The Important Role of Gut Bacteria for Health and Wellbeing

Why is the gut microbiome important? We are about to find out.

There are many diets that claim to offer optimum nutrition, from keto to paleo and even plates of high carb meals. But none are as important as when it comes to populating your stomach with friendly bacteria and the sustenance they need to survive.

What is friendly bacteria?

Your gut is home to trillions of strains of microorganisms that live within what’s known as the ‘cecum’. It is located within the large intestine and their job is to synthesise vitamins such as vitamin D, vitamin K, folate, thiamin and riboflavin, as well as to ensure the integrity of the immune system, of which 70% of it is located.

How can you keep your gut healthy?

Firstly, the gut needs to be made a hospitable place for bacteria, and that involves refraining from certain foods (more on that later). You will need to seed your gut with suitable strains which include Actinobacteria (Bifidobacterium), Firmicutes (Ruminococcus, Clostridium and Eubacteria), and Bacteroidetes (Porphyromonas, Prevotella). You can also source a broader selection of strains (recommended for the breakdown of cellulose and the production of vitamins) by eating a wider plate of probiotic foods.

What are probiotics and which foods contain them?

Probiotics are generally fermented foods that contain strains of bacteria that will aid species diversification in the gut. This includes foods such as:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Pickles
  • Certain types of cheese like Brie

The foods you choose should not be heated at high temperatures or be processed, as this method destroys the cultures of bacteria they contain. So, check with the manufacturer to ascertain their production practices.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are different to probiotics. They’re foods that good bacteria need to eat to survive, which come in the form of…

  • Sourdough bread
  • Inulin (also known as chicory root)
  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Chocolate (cocoa) but must be unprocessed
  • Garlic
  • Apples

However, that doesn’t mean that is all you should eat. Polyphenols (plant based compounds) and fibre rich foods such as olives and olive oil, leafy greens (such as baby spinach, rocket) and sweet potatoes can aid bacteria in conquering your gut. Even coffee and herbal teas fall within the polyphenol bracket.

What foods should I avoid?

Damaging microorganisms can take charge in the gut in a process known as dysbiosis. This is when an imbalance of microbiota occurs and has been shown to cause diabetes and cancer.

In order to circumvent this change, foods containing artificial flavourings, emulsifiers, certain meats and sugars should be avoided. They include:

  • Fried and fast food
  • Processed chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Refined foods such as breads, crisps and protein bars
  • Sugar laden foods
  • Red meat

Eating these foods can be likened to carpet bombing your biome, even if done just the once.

Good bacteria may help us lose weight and keep our heart healthy

Studies signify that cultivating gut microbiota may aid in weight loss. A reputed study followed twins and revealed that our microbiomes are not genetically inherited. One twin fell within the range of obesity, whereas, the other fell within a healthy BMI due to differences in the strains of microorganisms they hosted.

The gut may also regulate heart health and significantly impact the production of HDL cholesterol. The type known for being ‘good’, as it absorbs LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and is linked to heart disease and stroke.

Why is the gut called the second brain? The answer is in your mood

Years of research conclude a connection between mood with gut health through a direct link joining the vagus nerve in the stomach to the brain. The majority of bacteria within the cecum stimulate the production of neurotransmitters which produce serotonin and dopamine.

Take aways and common mistakes

In the advent of vegan and ‘clean’ eating lifestyles, alternative milks are increasingly being used such as oat and soy. The recipe for these include preservatives like emulsifiers which are detrimental to bacteria. Searching for organic plant milks or cow’s milk is a better alternative as they are usually void of any nasties. But it is best to check.

There are microbiome tests that can advise on the state of your gut, including what strains live within you, but they are not good for much else. The best way to tell, will most likely be the state of your mood and health, but more studies are required for long term understanding.

Final thoughts

As human ingenuity has progressed so have our ideas and practices for food production. In order to preserve and make foods ‘safer’ manufacturers began to include the use of artificial ingredients to increase shelf life. This comes at a cost to the gut, which scientists and researchers are beginning to discover is the most important part of the body. So look after it and it may just look after you.

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