Guest post by Tina
Meet Tina, namesake of The Tina Times. After years of obscure health scares and getting to know the doctor’s office a little too well, she’s decided to be healthy. That means healthy living and healthy eating. On the side, Tina is passionate about her job (health services research), juice bars, and soaking up the sun.
The human body harbors over 100 trillion bacteria, outnumbering our own cells ten to one. These bacteria live on our skin, in our mouths, and most predominantly in our guts (not surprising, given that our intestines stretch 25 feet—over half the length of a school bus!).
So how can we ever be healthy, if we are essentially more bacterial than we are human? With an optimal balance of these microbes—the “good” and the “bad.”
The gastrointestinal tract is a delicately balanced ecosystem of gut microbiota, or gut flora. Beneficial, health-promoting “good” bacteria, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, balance out the harmful, pathogenic “bad” bacteria in a well functioning system.
Unfortunately, this balance is disrupted all too frequently, due to a variety of increasingly common lifestyle triggers: diets high in FODMAPS (sugars and carbohydrates that feed hungry gut bacteria), daily stressors in a fast-paced society (we work long hours and juggle chaotic schedules), and the over-usage of antibiotics (which kill all bacteria, good and bad) and medications to treat reflux such as proton pump inhibitors (which block stomach acid, allowing the harmful bacteria we ingest to pass from the stomach into the intestines).
Even Hippocrates knew the importance of a well-balanced gut ecosystem. Over 2,000 years ago he stated, “All disease begins in the gut.”
He was right—gut dysbiosis, the imbalance of intestinal bacteria, has been linked to a variety of health conditions (many autoimmune in nature), such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and thyroid disease, just to name a few.
Gut dysbiosis can cause symptoms ranging from intestinal distress, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and constipation, to headaches, sugar cravings, skin rashes, and joint pain. If you suspect that you may be suffering from an imbalance of gut flora, or have any of the risk factors associated with this disruption, consider supplementing with probiotics (the “good” bacteria), to restore homeostasis to the GI tract.
Probiotics perform a variety of beneficial roles in the body, including enzymatic functions to aid digestion and break down food for better nutrient absorption; regulating metabolism; producing beneficial energy sources; and regulating the immune system.
Increasing your daily intake of probiotics through food or supplementation helps repopulate the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which can relieve some of those annoying symptoms and even work, in combination with other dietary and lifestyle changes, to reverse autoimmune disease. Yes, you read that right (see here, and here, and here).
So where can we find some of these friendly little bugs? In fermented foods such as good quality yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, or kombucha.
Yogurt and kefir can be found at pretty much any grocery store. However, some more highly processed yogurts do not contain probiotics, so it is important to read the labels for the “Live and Active Cultures” seal or review the ingredient list for specific strains such as lactobacillus acidophilus or bifidus. Also, stick to a plain flavor if you are concerned about bacterial overgrowth because it has a lower sugar content (remember, sugar feeds the bad bacteria!). If you are lactose intolerant, look for 99% lactose free kefir.
Kimchi, sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables, and kombucha can be a little harder to find, but are available at Whole Foods, your local co-op, and other health food stores. Check out these Tina Times posts for more information on making kombucha and kimchi.
Now if these foods don’t sound particularly appetizing to you or if you would just prefer taking a daily supplement, purchase a high quality, multi-species probiotic. Most pharmacies will carry probiotics behind the counter in their refrigerators, and these supplements can also be purchased at health food stores.
A couple high quality favorites: