5 surprising things that can harm your gut bacteria
Trillions of bacteria and other microbes live inside your gut, and collectively they make up your gut microbiome (also commonly referred to as your gut flora). It’s your gut microbiome that influences many aspects of your health, from supporting your immune health to facilitating your digestive system.
What does the gut microbiome do?
As you’ve likely gathered, your gut bacteria get involved in everything in your body, including:
- Digesting fibre
- Helping control your immune system
- Harvesting energy from digested food
- Helps control brain health
- They affect your cardiovascular system
- Help keep the harmful bacteria at bay
- They generate vitamins
Probiotics and the gut microbiota
Probiotics are the good type of bacteria that live in your gut that fight off harmful bacteria in your body. They interact with other bacteria in your gut and can help promote the growth of good bacteria and hinder the growth of harmful bacteria.
If there aren’t enough probiotics fighting against the harmful bacteria, the equilibrium can be thrown out of balance, leading to various gut issues, such as digestive discomfort, food intolerances, bloating and abdominal pain. In other words, balance is key!
Specific gut bacteria beneficial to health
There are a wide variety of different bacterial strains living in the gut, and each delivers varying benefits. Here are some of the most supportive bacterial species that can do wonders for your gut health goals.
Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus) is arguably the most well-known probiotic around.
Surprisingly, Lactobacillus only accounts for around 0.01% of the total bacterial count in the gut, but that certainly doesn’t reduce its importance. Lactobacillus Acidophilus is associated with healthy digestion, as well as relieving diarrhoea, constipation, and symptoms of lactose intolerance.
In most adults, Bifidobacteria makes up to 6% of the total bacterial count in the gut, making it one of the most dominant probiotics. The Bifidobacterium Bifidum strain plays a key role in promoting normal inflammatory processes in the gut and helps us effectively digest carbohydrates.
This strain is commonly cited for boosting gastrointestinal and digestive health. And most impressively, L. Rhamnosus has been investigated in over 200 clinical trials and 800 studies, making it one of the most researched strains in the world. When it comes to gut health, L. Rhamnosus is thought to help relieve abdominal pain and diarrhoeal symptoms.
This is especially effective when it comes to IBS, and is also thought to help strengthen the intestinal barrier for a happier and healthier gut environment.
If weight management is one of your goals, then you might want to take note of this bacterial strain. Supplementation of B.Longum has previously been found to help reduce specific markers of obesity by preventing excess weight gain and reducing fat mass. A very clever probiotic indeed!
What leads to poor gut health?
Now that we are clear on what exactly probiotics are and why they are so important for our health - let’s look at the factors that can harm your gut bacteria and overall gut health.
1. You’re not eating enough plants
If you’re not eating enough whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it’s likely that your gut flora is really taking a hit. Eating enough plants throughout the day or a predominantly plant-based diet helps provide a wide variety of nutrients to help your gut bacteria grow and flourish.
There’s a very good reason why nutrition experts recommend eating 30 different types of plants a week! One study run by Dr Tim Spector, from the British Gut Project, even found that eating 30 different plants a week was ideal for optimum gut health. It also reduced symptoms of dysbiosis, a dysfunction in the gut microbiome.
2. You’re missing out on prebiotics
Plant foods containing prebiotics (a type of plant fibre) are the best source of fuel for your gut bacteria. They act like fertilisers that gently stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria (probiotics) in the gut. If you’re missing out on your prebiotics, these are the prebiotic-rich foods that you’re going to want to start having more of in your diet…
- Leeks and onions
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Psyllium husk
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Beans, chickpeas and lentils
Since the fibre content of these foods can be altered during cooking, it’s best to avoid overcooking the foods or to consume them raw to get the most amount of benefits.
You can also improve your prebiotic intake by including Fibre Complex in your diet. We’ve formulated it using prebiotic ingredients, such as psyllium husk, inulin and flaxseed. The blend provides a punch of soluble and insoluble fibre to keep your insides glowing. Each 5g serving is perfect for those looking to add some extra fibre to their diet.
3. You can’t seem to shake the sweet stuff
Eating too much-refined sugar can contribute to systemic inflammation, and inflammation is harmful to gut bacteria. Sugar can also act as a source of fuel for the bad bacteria living in your gut. Even artificial sweeteners may disrupt the microbiome and boost the growth of certain bacteria.
4. You’re not getting enough sleep
Who knew that poor sleep can negatively affect your gut bacteria? Not only does poor quality of sleep increase inflammation and stress hormones, which can negatively impact the gut microbiome, but researchers also believe that getting too little sleep can alter the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut. Sticking to a consistent sleeping schedule will help your gut and almost everything else inside your body!
To help you wind down after a long day and promote a good night’s rest, you could also include our Magnesium Citrate supplement in your nighttime routine.
Magnesium is commonly known as the relaxation mineral, which helps calm both the body and mind before heading to sleep. It has natural calming effects on nerves and muscles and supports sleep by activating neurotransmitters that are responsible for promoting sleepiness.
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5. You’re not eating enough fermented foods
Probiotics are found in everything from fermented foods such as kimchi (spicy Korean fermented veg), sauerkraut and tempeh, to drinks like kombucha, yoghurt, sourdough bread, miso and even fermented pickles (anybody else suddenly craving some tangy pickles?!).
Fermented foods largely contain the gut-health powerhouses that go by the name of bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, the two bacterial strains that have been shown to help with constipation, bloating and diarrhoea.
Just remember, when shopping for fermented foods, like sauerkraut, it’s important to get the ones that say ‘raw’ or ‘unpasteurised’. This is to be sure that you’re getting food that has not been heat-treated, as this would destroy the probiotics.
Another easy way to add probiotics into your diet is by taking them in supplement form. Probiotic supplements are a great way to go if you’re looking to introduce a wide variety of bacterial strains.
Our Bio Cultures Complex contains 60 Billion CFU (colony-forming units) of 21 different strains including Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum. It’s a great option if you’re looking to introduce a wide variety of bacterial strains into your gut.
Riya Lakhani ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.