Improve Your Gut Health And Feel Better
The digestive tract represents an interface or transition zone between the external environment and the body. It contains a very complex polymicrobial ecosystem that interacts with the external and internal environment and has an important influence on health and disease. The properties of isolated microorganisms cannot explain how the polymicrobial community functions. Knowledge about how microorganisms interact with each other, with their host, and with the intestinal contents is growing exponentially.
Watch To Learn How Gut Health Affects Your Overall Wellbeing
It is necessary to maintain good digestive health, so it is important to opt for different options that contribute to this. Eating less processed foods, improving our habits, exercising, eliminating the constant consumption of alcohol and tobacco or going to a psychologist to maintain a balance in our mental health, can influence to achieve this. You can also start eating foods high in fiber, replace sweets for fruits or vegetables and have supplements or products that support your digestive system.
That’s why this time we bring you the best advice designed to help you enjoy excellent digestive health and not disrupt your lifestyle. Remember that it is important to stay well both inside and out.
Primary diagnosis at office visits: 36.6 million (2010)
Primary diagnosis at emergency department visits: 7.9 million (2010)
Primary diagnosis at outpatient department visits: 3.8 million (2010)
Hospitalizations: 21.7 million (2010)
Mortality: 245,921 deaths (2009)
Diagnostic and therapeutic inpatient procedures: 5.4 million—12 percent of all inpatient procedures (2007)
Ambulatory surgical procedures: 20.4 million—20 percent of all “write-in” surgical procedures (2010)
$141.8 billion (2004)
$97.8 billion, direct medical costs (2004)
$44 billion, indirect costs—for example, disability and mortality (2004)
Statistics courtesy of the NIH
What is Gut Health
The gastronomic preferences of the bacteria in the gut (these one hundred trillion bacteria that populate the human intestine, weighing just over two kilos) have captivated the interest of scientists, and in recent years the number of publications on the subject has multiplied.
The food we feed this bacterial community directly affects our health. Saturated fats, for example, favor the increase of microbial populations (firmicutes) associated with obesity. In contrast, foods rich in insoluble fiber (such as vegetables, whole-grain bread and seeds) facilitate the growth of beneficial bacteria (bacteroidetes) that reduce overweight, according to research published in Gut and Liver.
And it is not only the silhouette that is influenced by these inhabitants of our guts. Type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases and some cancers and immune disorders are also closely linked to the microbiota. Lately there has been increasing evidence of its relationship with eczema and atopic dermatitis, according to the medical portal Intramed. It has even been linked to longevity.
Another very relevant factor is the gut-brain connection. These microorganisms modulate the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter related to moods. This is why the microbiota is referred to as the second brain. All this accumulation of information leads nutritionists all around the world to affirm that “the intestinal flora is one more component to be taken into account in the treatment of diseases.
Can we modify it? It is possible that it can be modulated through food, and that it contributes to treatments, but the most important thing is to have the ability to create a favorable environment that promotes the colonization of a healthy microbiota.
On when this intestinal flora is damaged, it is tantamount to draw attention to the belief surrounding antibiotics and the bacteria in the gut. Contrary to what one might think, we know that the use of antibiotics does not alter the number of bacteria that make up the intestinal flora. Instead, they produce a dysbiosis or change in the composition of the microbiota. In other words, the concentration of some bacteria increases and the concentration of others decreases. This also occurs in inflammatory intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
How to improve gut health
In order to avoid digestive pathologies, we recommend maintaining a balanced intestinal flora and following hygienic-dietary guidelines in the diet. In addition, more and more scientific studies are warning that imbalances in the intestinal flora are related to the onset of various diseases, such as depression or allergy, for example.
Thus, maintaining a healthy intestinal flora is essential to preserve our health on a daily basis. Specifically, it is composed of the microorganisms present in the intestine. The host, which is the human being, uses these bacteria to degrade the waste that it is not able to digest and, as a result of this digestion, the bacteria produce vitamins and short-chain fatty acids.
