Why Probiotics Are So Important
Remember when our culture got a little excessive about eliminating bacteria? Antibacterial soaps, cloths, sprays, and wipes swept the market. We were convinced that we needed to keep our environment and our bodies sterile. Bacteria kind of got a bad rap.
But what we’ve discovered in recent years is that our body contains trillions of naturally occurring bacteria that are incredibly beneficial to our health. We have bacteria on our skin, in our mouths, and most abundantly, in our large intestine. In fact, scientists estimate we have 2-3 pounds of organisms living in our colon at any given time.
However, the key to living in harmony with all these bacteria in our gut is to support a healthy balance. Not all bacteria are equally beneficial and in fact, if some are allowed to flourish, they can take over and cause more harm than good. With the right environment in our intestine, the “good” bacteria (such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum) will keep the “bad” bacteria (such as yeast and candida) in check. Nutritional experts agree that a healthy gut may be composed of about 15% harmful bacteria, but this means 85% of the bacteria found there is the beneficial kind. This ratio represents a healthy intestinal environment.
So let’s look at 5 reasons probiotics are so important, 5 ways we in put our gut balance in jeopardy, and 5 ways we can team up with bacteria to support excellent health.
5 Reasons Probiotics Are So Important
Billions of little microbes living in our gut may sound gross, but they are essential to optimal health. They live off of us and in turn do us a lot of favours.
Vitamin production — The beneficial bacteria in our large intestine help to produce vitamin K and some B vitamins which our bodies cannot produce on their own.
Food digestion — Bacteria in our colon release enzymes which break down the polysaccharides in plant cell walls. Since humans do not produce the enzymes necessary to break down plant structures, this is an essential task performed by bacteria.
Keep harmful bacteria in check — As mentioned above, even a healthy person has a certain amount of “bad” bacteria in their intestine. An abundance of beneficial bacteria will foster living conditions that favour their own growth and keep the levels of harmful bacteria in proper balance.
Ensure optimal immune function — Your intestinal wall holds 70-80% of the cells of your immune system. Beneficial bacteria help maintain prime intestinal conditions allowing for optimal immune function.
Improves mood — The nerve cells in the intestine produce 95% of the seratonin in our bodies, a neurotransmitter which is key to mood regulation. Beneficial bacteria help keep the intestinal conditions suitable for unhindered seratonin production.
5 Ways We Jeopardize Our Gut Balance
Bad diet — A diet heavy on sugar and highly processed foods feeds yeast and other bad bacteria, leading to an overabundance of the wrong kind of bacteria.
Overuse of antibiotics — While antibiotics are prescribed to eliminate harmful bacteria, they don’t discriminate and end up wiping out good bacteria in the process. This leaves our gut vulnerable and can allow bad bacteria to take hold and begin to overpopulate.
Stress — The hormones our body releases during periods of stress can hinder blood flow to the digestive system and weaken or damage good microbes. Chronic stress means we are always putting beneficial bacteria at a disadvantage.
Too many chemicals — Toxins from heavy metals in drinking water, medications, food additives, cleaning products, pesticides, beauty products, alcohol, and cigarette smoke can all damage the friendly bacteria in our gut and reduce the diversity of our gut flora.
Too little sleep and exercise — Our intestine appears to follow it’s own daily circadian-like rhythm and disrupting this rhythm deprives friendly bacteria and encourages the growth of harmful ones. Regular physical activity has also been shown to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut.
5 Ways To Team Up With Friendly Bacteria
Eat a diet high in prebiotics and probiotics — Probiotics are foods and supplements that contain beneficial bacteria cultures and prebiotics are the specific carbohydrates that feed these friendly bacteria. Fermented foods are where we find probiotics in our diet, including pickled vegetables, kefir, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and yogurt. Prebiotics fibres can be found in foods such as onions, asparagus, oats, bananas, and lentils.
Consider a probiotic supplement — If you don’t eat fermented foods, it would be wise to consider adding a supplement to your daily routine. A probiotic with multiple strains of healthy bacteria can help to restore intestinal balance.
Limit antibiotic use — Try not to rush to the doctor for a prescription unless absolutely necessary and remember that antibiotics are of no use against viruses such as colds and flus. If you must go on antibiotics, a few weeks of high dose probiotics when you are finished your prescription will help re-establish healthy intestinal flora.
Avoid toxins — While we can’t eliminate our exposure to all the toxins in our environment, we can support our gut health by making many toxin-free choices. Choose natural cleaning and beauty products that are free of harsh chemicals, drink filtered water, quit smoking, and limit alcohol use.
Practice self-care — Making time for quality sleep and exercise as well as making an effort to reduce stress will go a long way to promoting a healthy intestine. Chronic busyness and overload may seem inevitable in our culture, but you can make choices that push back against this new “normal” and give your friendly gut bacteria a chance to flourish and do their best work.
While it may seem eerie to live in partnership with billions of organisms in our gut, we now know why probiotics are so important, as they play an essential role in our body. We would be wise to support them so that they are able to carry out their copious essential functions.
Fiber also helps to feed the good bacteria we have just talked about! So in order to keep those probiotics happy lets take a look at the other reasons for why fiber is so necessary to our digestive system. https://www.herbesthealth.com/blogs/news/why-fiber-is-necessary-for-the-digestive-system