Recent research has been revealing the central importance of “gut health” to our total well-being. Many of our most common health complaints, such as obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, even depression, can be linked to the chronic, systemic inflammation that occurs when our gut bacteria fail to do their job.
Despite our urge to treat them all as invaders, the bacteria that live and grow in our bodies are our friends and constant companions. You are host to 100 trillion of them, mostly in your intestinal tract, where they function as our first line of defense. Known as beneficial bacteria or “good bacteria”, they help our bodies recognize and defeat any harmful bacteria or pathogens we may ingest and keep environmental toxins from leaking into our bloodstreams. Think of these microbial residents as your very own GPS – “Gut Protection System”!
The unique bacterial makeup of your body is established in the first two years of your life and remains relatively unchanged into adulthood. This microbial “fingerprint” may dictate the difference between someone who has strong digestive health and someone who does not.
So how does your GPS protect you when, for example, you are exposed to a virus? Your good bacteria will fight off that virus in three ways:
Level 1 – They surround the virus while it is still in your intestinal tract.
Level 2 – They form a barrier along your intestinal lining to prevent the virus from passing through into the bloodstream.
Level 3 – Good bacteria communicate with your body to produce substances that neutralize the virus before it can cause any damage.
Some pathogenic organisms, or “bad bacteria,” are always present in your gut, but are normally outnumbered and neutralized by your good bacteria. Dysbiosis is the term used to describe the imbalance between beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria levels. Dysbiosis can lead to digestive upsets in the short term and sets the stage for the development of disease in the long term. So, what can cause dysbiosis?
The typical North American diet is high in sugar, starches, processed foods, and animal proteins, and low in fresh vegetables and fermented foods. Pathogenic bacteria, including yeast and parasites, feed off carbohydrates and sweets, allowing them to grow and crowd out the good bacteria in the gut. A diet lacking in vegetables can leave your good bacteria starved for nutrients. Vegetables are rich in soluble fiber which act as food for good bacteria.
Stomach acid is an essential component of a healthy GPS. Antacids alter the pH of the intestinal tract, creating an environment that is favorable to the growth of harmful bacteria and yeasts, and hostile toward good bacteria. Every time you pop an antacid, you’re setting yourself up for a state of dysbiosis.
The composition of your intestinal microflora changes gradually as you grow older. After the age of 50, the levels of good bacteria (specifically Bifidobacterium) begin to decline in number, perhaps contributing to increased disease risk in elderly people.
Long-term effects of dysbiosis:
To avoid an upset in the bacterial balance of your GPS, maintain a diet rich in organic vegetables, eat fermented foods, drink purified water and minimize your use of antibiotics and antacids. But along with these behaviours for healthy living, you’d be well advised to boost the levels of good bacteria in your gut with probiotic supplements. Talk to your colonic Hydrotherapist about the best ones for you.