The benefits of good gut bacteria seem to multiply as fast as the bugs themselves. There's constantly new research proving how beneficial bacteria can improve your health.
In particular, our intestinal bacteria (also called microflora) improve our ability to digest, absorb, and eliminate the foods we eat. But what happens in the stomach doesn't just stay in the stomach. Microflora impact your whole body.
These trillions of microbes fortify our defenses against bacteria, yeast, and other invasive organisms. Research has shown that the bacteria lining your intestines reinforce the barrier that prevents pathogens from seeping out of your GI tract and into the body.
This is particularly important in your large intestine, where fecal matter accumulates before being excreted. Without a strong barrier in place, toxins from your feces can be reabsorbed, placing an additional burden on your immune system. This is often referred to as leaky gut syndrome.
Another way gut bacteria improve immune health is by controlling the pH level in the digestive tract. Like turning down a thermostat, a lower (more acidic) pH makes the intestines inhospitable to salmonella (which causes food poisoning), shigella (which causes diarrhea), and E. coli (which can cause intestinal disease and chronic kidney failure). Healthy gut flora also make it difficult for fungus and yeast to survive (keeping too much candida at bay).
Finally, good gut bacteria improve immune health by keeping you regular. The shorter your bowel transit time, the less opportunity for toxins to be reabsorbed into your bloodstream.
If you have ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach or felt as if it were “tied in knots,” you already know the stomach and brain are linked.
Researchers have known for a long time about this “gut/brain axis,” but for some reason they have always focused on the impact the brain can have on the gut—or control from the “top down.” Just recently, researchers in France proved that mood disorders can be controlled from the “bottom up” using specific strains of probiotic bacteria. In other words, you can effectively treat depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems by normalizing the bacteria in the bowels.
In fact, tests have shown that gut health can lead to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improved sleep, and a significant decrease in symptoms such as:
Depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders are some of problems that have been closely linked to intestinal issues. Which came first—the gastrointestinal disorder or the psychiatric illness—it’s hard to tell. But based on trends over the past few decades, I can’t help but think the constant assault on our intestinal flora is the underlying cause of many of the psychological problems we’re now experiencing.
When good bacteria make your body more efficient at absorbing nutrients and removing toxins, you get a nice bonus: all that unused energy. Science has shown that probiotics (and the good gut bacteria they contain) can effectively fight fatigue—particularly chronic fatigue.
In a recent study, blood and saliva samples were taken for one month in eight athletes who had fatigue and declining performance. All were shown to have a reduced secretion of interferon. When the athletes were given a probiotic supplement (Lactobacillus acidophilus) for a month, their interferon levels improve to levels found in healthy individuals, their fatigue disappeared, and athletic performance noticeably improved.
Admittedly, few of us are athletes—but there’s still a takeaway here. Restoring good gut bacteria to optimal levels can have a profound effect on your overall energy level and health.
It turns out the beneficial bacteria in your gut are gifted when it comes to processing cholesterol.
When people don’t eat enough fiber or take probiotics, your “bad’ microflora to take over the GI tract –throwing your cholesterol out of balance and allowing too much oxidized cholesterol to accumulate.
When you eat a high-fiber diet and support good gut bacteria, it helps to can help naturally rebalance your cholesterol.
When the bacterial flora is out of balance, the level of estrogen in a woman’s body can also get out of balance and drop too low. Low estrogen levels have been linked to:
Normally, as much as 60 percent of the estrogen circulating in the blood is picked up by the liver and "deactivated." It is then dumped into the gallbladder and released with bile into the intestines for excretion. In the GI tract, an enzyme produced by our good gut bacteria, called Beta-glucuronidase, reactivates the estrogen so it can be reabsorbed into the body. Without good gut health, this estrogen is neither reactivated nor reabsorbed. Instead, it is lost in the stool.
Beneficial bacteria aren't restricted to your gut. They also migrate from your colon to live in the vagina and urinary tract, where they are a primary defense against urinary tract infections (UTIs) and acute cystitis.
Lactobacillus is the most prominent species in the vagina. The lactic acid that these bacteria produce help to keep the pH level of the vagina and urinary tract slightly acidic, which reduces the growth of yeast and harmful bacteria—including E. coli, one of the chief bacteria that cause UTIs.
If the balance of bacteria in the vagina and urinary tract is off in some way, pathogens are more likely to adhere to the bladder wall and cause infection.
Though antibiotics will effectively clear up the symptoms of a UTI, they also will kill off the friendly microflora that is needed to protect the urinary tract in the first place. This sets the stage for an ongoing cycle of infection.
The most effective way to break this cycle is to support antibiotic use with habits that nurture healthy gut bacteria—such as eating fermented foods and taking probiotic supplements high in the Lactobacillus species.
That's right, there's beneficial bacteria in your mouth, too.
More than 600 species of bacteria have been identified in the oral cavity –mouth, throat, nose, sinuses, and ear canals—and researchers have found that the more beneficial microflora, the lower the incidence of everything from bad breath and cavities to ear infections, strep throat, and tonsillitis. Why? Because good bacteria in the oral cavity are often your body’s first line of defense.
The most effective way to increase the number of good bacteria in the oral cavity is through the use of probiotic lozenges, particularly those that contain the species Streptococcus salivarius. Tests have shown that using a lozenge that incorporates the K12 strain can help restore the natural bacterial flora of the mouth and throat.
These bacteria produce compounds referred to as “bacteriocin-like inhibitory substances” or BLIS, which act as natural antibacterials and help control the growth of invasive microorganisms that cause infections.
More and more research is emerging that links a healthy weight with healthy gut bacteria. In truth, this connection has been used by the agricultural industry long before anyone applied the connection to humans.
Antibiotics—which kill healthy gut bacteria—are growth promoters. Farmers have been using antibiotics for more than half a century to fatten cattle, pigs, and chickens. With the use of these medications, animals gain more weight more quickly, on less food.
The most compelling evidence is found in humans, however.
If you are trying to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, take good care of your microflora!
Want to live longer with more strength and vitality? Nurture your gut. Researchers have found that more diverse our bacterial flora is, the more effective and better our overall health, especially in the elderly.
When researchers looked at the gut bacteria of 178 individuals over the age of 65 (none of whom were being treated with antibiotics), they found that the microbes varied extensively depending on where the individual lived and the state of their overall health.
Those who lived independently in the community had the most varied microbacterial flora and were the healthiest. People who lived in long-term assisted living homes tended to be frailer and had less diverse microbacterial flora.
What’s particularly interesting is that the diet of people who moved into long-term residential facilities changed immediately upon entry, but it took about a year for their gut bacteria to change. It was during that year when the individuals’ health started declining the most.
So, a key takeaway from this is that eating a varied diet that includes gut-flora-friendly foods is a key to maintaining good gut health and, by extension, your strength and vitality.
Brit J Sports Med 06;40(4):351-354