The health of the gut flora is a key aspect to wellbeing. A balanced gut flora consists of numerous micro-organisms with the right proportion of gut-friendly bacteria. It lines and protects the digestive system from damage and plays an important role in immunity. Gut friendly bacteria support digestion and the production of important nutrients like vitamin K and the B-complex vitamins such as vitamin B12.
Babies form their initial gut flora during the normal vaginal birth process. As the baby travels through the mother’s birth canal it ingests the mother’s secretions which are rich in micro-organisms. Therefore the state of health of the mother’s gut flora is significant as it sets the stage for digestive health and immunity within the baby.
Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on the Gut Flora
A growing issue with modern day diets and lifestyles is their negative influence on health promoting gut-friendly bacteria. Lifestyle stress, environmental toxicity and a challenging diet are all significant factors which affect the health of the gut flora.
Increasing levels of dietary antibiotics from foods and medications knock out bacteria including gut-friendly bacteria within the gut. Chlorine ingested from tap water also depletes bacteria within the gut. This bacterial die-off then leaves room for other opportunistic micro-organisms like protozoa, viruses and fungi to proliferate and get out of balance. Some of these micro-organisms are harmful and contribute to poor digestion, nutrient mal-absorption and gut toxicity.
Over time toxins and waste generated by these unfriendly micro-organisms build which in turn irritate and inflame the gut wall. The gut wall tries to protect itself by increasing mucous level production which acts as a barrier but can interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Over time, the gut wall can become weakened to the point that gut toxicity and harmful micro-organisms seep out of the digestive system and start to affect the health of other body systems. This is termed leaky gut syndrome and is a very important factor to consider when there are digestive health issues along with other non-digestive health problems like skin disorders, muscle/joint inflammation and even neurological imbalances.
The Importance of Gut Friendly Bacteria
According to Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride and author of ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’, an imbalanced gut flora results in poor immunity and digestive health. She connects poor diet, environmental toxicity and toxicity from an overgrowth of negative micro-organisms within the gut to many digestive health issues and non-digestive related health imbalances including the growing levels of mental health issues affecting young children, teens and adults.
Within the medical community, experimental faecal transplant treatments involving transplanting small amounts of human stool rich in gut friendly bacteria from a healthy donor have been found to consistently cure up to 90% of patients who have had multiple episodes of C. Difficile. This is an infection which causes serious diarrhoea. Various studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the faecal transplant procedure on treating not only C. Difficile, but other digestive issues such as colitis, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and some neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis.
These studies demonstrate signs of recognition by the medical community regarding the importance of the gut flora and in my opinion the huge potential for supporting health by helping to restore the gut flora.
Restoring the Gut Flora
From a holistic perspective restoring the environment within the digestive system to support the growth of gut friendly bacteria is a key factor in maintaining a healthy gut flora. An imbalanced diet and anything which affects the environment within the digestive system such as hydration, pH, oxygen levels and temperature will significantly influence the gut micro-flora.
Introducing gut friendly bacteria into the intestines will also help to restore and maintain a healthy gut flora. One of the best ways to incorporate gut friendly bacteria into the diet is to consume naturally fermented foods and drinks. Commercial fermented products found in supermarkets and stores are usually pasteurised. In other words, they are no longer ‘alive’, and the enzymes and beneficial bacteria have been destroyed.
To make sure your diet contains these valuable live foods, consider adding the following:
Examples of Naturally Fermented Foods
- Fermented drinks such as rejuvelac and tea such as kombucha
- Live cultured pickles and vegetables
- Cheese made from raw milk
- Yogurt and kefir made with live cultures (not all commercially sold yogurt or frozen yogurt contains live cultures)
- Unpasteurised miso
- Tempeh, made from fermented soybeans
See recipe for Buckwheat Rejuvelac