Health, or the lack of it, begins with the gut and how well your digestive system functions.
We are not merely what we eat, but what we are able to absorb.
Within us there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells, and maintaining the correct balance of beneficial bacteria versus harmful bacteria is a crucial part of supporting optimal long-term health and vitality.
Having the right kinds of "friendly bacteria", in sufficient quantities, is essential for everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immune system strengthening, and even mental and emotional well-being.
What can disrupt gut flora?
The delicate balance of healthy gut flora can be disrupted by a range of circumstances, including alcohol, a high-sugar diet, poor digestion, stress, exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants.
One of the most common causes is the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.
How do antibiotics affect the digestive tract?
In this modern age, antibiotics are prescribed and used far more often than they should be.
As a result, antibiotic resistance - where a micro-organism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic - is unfortunately now becoming more and more common, and one of the most notable effects of this is their adverse impact on the digestive system and the balance of gut flora - they indiscriminately destroy both good and bad bacteria in the body.
They work by either killing bacteria or by preventing it from growing – this is great in terms of bad bacteria, but not at all desirable for healthful bacteria.
This is ironic, when we consider that people are taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, but their medicine is destroying the body's primary line of natural defence.
The most important part of the immune system resides in the gut, where Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) works hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria and viruses) from entering the body.
Of course, antibiotics can sometimes be necessary and are highly effective in resolving some bacterial infections.
However, it is important to use them sensibly, in moderation and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after a course.
Too many bad bugs!
If your levels of good flora fall, opportunistic 'nasties' (like yeasts, parasites and bacteria) are provided with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread.
An overgrowth of harmful flora (gut dysbiosis), for example, increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including:
- abdominal pains after eating
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Candida overgrowth – this is one of the reasons why antibiotic programmes often result in the fungal infection Thrush.
How to support the good guys!
Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last far longer than was previously thought and should never be used as a regular quick fix for minor ailments and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided.
Where a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, you can support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplementation.
For instance, many cultures have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as "probiotic foods") and so include them as a regular part of their diet.
These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and miso, to name just a few.
Including these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a good way to promote healthy intestinal flora.
However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through.
Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that can colonise the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.
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