Gut Bacteria And Your Health
There is a growing awareness that the health of a person’s gastro-intestinal tract - the gut - is fundamentally important to most aspects of health, from control of blood glucose, immunity and even psychological well-being.
This is not so surprising since food provides us with our energy and if the gut is responsible for extracting that energy, its condition is paramount for our overall health. Crucial to gut function are the bacteria that reside within it. A diverse array of bacteria in the gut is central to good digestion, helping release nutrients for the body to use, providing defense from gastro-intestinal disease and contributing to further general immunity.
Improving the stock and quantity of ‘friendly gut bacteria’ would, therefore, appear to be an obvious way to improve our health. So how can this be achieved? The most difficult barrier to getting good bacteria into the small and large intestines is the stomach which secretes hydrochloric acid to break down our food. This kills poisonous bacteria, but good bacteria as well.
A recent trial by the BBC programme ‘Trust me I’m a Doctor’ looked at three foods generally considered good for improving gut bacteria:
1) Probiotic drinks - off the shelf yoghurt drinks.
2) Fermented drink - Kefir. (Other fermented foods include sauerkraut, soy sauce, Kimchi and Kombucha.)
3) Prebiotic diet. A diet feeding the friendly bacteria already in the gut. This consisted of inulin found in leeks, asparagus, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions and chicory root.
The results were as follows:
1) Probiotic drinks - only minor increase in Lachnospiraceae (good for weight Management) otherwise no significant change but some studies have shown good results for people with digestive symptoms. (The drinks were probably pasteurised.)
2) Fermented drinks - these seem to be the best at surviving stomach acid. The best results were achieved with the group taking Kefir, increasing Lactobacillales considered beneficial and good at helping travellers’ diarrhoea and lactose intolerance.
3) Prebiotic diet - This group saw a significant rise in bacteria called Faecalibacterium, helping to feed colon cells and keeping them healthy which aids conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Conclusion - It is possible to change our gut microbes for the better by eating a varied diet and including fermented foods such as kefir, Sauerkraut, Kombucha yoghurt, cheeses, sourdough and fermented chutney. Homemade is best because you can produce unpasteurised foodstuff which has not had the good bacteria destroyed, but it is essential to produce and store them correctly or they can be harmful! (Please note also that pregnant women should avoid unpasteurised foods.) If you want to buy off the shelf gut bacteria enhancing drinks then Kefir and Kombucha seem to be a good way to do this, as they are probably made traditionally and are not pasteurised. Health benefits should follow!