by Dr. Michael Kane
If you ever had a fish tank you know that the survival of the fish is dependent on more then just fish food. So too with the good bacteria in your intestinal tract. There are many elements that can help this population survive and thrive.
The gut microflora, which includes both potentially beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria, is important in maintaining a healthy intestinal tract and helps the intestine act as an effective barrier; allowing nutrients to be absorbed, and keeping out toxins and pathogens (foreign bacteria or viruses). The gut microflora breaks down vitamins and also ferments fibers and carbohydrates that are not digested in the upper GI tract. This breakdown produces fatty acids that are important for supporting a healthy intestinal barrier (particularly in the lower GI tract) and also inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Healthy intestinal flora is also associated with intestinal (stool) regularity.
In order to keep a strong population we need to insure good food and environment for our microflora.
Prebiotics – The Food for the little guys
Fiber: Most of the foods for the intestinal flora are fibers, long chains of carbohydrates. Fiber is beneficial for a number of reasons but certainly it is important for gut bacteria health. I would recommend 25-30 grams of fiber daily.
By increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables and beans we can insure enough of these fibers. Making a dramatic shift can result in more gas and bloating so making a gradual change is often recommended.
Some supplements will contain both probiotics and prebiotics. They are often call Synbiotics. Along with the strains of beneficial bacteria they contain some of the food for the bacteria. I,f you see ingredients like: inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans , FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) along with the good bacteria strains, this is a synbiotic.
Most of us are aware that antibiotic medications can have a harmful effect on our gut population, but other medications can also influence the gut bacteria.
People taking medication for acid reflux can have issues due to the changes in the PH balance of the small intestine and cause a shift in the bacteria of the gut.
Diversity – A healthy gut bacterial population is diverse. The goal for your gut bacteria is diverse in populations and abundant in number.
Probiotics in Your Food
Foods that are fermented can contribute to the number and diversity of healthy bacteria.
I recommend adding fermented foods to your diet on a regular basis. These can include things like sauerkraut, pickled foods (cucumbers, beets). I also like miso and tempeh- two soy products that have little processing (best to buy organic).
There are many fermented dairy foods so if you are do not have issues with dairy these can be included in your diet. Foods like yogurt, keifer and fermented cheese can be used.