You might not realise that an imbalance in your gut flora causes disruption within the digestive system and totally messes with your health and wellbeing.
Here are a few factors that can have a negative impact on your gut flora:
1. Antibiotics/ Medications – The most obvious one is antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t discriminate, so they will wipe out all the good bacteria in your gut along with the bad ones. Not meaning to give antibiotics a bad rap, they are needed to clear up serious and sometimes life – threatening bacterial infections. But they should always be used under instruction from your doctor.
If you have to take antibiotics, eating fermented foods like Grainfields which contain naturally occurring probiotic bacteria may help to re-establish the balance of good gut flora. Grainfields products are not a pharmaceutical product or medicine, they are simply a fermented food in which nature has created the extra bounty of good bacteria.There are so many medications we need to take for whatever reason, including birth control pills, painkillers, anti-depressants and steroids. These all contain chemicals that deplete our good gut flora. Again, regular consumption of probiotic fermented foods can come to the rescue to counteract changes in gut flora caused by these medications.
2. Diet – The type of foods you eat can influence many aspects of your health, especially your gut, and its bacteria. Unfortunately, our typical Australian diet is quite often high in meat, fat, refined sugar, low fibre foods, highly processed foods, artificial sweeteners, colours and preservatives. These are not the type of foods that provide the right fuel and conditions for healthy flora in the gut.
The good news is, research has shown that changing your diet can alter your gut flora profile for the better after only a few days. Eating a wider variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains can lead to more diverse gut flora. This is because these foods are high in the prebiotic fibre which is needed to feed and maintain good gut flora. Fermented foods like Grainfields are also on the hit list of foods which can help promote the beneficial kind of flora in the gut because they provide prebiotics along with food based naturally occurring strains of probiotic bacteria.
3. Stress – High levels of stress can trigger digestive upset such as IBS, indigestion and constipation due to changes in numbers and types of gut flora. Some strategies to help reduce stress in your life include meditation, physical activity and ensuring you are getting enough sleep. Many studies have been done on the relationship between the gut and the brain and how our gut health relates to our mood and emotions. This is known as the gut brain axis. A healthy gut with the right balance of good bacteria can make us less susceptible and more easily able to cope with stress, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression.
4. Alcohol and Smoking – The good bacteria in your gut help you to metabolise and detoxify alcohol. So, in moderation alcohol will not do much harm. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to illnesses including cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis. Not only that, alcohol also reduces the population good gut flora and encourages an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This causes inflammation in the gut and health problems such as leaky gut syndrome, where gaps occur in the intestinal walls allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream.
We already know how smoking can lead to serious disease in the respiratory and cardiovascular system. However, the toxic chemicals in cigarettes can also cause damage to gut flora. Smoking is a contributing factor to digestive upset including IBS, Crohn’s disease, heartburn and peptic ulcers. So, there are many health reasons to consider giving up smoking and keep drinking alcohol to a minimum.
5. Ageing – Changes in diet, reduced mobility, limited exercise, and prescription medication to manage health problems, makes the elderly gut microbiome become less diverse as we age. This is why supplementing with probiotics such as fermented foods can make such a difference to the gut health of the elderly.
There is a quote credited to the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates nearly 2500 years ago which sums it up nicely – “All disease begins in the gut”. Well, Hippocrates was definitely onto something. Eating or drinking too many of the wrong things, stress, exposing ourselves to chemicals and getting older depletes our good gut flora and makes room for harmful bacteria which feed disease. By being aware of this and making some simple changes we can positively affect our gut health and ultimately our overall health.
Sources – Factors affecting the composition of the gut microbiota, and its modulation- Nihal Hasan and Hongyi Yang. Peer J 2019; 7: e7502. The Clever Guts Diet by Dr Michael Mosley, Simon & Schuster. Exploring the microbiome in health and disease: Implications for toxicology- Elena Scotti, Stephanie Boue and Giuseppe Lo Sasso, 2017; Sage Journals.