It is very important for the overall health of the body because, throughout the digestive tract, bacteria are present in greater or lesser concentration by different mechanisms. In the case of the colon, bacteria are important for the maintenance of cell health and for digesting nutrients that we are not able to absorb and are not absorbed in the small intestine. Studies are being carried out that relate the intestinal flora to numerous and varied diseases, even beyond the digestive tract.
Furthermore, the intestinal flora varies according to each person, and it will be in one way or another depending on the food received from birth (breastfeeding or artificial feeding), the start of antibiotics, as well as the usual diet.
Specifically, it starts to form from birth and the best way to take care of it is to follow a proper diet, a balanced, varied and healthy diet.
Bacteria in the gut
The intestinal “flora” is the set of microorganisms or bacteria that live in our intestine.
Our flora is composed of 100 trillion bacteria with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria being the predominant ones (> 85%). The number of intestinal bacteria in our flora is 10 times greater than the number of cells in our body. The vast majority of these bacteria, approximately 95%, live in the colon. They can reach a weight of up to 2 kg, similar to the weight.
Although the intestinal flora is one of the best known, many of the bacteria that compose it are still unknown. At first it was thought that the immune system regulated and controlled the development of harmful bacteria and tolerated the commensal or ‘good’ bacteria. However, it is increasingly accepted that the bacteria that reside in our intestine cannot be divided into pathogenic (disease-causing) or non-pathogenic.
Moreover, nowadays it is known that bacteria that can cause sepsis (‘Escherichia coli’), abscesses (Bacteroides), endocarditis (Entercocci), and gas gangrene (‘Clostridium histolyticum’) are part of the human intestinal flora.
What are the functions of the flora?
The bacteria of our intestinal flora are very beneficial for our organism since they perform essential functions for our health and well-being. Some of the most important functions are:
- Acts as a defense of the organism:
- Reinforcement of our defenses against bacteria and viruses.
- Protection against diarrhea due to antibiotic treatments.
- Protection against other diseases.
- Correct functioning of our digestive system: Relief of the symptoms of constipation, favoring the intestinal rhythm.
- Collaborates in the production of vitamins such as B and K, amino acids, and provides energy, necessary for the functioning of our organism.
- Facilitates a correct absorption of minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium.
Therefore, the maintenance of intestinal flora is key to maintaining good health and a good immune system.
What alters the bacteria in the gut?
There are different situations that can unbalance our intestinal flora and therefore cause alterations in our health:
Age: as we get older, mainly from the age of 60 onwards, there is a decrease in the number of beneficial bacteria.
Infections: of viral and/or bacterial origin.
Antibiotics: decrease the number of beneficial bacteria in our flora.
Travel to other parts of the world.
Unhealthy habits (sedentary lifestyle, bad eating habits, insomnia, smoking, alcohol, stress, pollution, etc).
Some diseases such as ulcerative colitis, chron’s disease, etc.
What are the consequences of the alteration of the flora?
The alteration in the bacteria present in the gut can be a reason for the development of some diseases and intestinal disorders such as:
- A weakness of the immune system
- Traveler’s diarrhea
- Bloating of the stomach
- Allergy symptoms
What is a probiotic?
They are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, improve our intestinal flora, providing benefits for our health.
The use of probiotics presents general health benefits for those who consume them, such as:
- They serve as support in the treatment of diarrhea.
- They act as anti-infective protectors.
- They reinforce our defenses
- They prevent the colonization of harmful bacteria.
- Improve digestive function in cases of constipation, flatulence and gastroenteritis
- Decrease the risk of digestive diseases.
- The beneficial effect of probiotics in general, is achieved with frequent intake.
What is a prebiotic?
They are a type of fiber that stimulate the growth of intestinal flora. They are also the food for probiotics. So-called prebiotic foods are a good food source for certain groups of these healthy gut bacteria. Artichokes, leeks and asparagus are rich in prebiotic ingredients, such as inulin, fructooligosaccharides or galactooligosaccharides, among others. Also bananas and garlic are foods rich in prebiotics.
Although prebiotics cannot be digested directly by the body, they do help to increase intestinal transit and will be used by the microorganisms in the intestine. In other words: prebiotics are the “food” of the healthy bugs that live in the intestine.
Foods for gut health
Foods to eat
The human body has trillions of microorganisms. This is what we know as microbiota. Ninety-eight percent of these tiny tenants are bacteria, while the remaining two percent are yeasts, protozoa and viruses. But these important little critters, which live mainly in the large intestine, are essential for health and also for avoiding intestinal transit problems. Therefore, the key to taking care of intestinal health, say scientists, is to keep these bacteria happy with ideas such as those described in the following lines.
- Eat more prebiotics
Foods such as artichokes, leeks, asparagus, bananas and garlic are prebiotics that help maintain intestinal health.
The human body contains trillions of microorganisms that make up what we know as the microbiota. In fact, our body has ten times more cells from microorganisms than our own human cells. And most of these microorganisms live in different compartments of the intestinal tract.
Of these, 98 % are bacteria and the remaining 2 % are mainly yeasts, protozoa and viruses. These tiny but important tenants inhabit the gastrointestinal mucosa, a layer that extends along the entire digestive tract. But where there is by far the greatest concentration is in the large intestine.
Scientists know that some of these species of microorganisms that inhabit our bodies play a key role in intestinal health, as well as helping to maintain balance in the immune system, which protects against disease. And the diet is essential to allow these microbial beings to grow and avoid imbalances that can ruin the health of the intestine.
- Choose fiber and whole grains
If what we want is to take care of the intestine, it is advisable to opt for a diet rich in fiber, present in vegetables, legumes and fruits. Some foods high in fiber are apples, blueberries, artichokes, lentils, beans and chickpeas. Experts say that these foods can also reduce the growth of bacteria that are harmful to the intestine and, on the contrary, stimulate the growth of microorganisms that support intestinal health, such as bifidobacteria, lactobacillus and other healthy species called bacteroidetes.
To ensure that one eats enough fiber-rich foods, it is highly advisable to develop a diet including vegetables in all meals and all dinners, as well as choosing foods in their whole form, trying to reduce refined flours.
- Eat more fermented products
The benefits of fermented foods such as kefir, natural yogurt and soy milk for intestinal health are also well known. Just avoid flavored, flavored or sweetened yogurts, as they contain more than the recommended amount of sugar.
In addition to eating well, and following the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet (with a preference for whole grain cereals), do not neglect hydration, an essential habit to maintain the health of the intestine. To take care of intestinal health, we must not forget to maintain an adequate fluid intake, in the form of water and foods with high water content.
- Take vigorous walks
Despite following a diet rich in prebiotics and fiber, some people still have problems with intestinal transit. But physical exercise is another key to taking care of your health. It is not necessary to prepare for marathons. A brisk half-hour walk will increase the heart rate, which helps the blood in the digestive tract to move and activate the hormones that regulate digestion, according to research from the University of Michigan (USA). The key is to exercise daily, as sport accelerates colon transit and improves bowel function.
Foods to avoid
If you want to improve the composition of your flora, you should avoid (or limit) these foods:
Alcohol in most of its forms is the main culprit of both intestinal dysbiosis and irritation (both as a trigger and a worsening factor), it causes dehydration, diarrhea, and is a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid alcohol like the plague. You can limit your alcohol intake to a single serving per day (a mixed drink, a glass of wine or two beers). Avoid hard liquors and spirits, as these tend to have a stronger effect on both the stomach lining and the intestinal mucosa.
- Industrial pastries
Avoid diets rich in saturated fats. Pre-cooked meals and most packaged foods often contain saturated fats. And palm and coconut oils, if consumed in excess, can also alter the microbiota. The problem is lifestyles based on foods with excess fat. Occasionally eating something that is not very healthy is not going to alter anything. And vice versa, consuming yogurts improves the diversity of the intestinal flora, but you have to take them regularly. Just doing it one day won’t do anything.
