When most people start thinking about their health, their mind tends to drift into two things: nutrition and fitness. We are always looking for ways we can improve our food intake while fitting more exercise into our day.
But yet, in looking so intensely at these two items, we may be missing out on what just could be the most important item of all: digestive health.
Digestive health, or more specifically, your gut microbiome, is going to play a critical role in your health and well-being, but yet, this is one thing that most people completely disregard. We are two hyperfocused on the foods we eat that we miss looking at the bigger picture.
Why Is Your Gut Flora The Key To Optimized Health?
So what makes your gut flora so special? Here are some of the main areas it will assist with.
Digestion and Nutrient Assimilation
If your digestive health and gut are not functioning, as they should, you may be eating all those healthy foods, but you might not be reaping the benefits that they provide.
What good does it do you if you deny yourself a pizza, pasta, cookies, ice cream, cake, chocolate, French fries, and of the like and instead eat broccoli, chicken, brown rice, and oatmeal if you aren’t even deriving all the nutrition you should from these foods?
You don’t want your effort to go to waste. The right type of probiotics will help ensure that the foods you do eat nourish your body maximally. For instance, research published in the Journal of Nutrition noted that probiotics may help with the absorption of minerals in the body, which are key substances needed to maintain your energy levels, reproduction, teeth, nails, and hair1.
Improved Immune Health
Another major area where you are going to notice a big difference when your gut environment is optimized is your immune health. What most people do not realize is that about 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, so when your gut isn’t healthy, your entire body takes a hit2.
Since your immune system is important for warding off invading bacteria and viruses, a poor immune system may have you falling ill more frequently. You might also notice you feel run down and tired more often as well. If you are someone who exercises regularly, you might start noticing that each workout session wears you out and it takes you days to recover.
Improved Bowel Health
It’s one topic that no one likes to talk about, but one that does impact you in a major way: your bowel health. If you are irregular, you know first-hand how awful feeling backed up can be. You would just give anything to be able to finally use the bathroom.
Likewise, if you have the opposite problem and are suffering from a case of severe diarrhea, you want relief – and you want it NOW. There are a number of scientific studies that have assessed the impact of probiotics on diarrhea and it’s quite clear that there is a beneficial link between the two. Not only can the use of probiotics help clear up a bout of diarrhea, but by taking them regularly, you may help to reduce the chances that diarrhea occurs again in the future by up to 26%3.
If you happen to be traveling as well, note that probiotics can be an excellent way to protect against traveler’s diarrhea. Research has suggested you may have an 8%3 lower risk when using probiotics.
So there are just a few of the key ways that having a healthy gut microbiome will help with your health. Note that this is really just scratching the surface and there really are so many additional benefits beyond these that are too extensive to discuss in this particular article.
Gut Flora Diversification: A Must For Maximum Success
Moving along, what we really need to discuss here though is that it’s not just about getting those healthy bacteria into your gut, but diversifying and ensuring that you are getting the right kinds. One big mistake some people make is taking just a single strain of probiotics, which may give them some benefits, but it’s not really going to keep them maximally protected because each strain is going to act in different ways. We have seen over time that intestinal diversity is becoming less and less and it is impacting the health of the western world4.
There are six commonly seen strains of good bacteria and getting each one into your body is critical as each has its own important role.
- animalis: This strain helps assist with digestion and reduces foodborne bacteria impacting the body. It’s also important for sustaining a strong immune system.
- breve: This strain of bacteria is found in both the digestive tract as well as the vagina if you are a woman. It helps to fight off infection-causing bacteria and is also important for the utilization of fermented sugars. Finally, it also helps break down plant fiber in the body, allowing you to reap all the benefits that fiber brings.
- lactis: This probiotic is derived from dairy and is a powerful strain that may help to fight tumor growth, improve digestion, and also enhance immune function.
- longum: Another strain found in the gastrointestinal tract, this probiotic is useful with helping to break down carbohydrate-rich foods you eat while providing antioxidant support for the body.
- acidophilus: A very common probiotic, this one is found in the small intestine and the vagina once again in women. It’s primary role is to fight off vaginal bacteria, however, it also assists with digestion in both men and women.
- reuteri: A strain that you’ll come across in the mouth along with the digestive system, this one helps to prevent tooth decay and assist with nutritional assimilation.
Three easy ways to diversify your gut flora
First look for products that have at least 10-13 varieties of probiotics; having a wide variety of probiotic species in your gut is what will give you the best chance of protecting your health, staying well, and feeling your very best. Don’t short yourself by buying a single strain probiotic. Diversified probiotics are key.
Second, make sure the probiotics product also has a wide variety of prebiotic fiber. Taking a supplement that contains a wide variety of prebiotic fiber can make a world of difference. Different prebiotics diversifies your good gut flora for a variety of functions in your body.
Last but not the least; make sure to have a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits which sure can increase the diversity of gut flora.
- Scholz-Ahrens, Katharina E., et al. “Prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics affect mineral absorption, bone mineral content, and bone structure.” The Journal of Nutrition 3 (2007): 838S-846S.
- Hooper, Lora V., Dan R. Littman, and Andrew J. Macpherson. “Interactions between the microbiota and the immune system.” Science (2012): 1223490.
- Sazawal, Sunil, et al. “Efficacy of probiotics in prevention of acute diarrhoea: a meta-analysis of masked, randomised, placebo-controlled trials.” The Lancet infectious diseases 6 (2006): 374-382.
- Deresinski, Stan, and N. Segata, eds. “Gut microbiome: Westernization and the disappearance of intestinal diversity.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 7 (2016): iii-iv.