Friday, August 10, 2012

The (Amazing) Influence Gut Flora Has Over Your Health

Recent science publications (Science Daily, Nutrition in Clinical Practice, etc.) have highlighted the importance of certain microorganisms or “gut flora” to an individual’s overall health. These tiny creatures affect everything from the absorption of nutrients, to brain development & function, to our immune system & weight and even to our energy levels. In fact, these studies have linked certain nutrition-related illnesses – both malnutrition and obesity – to the imbalance of gut flora, suggesting that a healthy gut ecosystem not only improves life quality, but can also stave off disease.

What is Gut Flora?
Gut flora refers to the microbes that dwell in the human digestive system. There are both beneficial gut flora and abnormal flora, and it is ideal to keep an 85:15% breakdown between the two. Good health depends on a digestive environment that fosters the good flora and keeps the abnormal flora in check. The beneficial gut flora combat pathogens and toxins, while also aiding in the breakdown of organic materials, allowing the human body to absorb nutrients and produce energy.

There are three major forms of gut flora, Eukarya, Bacteria, and Achaea, but these microbes are surprisingly diverse and complex… and it is nothing less than amazing how the human body interacts with these tiny beneficial gut organisms. From as early as birth, these microbes influence both mental and physical development. In fact, studies have found that vaginal communities of microorganisms shift in order to introduce certain beneficial gut flora to the infant as it passes through the birth canal. For this reason, it is believed that some caesarian births may result in a less balanced, troublesome digestive tract that could lead to larger health issues. Likewise, breast milk is thought to help a child’s stomach control abnormal gut flora by introducing beneficial microorganisms in the milk. Studies are currently underway that test a theory that children with imbalanced gut flora have a higher rate of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If this is the case, it will be clear that our gut flora directly influence our brain development in a very real and profound way. The continued study of our intestinal gut flora will likely have implications to a wide range of neurological, psychological, and autoimmune disorders, and may be particularly important in regards to childhood health and pregnancy.

How do you foster a good gut flora ecosystem?
There are several simple ways you can promote a balance gut flora environment for good health.

  • Regularly “re-seed” you guts flora by consuming fermented or cultured foods such as yogurts and fermented vegetables (kimchee, pickles, etc.) Consider fermenting your own foods at home in order to eliminate unwanted preservatives.
  • Enhance your gut flora ecosystem with a daily serving of a high quality gluten free probiotic.
  • Consume whole foods and avoid or eliminate the consumption of processed foods.
  • Do not take antibiotics unless strongly urged by your physician.
  • If you are pregnant, place a high rate of importance on your digestive health and incorporate a gentle prenatal probiotic cleanse into your daily regimen.

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