It’s a gut feeling, this phrase is well known and now finally scientific evidence can prove that there is truth to it. Your gut contains trillions of bacteria, with a diverse range of over a thousand different strains all with a different function within the gut. Having a broad spectrum of gut bacteria not only improves the efficiency of your digestive system but it also improves your physical and mental health. Research has even shown that lifestyle can impact your gut flora, with Olympic athletes consistently having a particular strain of bacteria known as ‘Veillonella atypica’ which converts lactate into propionate which is then converted into glucose by natural metabolic processes (1).
Currently research is being undertaken to produce a probiotic containing this strain of bacteria, with the potential to increase physical performance for people who struggle with exercise.
It is also known that the gut contains a host of other organic micro-organisms in equal measure, including yeast and fungi, phages, archaea and viruses(2). These are thought to have a symbiotic effect with the bacteria present in the gut, often influencing the behaviour of the individual. Imbalances between these different microorganisms can occur, where unbalanced fungi has an association to Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and obesity. It has been found that an outgrowth of Enterobacteriaceae, Pasteurellaceae, Veillonellaceae and Fusobacteriaceae are likely linked to an increased risk of developing Crohn’s Disease (3).
Poor gut health has been linked to the development of insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. Blood glucose levels of an individual in response to certain diets can be predicted based on their microbial gut profile. One way in which susceptibility to chronic disease can develop is through prolonged antibiotic use, which will kill off large portions of gut bacteria. This leads to an imbalanced gut, lacking diversity, which would lead to an underdeveloped immune system (4).
Interestingly it has also been found, perhaps unsurprisingly that excessive alcohol consumption can alter the microbial diversity within the gut, leading to severe health problems in the long term. In chronic alcoholics, it has been found that there was an increase in the number of Gammaproteobacteria, Enterobacteriaceae, Clostridia Streptococcaceae, Veillonellaceae, Fusobacteria to name a few, but with prolonged alcohol consumption small intestinal bacterial overgrowth of Coliform, Endospore-forming rods and Gram-Negative anaerobic bacteria(5). These variations from normal gut health can lead to Gastro-Intestinal abnormalities, dysbiosis and changes in the morphology of the gut.
So hopefully by now you’re convinced that a healthy gut is essential for long term wellbeing and development, but what can you do if you think your guts need a boost? The first thing to do is assess your diet, which will directly affect the microclimate of your gastro-intestinal system, it has been reported that the most balanced diet is the mediterranean diet, consisting of fruit, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, potatoes, cheese, herbs and spices. A Mediterranean diet provides many health benefits, reducing hypertension and maintaining blood sugar levels. There are also a number of beneficial probiotic rich foods you can add such as; sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kimchi and kefir. Improvements in gut health are also associated with weight loss and weight regulation, if weight loss is your goal then there are also excellent treatments available.
Aside from dietary changes, you can always attempt to improve your probiotic and prebiotic intake, nourishing your gut flora and boosting your immune response. There are plenty of fantastic supplements on the market, but if your serious about your health you’ll want whatever probiotic you buy to contain the following beneficial bacteria (6):
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus Known to alleviate mild constipation
- Lactobacillus Plantarum Supports digestion & reduces bloating and intestinal discomfort
- Lactobacillus Rhamnosus Known to support a healthy weight
- Lactobacillus Casei
- Lactobacillus Paracasei Supports immune health
- Lactobacillus Gasseri Supports healthy weight management
- Lactobacillus Delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus Reuteri Supports heart health and oral health
- Lactobacillus Brevis
- Lactobacillus Breve
- Bifidobacterium Lactis Supports healthy immune system and occasional constipation
- Bifidobacterium Bifidum
- Bifidobacterium Animalis
- Bifidobacterium Breve
- Bifidobacterium Longum Relieves mild constipation and supports a health stress response
- Bifidobacterium Infantis Reduces gastrointestinal distress from microbiome Composition, found in human breast milk
- Streptococcus Thermophilus