Around 100 trillion microbes live in your gut. These microbes include both ‘friendly’ bacteria and also ‘bad’ bacteria and yeast. They’re collectively referred to as your microbiome or gut flora.
Your friendly bacteria are enormously important to your overall health. In fact, your gut microbiome is at the center of your entire being. Each strain of bacteria that resides within the lining of the gut has a distinct role in keeping your body functional and healthy. They’re involved in your digestion, your immune function, your nutritional status, your energy levels, and even your mood.
Other microorganisms – the ‘bad’ bacteria and yeast – can be harmful, especially when they get out of balance. Unfortunately, the modern Western lifestyle is more helpful to those bad bacteria than to the good guys!
Our diets typically include the things that upset the delicate balance of the gastrointestinal environment, such as processed foods, added sugars, and artificial additives. Other hindrances include antibiotics, alcohol and lack of exercise.
Dysbiosis is the term used to describe the imbalance of good and bad microorganisms in your gut. This is the result when pathogenic bacteria and yeast overwhelm the good bacteria in your intestinal tract. If left untreated, you can become susceptible to conditions such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, SIBO, SIFO, Celiac disease, Crohn's disease and more.
The secret to good health is a good microbiome. And fortunately, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds! All you need to do is make these 7 simple lifestyle changes.
As defined by the World Health Organisation, probiotics are "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host".
What does this mean in simple terms? Probiotics live in your gut, where they help to break down the nutrients in the food you eat, support your immune system, and much more.
Research has shown that two of the most important roles that your gut microbiome has are in boosting your immunity and supporting a healthy metabolism. For it to do these jobs properly there must be an abundance of healthy bacteria – i.e. lots of probiotic strains and colonies. (1)
When your gut microbiome has been upset by other factors – such as age, genetics, certain medications, alcohol and diet – one of the most effective ways to get it back in balance is with a good probiotic supplement.
Look for a product that contains at least 10 strains of bacteria, including multiple researched strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. It should also contain a high guaranteed CFU count (at least 10 billion CFUs). Just as importantly, find one that uses time-release tablets so the bacteria will reach your gut.
‘Prebiotic’ literally means “before life”. Prebiotics are the ‘food’ for your good gut bacteria. They’re a type of non-digestible fiber that cannot be broken down in the gut.
Prebiotics pass through your small intestine undigested and are moved into your large colon, where they are fermented. This fermentation process is carried out by the bacteria in your colon, which is why this prebiotic fiber is considered to be their ‘food’.
Essentially, prebiotics give your healthy bacteria the nourishment they need to thrive. More live bacteria are created during this fermentation process, so that makes prebiotics an excellent way to support a healthy, varied microbiome.
Prebiotics belong to a group of compounds called oligosaccharides, which are in fruits and vegetables such as Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, garlic, onions, and apples. They include a variety of non-digestible forms such as fructo-oligosaccharides, inulin, and polysaccharides. Eating these foods everyday will help to support the overall health of your microbiome.
Here we should make a note about prebiotic supplements. For most people, as long as they are eating a reasonably healthy diet, prebiotic supplements are not necessary. In fact, large doses of prebiotics can potentially lead to bacterial overgrowth in your gut. Stay safe by sticking to natural sources of prebiotics.
When your diet contains a lot of sugar, your gut bacteria can end up overwhelmed by pathogens and yeast.
Why is this? Sugar is the fuel for yeasts and other opportunistic pathogens. Sugar provides them with the energy they need to grow and proliferate, which causes your beneficial bacteria to suffer.
An imbalance of bad bacteria or yeast means that your gut is less efficient at breaking down nutrients in the food you eat, which in turn means that you miss out on valuable vitamins and minerals.
Long term, this can result in the unpleasant symptoms of poor digestion and irritable bowel syndrome, not to mention a higher susceptibility to colds and flu.
When you eat sugar, don’t forget that you’re supporting those ‘bad’, pathogenic bacteria! Replace your refined sugar with natural sweeteners such as stevia, xylitol, erythritol, or monk fruit extract. Avoid dried fruit and fruit juices (these are packed with sugar!) and instead get your ‘sweet fix’ from low-sugar fruits such as berries.
Exercise causes the heart to pump faster, which in turn stimulates the lymphatic system. Because the lymphatic system is responsible for removing waste products and toxins from your bloodstream, it also helps to speed up your body’s detoxification pathways.
Regular physical activity can also help to activate the pathways that assist with liver detoxification. This allows your body to flush out toxins, waste and other harmful substances more efficiently.
When there are fewer toxins in your circulatory system, your microbiome can spend more time fighting off invading pathogenic species in your gut.
It’s also been found that exercise can help to boost the diverse range of beneficial microorganisms in your gut, right where most of your immune cells reside.
Research has suggested that athletes have higher amounts of gut bacteria after intense physical training and playing sports. Those with good nutritional intake improved the biodiversity of their microbiota even further. (2)
You’ve probably heard that hydration is vital for your health, and that you should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. But most people don’t ever get around to drinking that much.
Drinking plenty of clean, filtered water each day has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of your gastrointestinal tract. It’s also essential for helping flush out any toxins that have accumulated in your system, which can be harmful to the balance of good bacteria.
Water also helps keep waste moving through your bowels so that it can be excreted efficiently. Without adequate water, waste can end up spending long periods of time in your intestines, where it is likely to begin fermenting. This becomes a haven for bad bacteria and yeast.
By drinking lots of water throughout the day, you’ll keep your bowels regular and your intestines clear. Carry a bottle around with you and take sips throughout the day.
Your gut is very sensitive to emotions. When you’re angry, sad, anxious or elated, you’ll probably feel it in your gut.
Research has shown that your brain has a direct effect on the nervous system within your stomach and intestines. That’s why the thought of eating a particularly tasty dish can make you feel hungry: the image in your brain triggers your digestive juices.
What’s really interesting is that this link goes both ways. If your digestion is weak due to a bacterial imbalance, your mood will suffer.
Intestinal distress can lead to higher amounts of anxiety, stress, or even depression. This is because the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria can trigger a response from the immune system, leading to inflammation of the GI tract and the subsequent inflammation in other parts of the body, especially the brain.
Neuropsychologists now suggest that severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychological or neurological problems may be directly related to imbalances of the gut microbiome. (4)
Try to take time out to “de-stress” each day. Practise yoga or meditation, or simply take a walk.
Sleep is essential for every one of your body systems. Your body needs rest in order to repair cells within your brain, gut, and every organ.
Numerous studies have shown that irregular sleep habits and disturbed sleep can have a severely detrimental effect on your microbiome.
Long-term sleep deprivation can interfere with the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut, which in turn upsets your immune system and increases your risk of infection. In fact, just a few bad nights can upset your normal gut bacteria.
A recent study involving young adults of healthy weight found that as little as two consecutive nights of poor sleep resulted in detrimental changes to the gut microbiome. When each person slept for less than four and a half hours per night for two consecutive nights, the numbers of healthy bacterial strains in their digestive tracts were reduced by almost half. (5)
You can help yourself to sleep better by setting yourself a regular bedtime and reducing your intake of caffeine and sugar. Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.