By: Sherry Torkos, B.Sc.Phm., R.Ph.
You’ve got guts. Gut instincts. Go with your gut. All of these familiar sayings suggest that your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is truly your body’s seat of power. Without a healthy gut, you won’t get the nutrients you need to function at your best. But your gut isn’t just part of an elaborate food processing system. It also helps eliminate toxins and protect against harmful bacteria and viruses that can trigger infection. That’s not surprising since up to 70 percent of your immune system lives in your gut.
The health of your GI tract also influences your blood sugar levels, heart health, mood, weight, and more. Now that you know why keeping your GI tract in top form is so important for optimizing your overall health and wellbeing, let’s discuss how to keep it, and you, at the top of your game.
Meet Your Microbiome
Your GI tract is home to more than 100 trillion bacteria that perform a wide range of critical functions. Collectively, this bacterial community is known as your microbiome. While your microbiome contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria, the ratio between the two matters. A healthy gut typically contains about 85 percent beneficial bacteria. The other 15 percent of your gut is made up of harmful bacteria, or pathogens, that are kept in check by your beneficial bugs.
Fostering a healthy microbiome isn’t just a numbers game. Diversity among your beneficial bacteria matters too. In fact, studies show that a more diverse your microbiome is, the better.1 The composition of the bacteria in your gut governs several things including your appetite, how your body regulates your blood sugar levels, and how well your body fights off infections. Having more strains of beneficial bacteria in your microbiome plays an important role in promoting better health. The types and amounts of bacteria also impacts your intestinal wall, which is a semi-permeable lining in your gut designed to let nutrients into your bloodstream while keeping harmful toxins, pathogens, and partially digested food particles out. A compromised intestinal barrier—often called a “leaky gut”—can contribute to a number of health problems like food sensitivities, inflammation, and even some autoimmune conditions.
Enemies of a Healthy Gut
There are lots of factors that can disrupt the balance and diversity of your microbiome–a condition technically known as dysbiosis. Here are the top five gut disruptors:
- The standard American diet that is low in fiber and nutrients, and packed with refined sugar, gluten and chemical additives.
- Alcohol overindulgence. Research suggests that even moderate drinking could lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and subsequently cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea, according to the results of a new study unveiled today at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, DC. could lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and subsequently cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea, according to the results of a new study unveiled today at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, DC.can lead to bacterial overgrowth and trigger bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.
- Overuse of medications like antacids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics.
- Exposure to harmful chemicals, such as nicotine, mercury and mold.
- Chronic stress which alters the gut’s nervous system.
The good news is that you can change these risk factors by simply making a few tweaks to your daily habits.
Boost the Good Bugs in Your Belly
Considering all the ways your microbiome keeps you healthy, it makes sense to give it some TLC every day. Here are some of the best ways to support the trillions of bacteria in your gut:
Eat more veggies. Fresh vegetables are loaded with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your gut bacterium needs to thrive. Including high-fiber veggies on the daily also keeps you regular. Some great options include artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, kale, leeks, onions and spinach. These veggies also contain prebiotics.
Include fermented foods. Yogurt, kimchi, kombucha and miso provide some beneficial bacteria. Just be aware that some brands of commercial yogurt may not contain live, viable probiotics that contribute to a healthy microbiome.
Get your zzz’s. Studies show that shortchanging the amount of shuteye you get or having an erratic sleep schedule both may increase the risk of an imbalance in your microbiome called dysbiosis; and boosts the odds of gut inflammation. Try to get at least eight hours of high quality sleep each night.
Get moving. Researchers have found that physically active people have healthier, more diverse microbiomes. Plus, regular workouts help ease stress that can undermine a healthy gut.
The Power of Probiotics
One of the easiest ways to support a healthy microbiome is with a probiotic supplement. There are dozens of friendly bacterial strains found in probiotic supplements and they all help the body in different ways. For instance, Bifidobacteria bifidum strengthens gut immunity while Bifidobacteria breve reduces intestinal inflammation. Bifidobacteria longum works to counter antibiotic-resistant bacteria and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. Lactobacillus gasseri, on the other hand, produces vitamin K for healthier bones and arteries, as well as antimicrobial substances that help prevent indigestion, diarrhea, and vaginal yeast infections. Some studies also suggest that this particular probiotic strain may help reduce belly fat and lower your BMI.
While a comprehensive probiotic supplement can contain a variety of strains, some include prebiotics, too. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that promote the proliferation of your good gut bacteria. We do get some prebiotic fibers through our diet, however it is challenging to consume enough on a consistent basis to obtain the health benefits. Prebiotic fibers also play an independent role in good health by improving your gut’s immune response, normalizing your bowel movements and supporting healthy weight loss.
Discover the Secret of Synbiotics
Supplements that combine probiotics and prebiotics are known as synbiotics. Adding a comprehensive synbiotic like Pro+ Synbiotic to your supplement regimen is a great way to improve your gut and immune health. Pro+ Synbiotic contains a proprietary a-gluco-oligosaccharide prebiotic designed to support bacterial diversity for a healthier gut. The right synbiotic also promotes a healthy immune response, supports a better mood, and helps to relieve constipation and bloating, while also enhancing the feeling of fullness. Together, these actions help support weight loss and better overall health.
Choosing a high-quality synbiotic is critical. Look for a synbiotic that contains a variety of well-researched probiotic strains and prebiotic fibers, and which documents that the bacteria can survive the trip through your stomach to arrive alive in your gut. Paired with the gut-friendly habits, an effective symbiotic can ultimately help you find belly bliss and better health. Trust your gut on this one.
- Deng F., Ying, L., & Zhao, J. The gut microbiome of healthy long-living people. Aging: Open-Access Impact Journal on Aging. 2019;11(2):289-290.
About Sherry Torkos, B.Sc.Phm., R.Ph.
Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author and health enthusiast with a passion for prevention. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara region of Ontario. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, she has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. Sherry has authored 18 books and booklets, including, “The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine,” “Saving Women’s Hearts,” and “The Glycemic Index Made Simple.”