cheese curd is an excellent source of both probiotics and vitamin K2, as are certain fermented foods like natto or vegetables fermented at home using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria. Fermented foods also produce many B vitamins.
•Immune system booster: Because up to 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, probiotics play a crucial role in keeping your digestive tract operating smoothly. A healthy gut is your first defense against disease and a major factor in helping you maintain optimal health and well-being.
•Powerful detoxifier: Fermented foods are some of the best chelators available. The beneficial bacteria in these foods are highly potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a range of toxins and heavy metals from your bloodstream, which are then eliminated through your kidneys.
•Cost-effective: Adding a small amount of fermented food to each meal is cost-effective because it contains 100 times the probiotics of the average supplement. Given that a high-quality probiotic is expensive, you can culture vegetables for a fraction of the cost.
•Natural variety of microflora: If you vary the types of fermented and cultured foods you eat, you'll benefit from a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria than you could ever receive in supplement form.