- Ice cream
This recommendation, with the sun beating down, is not what we would like to hear. But don’t panic: it refers to industrial ice cream. And it also extends to mayonnaises. Specifically, the emulsifiers contained in these products, which are additives used in industrial manufacturing to give a creamy texture to a portion of food containing fat. It was not known whether they could negatively affect human health, until it was discovered how they alter the microbiota. In this sense, research led by Georgia State University (USA) points out that these emulsifiers are responsible for changes in the flora, which can favor the appearance of colorectal cancer.
- Artificial sweeteners
Taking continuous doses of aspartame (the sweetener most commonly used in the food industry), even in small quantities, modifies the composition of the flora and could alter insulin resistance (favoring the onset of diabetes), according to research coordinated by the University of Calgary (Canada). Sucralose, on the other hand, reduces this microflora (the decrease is maintained for weeks) and increases fecal pH, which hinders the absorption of some drugs taken orally.
In addition to these three foods, meats from animals that have received antibiotics can also decrease the variety of species contained in the flora and, ultimately, increase the risk of developing intestinal-related diseases.
Undoubtedly, the study of this large bacterial community will be a fundamental part of personalized medicine in the future. Many times, a stool sample, instead of a blood sample, will be enough for the doctor to prescribe changes in our diet in order to tackle metabolic problems. So says a study conducted by Louisiana State University (USA) in which it is clear that a variety of (healthy) foods is the cornerstone for keeping your second brain healthy.
Supplements for gut health
Nowadays, it is possible to compensate dietary requirements otherwise hard to attain through food alone with the help of dietary supplements. Supplements for gut health come in a wide range of active ingredients, such as live bacteria that act as probiotics, fiber and oils that act as prebiotics, vitamins, minerals, aminoacids, and enzymes that act over our intestines and improve their function.
Reasons to consume supplements for gut health
Although consuming probiotics has a positive impact on our whole organism, here are 6 specific benefits obtained by people who regularly include them in their diet.
- Gut health supplements help fight obesity and diabetes
Some studies confirm that the consumption of probiotics can contribute to improve glucose and fat metabolism.
- Supplements contribute to your mental and emotional well-being
Taking gut health supplements can help you reduce stress. We already know that the brain and the gut are connected. Consuming the right bacteria can help promote relaxation. They also help prevent anxiety and depression.
- Supplements take care of the liver
The liver is a great filter of toxins for the body. We depend on it for many of our most basic functions, so it is very important to keep it healthy and cared for.
It is recommended to consume supplements with live bacteria, daily soy yogurt or any other vegetable yogurt with L. Bulgaricus and Thermophilius, two bacteria that are responsible for transforming milk into yogurt. This helps to repair liver damage before it turns into disease.
- Gut health supplements may prevent colds
Children who consume more probiotics tend to have fewer colds and cases of flu and, if they do get them, suffer milder and less long-lasting symptoms.
- Supplements fight the side effects of antibiotics
When we take antibiotics, we often encounter unpleasant side effects. While antibiotics fight harmful bacteria, they also destroy the beneficial bacteria that live in our gut, which can lead to intestinal discomfort or an imbalance in bacterial populations.
Taking gut health supplements along with antibiotics protects our natural flora and avoids the annoying side effects of antibiotics.
- Supplements soothe iritable bowel
If you have regular intestinal discomfort, irritable bowel syndrome, or abdominal pain, taking supplements can help relieve these symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome patients who take probiotics have less pain, less bloating, and less flatulence.
Maintaining your intestinal flora depends on proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. In addition, incorporating probiotics and prebiotics into your lifestyle habits is a preventive measure that helps to improve, restore and maintain the composition of our intestinal flora. Give life to your flora by taking supplements, which can:
- Help improve digestion
- Improve the movement of the intestinal bolus
- Maintain a strong immune system
- Increase resistance to infections
- Prevent travel illnesses
- Improve diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome
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