Gut Health: Take Control Of Your Inner Zoo

One hundred trillion. Nope, it’s not the national debt. That mega-number is the population of microbes living it up in your digestive system. Most of you think about this inner zoo only when it pumps out too much gas at an embarrassing moment or sends you running to the toilet with diarrhoea.  But these days there’s a lot of research going on about this inner world, and it’s revealing that these bacteria are essential for your gut health. As Dr Mike points out in his book, This is Your Do-Over, changing your inner zoo, or microbiome, so it has a healthy mix of little critters is a key step to reclaiming or maintaining your health. Then you can make sure potentially harmful bacteria in the mix don’t trigger problems such as autoimmune diseases, persistent infections (such as C diff) and even heart woes. In fact, if you keep the inhabitants of your microbiome plentiful and diverse, they can keep your arteries young, strengthen your immune system and help you to slim down and live longer.

So time for a gut check! Here’s how to start your gut biome do-over today:

1. Move it.

Moving your body regularly – walking, riding your bike, hitting the gym – helps to support a more diverse mix of gut bacteria. In a study of 40 pro rugby stars, research from Ireland’s University College Cork found that the player’s intestinal biome contained a wider variety of bacteria than that of fairly sedentary men the same age and size. The rugby players also had Akkermansiacaea, a bacterium that’s been linked to lower risk for obesity. That’s another season for a minimum 30-minute daily walk, seven days a week, shooting your target of 10 000 steps every day.

2. Enjoy probiotic-rich foods.

Yoghurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink) and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh ( a soy-based meat alternative) are good sources of beneficial bacteria. Many yoghurts contain helpful probiotics. Look for the words “ spore forms” or live, active cultures on the label. (Spores are activated in your gut rather than killed by your stomach acid.) Probiotic-rich foods often deliver Lactobacillus gasseri, shown in two recent studies to discourage weight gain and help with weight loss. There’s also evidence that a daily serving of probiotic-enriched yoghurt can cut your risk for antibiotic-related diarrhoea by two-thirds. This condition is triggered when the meds wipe out both the bad and good bugs in your digestive system, and is a problem for 49% of people who take antibiotics.

3. Feed ‘em plenty of fibre.

Two important beneficial bacteria – bifidobacterial and lactobacilli – love munching on a family of plant fibres called fructans, especially a type called inulin. It’s found in abundance in bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and 100% wholewheat foods. Eliminate red meat and processed meats. Gut bacteria release substances when they break down red or processed meats. The substances end up in your bloodstream, causing inflammation throughout your body, which increases your risk for clogged arteries, memory function and cancer. Egg yolk elicit the same response, changing your inner zoo in favour of harmful bacteria. Red meat also may promot bacteria to produce substances that interfere with the constant, healthy renewal of the inner lining of the intestines, increasing your risk for colon cancer.

4. Watch your portions for better gut health.

Overeating encourages the growth of a gut-bug strain called Firmincutes that could accelerate weight gain, say researchers from Washington University in St Louis. It turns out Firmicitutes break down foods with extreme efficiency, making sure calories available to your body for use – and weight gain! That means overeating could be a double whammy: you’re eating more calories and absorbing even more. In one study, a 20% increase in the number of Firmicutes in the human gut made an extra 150 calories a day available for absorption. So keep your calorie intake in a healthy lower range, to encourage growth of bacteria that make fewer calories available. Click here for Harvard Health’s take on digestive health.

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