Healthy Minimalist

Why Your Gut Flora Matters and How to Keep it Healthy

Naturopathic MedicineAnnie CannonComment

Gut flora- so hot right now.

An imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in our digestive systems, called dysbiosis, has been linked to almost every condition and disease, and the idea that optimizing our gut flora can heal seemingly unrelated and/or long-standing issues is exploding in the medical world.

Many researchers and health professionals even think that gut flora should be considered a whole separate organ!

Ever wonder why naturopathic doctors are so big on probiotics?

The microorganisms inside our bodies and on our skin outnumber our own cells by more than ten to one. How scary is that? And it’s not just bacteria. We also play host to some fungal species, such as Candida.

We truly live in a symbiotic relationship where we provide carbohydrates for the microbes to eat or, ferment, which then creates short chain fatty acids which acts as food for the cells of the digestive lining, keeping them healthy and intact.

Here are some of the other important jobs of our gut flora:

  • They fight off pathogenic microbiota! Many of the microbiota we consider to be “bad”, such as Candida and E.coli are naturally-occurring in the body but will overgrow if not kept in check
  • They are needed to produce vitamins K and C, and various B vitamins including B12 and folic acid, as well as to absorb minerals like iron and zinc, which are important nutrients for blood clotting, energy production, immune function, connective tissue integrity, the list goes on!
  • They affect neurotransmitter production such as serotonin, the "happy" hormone
  • They rebuild amino acids broken down from proteins for use in energy production and detoxification
  • They bind cholesterol (prevent it prom accumulating in the blood) and decrease liver production of triglycerides

The variety of functions that microbiota have makes it easy to understand why an imbalance or, dysbiosis, can cause so many different problems such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, weight gain, allergies, skin rashes, low energy, autoimmune diseases, and cognitive and mood disturbances.

So what can you do to keep your microbial family healthy?

I've provided you a list (and an infographic!) of things to avoid to prevent dysbiosis, followed by helpful tips to rebalance the microbiota.

Microbiota Foes

  • Stress causing low stomach acid and/or acid-blocking medication. Our stomach acid helps kill off "bad" bacteria that we eat, therefore, low stomach acid could allow for an overgrowth.
  • Eating processed or refined foods
  • High carbohydrate and high fat diet
  • Eating foods we have sensitivities to (leading to inflammation)
  • Alcohol
  • Infection and antibiotic use- including the pesticide/antibiotic glyphosate sprayed on non-organic produce!
  • C-section birth

Microbiota Friends

  • A healthy, low sugar, high fibre diet
  • Probiotic supplementation and/or consuming fermented foods and beverages such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, yogurt (watch for sugar!), miso, and kimchi*
  • Prebiotics such as inulin which feed beneficial bacteria*
  • Stress reduction
  • Other diets that may be helpful depending on your specific microbial imbalance: low FODMAPs diet, GAPS diet, or anti-candida diet

*Some who have an overgrowth of microbes may need to first eliminate the overgrowth before reinoculating, or the addition of pro- or prebiotics may worsen some digestive symptoms.

If you're not sure where to start, a naturopathic doctor or functional medicine practitioner can assess your specific symptoms and suggest relevant testing to determine what kind of dysbiosis you may have and create an individualized treatment plan, and assess whether you may benefit from additional therapies targeted at inflammation and gut healing.

 

- Dr. Annie