Why are gut bacteria so important for good health? At least 80% of your immune system is in your gut. Your gut is a portal of entry for bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungus, and contaminants. It can either be a breeding ground for all of these or you can keep it healthy and protected with good gut flora.
These good gut bacteria, otherwise known as probiotics, can be found in fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha tea and other foods. Probiotics are available commercially in strengths, ranging from several million to a trillion colony-forming organisms.
Gut flora is important to modulate immune function. Your immune system, if underperforming, can lead to spread of infection and cancer and, if overactive, can make you suffer from allergies, asthma, autoimmune and other inflammatory conditions. Having the right balance is key to health and good gut bacteria make this balance possible.
Functions of Good Gut Bacteria
Healthy gut bacteria do the following:
- Provide a protective barrier in the gut so harmful organisms do not enter your bloodstream
- Displace bad bacteria, viruses, fungus and other harmful organisms by competing for food and receptor sites
- Produce antimicrobial factors that kill harmful organisms
- They induce production of IgA, an immunoglobulin that fights infection in the gut and respiratory tract. IgA is a primary defense against infection in these areas.
- Tighten the cell walls in the gut so microorganisms and complexes that stimulate immune function don’t pass through
- Help develop a healthy immune system
- Metabolize dietary carcinogens (cancer-forming chemicals)
- Synthesize vitamins such as biotin and Vitamin K
- Aid vitamin and mineral absorption
- Ferment undigested components in the diet
Prebiotics Feed Good Gut Bacteria
Good gut flora requires the right food and conditions to grow. Prebiotics are food for good gut flora. For example, they can be found in:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Chinese chives
- Peas, Legumes
- Green Tea
- Cottage cheese
- Burdock root
Eating fermented and probiotic foods is important to maintain enough good gut bacteria. However, if you suffer from conditions related to an overactive or underactive immune system it is wise to supplement with a probiotic.
Gut Bacteria and Lifestyle
Your lifestyle can damage or disrupt gut bacteria. The following factors can create havoc and suppress good gut bacteria and allow harmful microorganisms to flourish:
- Antibiotic use
- Proton pump inhibitors
- Low fiber diet
- High sugar diet
- Bottle fed as an infant
- Born by Cesarean section
The good news is that you can modify your gut environment and gut bacteria. However, most people respond quickly to a change in lifestyle. Proper diet, rest, stress reduction and replacing damaging microorganisms with healthy gut bacteria can make a big difference. Lastly, if you suffer from chronic illness you may need to do a 4R program:
- Remove allergens, harmful organisms and toxins through an elimination/detoxification diet such as the Shake Bake and Salad Slimdown
- Replace stomach acid with digestive enzymes and easy to absorb nutrients
- Re-Establish good gut bacteria with probiotics and prebiotics as well as a low sugar and starch and high fiber diet with no processed foods and no additives or preservatives.
- Repair barrier function through diet, probiotics, immunoglobulins, glutamine and anti-inflammatory foods, as well as avoiding foods you may be sensitive to such as gluten, dairy, soy, and others.
Some severe conditions such as autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and more are being treated with fecal transplants with promising results. More studies need to be done on fecal transplants that show the power of good gut bacteria have on health and the immune system.
Find a functional medicine doctor who understands how to modulate the immune system and repair the gut with good gut bacteria and supplements to heal the gut. Repairing increased intestinal permeability otherwise known as “leaky gut” can have a profoundly good effect on your health. There is a strong connection amongst the gut, the immune system, and the brain. Altering gut flora is the key to a healthy clear brain, a balanced immune system and a good intestinal barrier to let nutrients in and keep harmful organisms out.
Dr. Lorraine Maita is a recognized and award-winning holistic, functional, and anti-aging physician and author. She transforms people’s lives by getting to the root cause of illness using the best of science and nature. Above all, if you want to get your gut back into proper health, schedule your appointment today!