There’s been a lot of talk lately about probiotics, gut flora, beneficial bacteria, and all things gut related. You may have heard your doctor recommend that you eat yogurt while on a course of antibiotics, or heard from friends that they get miserable gut discomfort when on antibiotics. This is because your gastrointestinal system is really its own ecosystem, and it is inextricably linked to the health of the rest of your body.
So what’s really in your gut anyway? The answer is: bacteria and yeasts, LOTS of them. While ideally your tissues and blood are sterile, your gastrointestinal tract is anything but. Think of it as almost outside your body. It is, after all, a long hollow tube that goes from one opening to the other, and your sterile, germ free body exists around the tube.
There are lots of varieties of bacteria and yeasts that call your GI tract home, some of them are friends, some are not. All together, they make up what we refer to as our “gut flora”. (Remember learning about flora and fauna in middle school life science? Don’t worry, we’ll skip the spitballs and homework for this lesson!) The beneficial bacteria, like bifidobacteria, lactobacteria, and enterococci have some very important functions. They help digest the food we take in, keep the bad bugs under control, prevent diarrhea and constipation, and even help produce vitamins and enzymes that we need for our metabolic functions. (Some bacteria in the colon actually produce vitamin K2).
But, just like any good story, there’s a villain in this one as well. These bad bugs, sometimes referred to as opportunistic or pathogenic, are also hanging out in your intestines. They’re just sitting there, waiting for the opportunity to multiply and overwhelm the good bacteria. These guys include candida yeast, clostridia, staphylococci, and streptococci. They’re called opportunistic for a reason. When you eat a balanced, healthy diet, they are easily kept under control. But overwhelm your system with lots of sugar, or too much food, and suddenly, it’s a party! These guys feed on the sugar and undigested food, and all of a sudden, they’re giving the good guys a run for their money.
Keeping the pathogenic bacteria in check and the beneficial bacteria flourishing is key to maintaining health and avoiding chronic disease. In this series, we’ll explore why our bacteria have gotten out of balance, what the effects are, and what we can do to restore that balance. You’re gonna learn a lot, so stay tuned!
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.