When it comes to maintaining optimal gastrointestinal health, the old maxim “you are what you eat” couldn’t be more valid. Until recently, this clear concept simply meant that you should take charge of the calorie content and nutritional value of pretty much everything you eat and drink.
Today, as experts gain a deeper understanding of what constitutes a healthy gut, they’ve figured out that “you are what you eat” also applies to the vast ecosystem of microbiota that inhabit your intestinal tract — the so-called “gut bacteria” that help you stay healthy.
Here at Hardeep M. Singh, M.D., we know that your gastrointestinal health plays a major role in shaping your overall health. With that basic principle in mind, let’s explore how probiotics can help you cultivate and maintain a balanced gut and a healthier body.
Gut bacteria explained
Many people view bacteria as something that’s inherently unhealthy, but the truth isn’t quite so simple. There are actually all kinds of bacteria in the world — some good, some neutral, and some bad — and many different types of bacteria live on or in different areas of your body.
The unique group of bacteria that lives on your skin, which is collectively known as your skin microbiota, is very different from the cluster of bacteria that lives inside your mouth, or your oral microbiota.
Your gut microbiota — or the collection of bacteria that inhabit your intestinal tract — is so vast and diverse that it’s often compared to our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Indeed, your gut microbiota is made up of more than 100 trillion microorganisms, including at least 1,000 distinct species of bacteria that contain more than three million genes. That’s about 150 times the number of genes you have in your own body.
You really are what you eat
So why should you be mindful of your unseen universe of gut microbiota? Because you can help shape the kind of bacteria that live there, and in turn, the bacteria that live there can shape your health.
While approximately one-third of the microorganisms in your intestinal tract are common to most people, the other two-thirds of your gut microbiota is made up of microorganisms that are unique to you.
Your gut microbiota contains a mix of “good” and “bad” bacteria. The good bacteria support your digestive and immune systems, while the bad bacteria do just the opposite — they wreak havoc on your digestion and diminish your overall health.
The key to maintaining a healthy, balanced gut is making sure it contains more good bacteria than bad. Dysbiosis, or having an imbalanced gut microbiota that doesn’t have enough good bacteria or an overabundance of bad bacteria, can affect your health in many different ways.
Dysbiosis can cause you to develop chronic indigestion, constipation, or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); it can also lead to an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like ulcerative colitis. An imbalanced gut can disrupt your metabolism, too, making it harder to maintain a healthy body weight.
The power of probiotics
Your gut microbiota may be like a vast and densely populated universe, but it’s a universe that fits inside your intestinal tract. By taking steps to ensure that the universe contains as much good bacteria as possible, you leave less space for bad bacteria — and more importantly, you limit their ability to proliferate, take over, and undermine your health.
Eating a nutrient-rich, high-fiber diet is a great way to positively influence the makeup of your gut microbiota, as these kinds of foods feed the good bacteria and starve the bad.
Taking probiotics is another proactive way to boost the levels of good bacteria in your gut. Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that help your body digest food, create vitamins, support immune system function, and keep bad bacteria levels in check.
Probiotics also occur in fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and water kefir. By eating fermented foods, you can directly increase the number of good bacteria living in your gut.
Besides promoting optimal gastrointestinal health, probiotics can help improve a wide range of gastrointestinal problems, including chronic diarrhea, constipation, peptic ulcers, IBS, and IBD.
To find out how probiotics can help you, call your nearest Hardeep M. Singh, M.D. office in Orange or Irvine, California, today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Singh any time.