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Gut Health and Why You Should Take Probiotics

yogurtWe’re always told it’s healthy to consume probiotics, but why is that the case?  First, it’s important to understand what comprises the human body.  There’s bones, muscles, tendons, blood, lymph, organs, and lots and lots of bacteria.  The truth is, our bodies contain trillions of microorganisms that live in a symbiotic relationship with us.  That means that the bacteria living inside our bodies are beneficial to us and our health, and we are beneficial to them.

Why Bacteria Lives in our Bodies, and Why It’s a Good Thing!

There are tens of thousands of types of bacteria that live in our bodies, with the highest concentration of them living in our intestines and gut.  As a whole, they encompass our gut microbiome.  Think of it as an entire world of bacteria and microscopic organisms, contained entirely within our bodies.  They’re important because they help our bodies break down the food we consume so we can digest and use the nutrients as energy.

How Gut Health is Tied to Overall Health

The health of our gut is a great indication of our overall health, because the two are intimately tied together.  When you have a healthy blend of bacteria in the gut, you’re able to digest food effectively and efficiently, detoxify the body, absorb nutrients, and fight infection and inflammation.  If your gut microbiome is out of balance, or contains too many of the wrong types of bacteria, it can leads to problems.  Rapid weight gain, irritability, indigestion, poor mental performance, skin problems, and a weakened immune system are all characteristics of an unhealthy gut.

old ageIs my Gut Bacteria Trying to Tell Me Something?

Our gut communicates with our brain, through the vagus nerve.  Ever had a “gut feeling,” or do you make decisions “based on your gut?”  What about an intense craving for sugar, a craving so strong that it was just impossible to say no to that delicious cookie or cupcake?  This was likely due to the bacteria in your gut signaling a desire for sugar.  The bacteria in our guts communicate directly with our brain, and can even change the way that we behave via cravings and signals that are sent to our brains.   

How do we Change the Type of Bacteria in our Guts?

The good news is we can have a direct affect on the balance of bacteria in our bodies.  The microorganisms in our gut microbiome feed on the food we put into our bodies, so it’s crucial we eat healthy food to promote better gut health.  Ever heard the phrase, “you are what you eat?” 

We quite literally are comprised of the foods that we put into our bodies.  When we eat leafy greens and healthy fats, healthy types of bacteria that digest those foods tend to flourish.  If on the other hand, we eat a diet full of sugar, toxins, preservatives, and processed foods, it allows other types of microorganisms to take over the healthy balance in of bacteria in our bodies.

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What Should I do to Improve the Balance of Healthy Bacteria?

  • Eat Healthy

The single biggest positive influence we can have on our gut bacteria is eating a diet comprised of whole foods, vegetables, healthy fats, and fiber.  It feeds the healthy microbes in our bodies, so they are able to flourish.  Get as many vegetables into your diet as you can.  They’re low in calories, high in micronutrients, and are critical for long term health and wellness.

  • Eliminate Toxins

Processed foods, sugars, preservatives, and environmental toxins can wreak havoc on the balance of healthy bacteria in our bodies.  Cut them out of your diet completely, or minimize them as best as possible to help get your gut micro biome back in check.  Everyone wants the cookie or the slice of cake now and then, and that’s ok.  Have your cheat meal or special dessert that you love, but don’t eat in excess.

  • Consume Probiotics and Fermented Foods

Yogurt, cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso are all great sources of healthy bacteria.  Probiotics and fermented foods contain healthy bacteria, so it’s a way to repopulate our gut with the right types of microorganisms.  They’ll help with digestion and make you healthier both inside and out.

  • Manage Stress and Get Adequate Sleep

Our stress and cortisol levels have a direct affect on the balance of bacteria in our bodies.  Frequent stress and lack of sleep weakens our immune systems, and prevents us from performing optimally.  Guard your sleep as best as you can.  Stop using electronics an hour before bed time, turn off notifications to avoid interruption, and learn to meditate and be as present as you can throughout your day-to-day life.

  • Only Use Antibiotics when Absolutely Necessary

Antibiotics are one of the most important and effective aspects of modern medicine, but they must be used with care.  They are able to destroy harmful bacteria in our bodies, but they also tend to wipe out the good bacteria as well.  Only use them if absolutely necessary, because it’s critical to protect your gut health to the best of your abilities.  Make no mistake, they’re incredibly beneficial, but they need to be used in moderation, and only to treat specific illnesses when prescribed by your doctor.

What Should I Take Away?

The health of our gut and our body is intimately paired with our overall health and well being.  When the microorganisms are in check, they can be our best friend because they promote health, digestion, and longevity.  When they’re out of balance, they can be our worst enemy. 

Do everything you can to protect your gut, because it will help you achieve vibrant health and vitality.  At the end of the day, nobody is as invested in your long term health as you are, so consider the foods and nutrients you put into your body each and every day. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “is this going to help me, or hurt me?”

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