Beneficial bacteria and how it affects your digestion
Most people know a little about probiotics – they are a beneficial type of bacteria that aid us with digestion. They can be found in yogurt or you can take a probiotic supplement. However as time goes on we are learning more and more about what is called the “microbiome,” referring to the dynamic community of microorganisms in our gastrointestinal tract. This community is comprised of beneficial organisms, pathogenic organisms, and symbiotic organisms that cohabitate peacefully with the rest. But how many of these little buggers are inside of us? Well, the numbers are more impressive than you might think! Did you know:
- Bacteria compose 10% of our dry weight.
- You have 10 times more bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your body
- Those bacteria comprise 99% of the DNA in your body
- You have billions of microbes in your mouth, several billion in your small intestine, and trillions in your large intestine.
- You have between 500-1000 types of bacteria in your digestive system, each type having hundreds of strains
While your first though might be “get them out!” these organisms have many purposes and play a critical role in our health.
These “good guys” function in symbiosis with your immune system and play an integral role protecting you from parasitic infection, yeast overgrowth such as candida albicans, and bacterial overgrowth such as H-pylori. These healthy bacteria help us by aiding in digestion, balancing gut ph, reducing inflammation, regulating our bowel movements, manufacturing B vitamins and essential fatty acids, aiding in mineral absorption, protecting against toxic substances, and many other functions.
When our good guys become compromised and disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and yeast are allowed to proliferate, it can lead to a multitude of symptoms, including gas, bloating, diarrhea, and many others. This is referred to as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is an imbalance in gut bacteria that leads to problems in susceptible people, and can be a significant part of the problem for people experiencing functional digestive problems. Dysbiosis is also commonly connected to inflammation in the gut and food sensitivities, and is at play in many GI conditions including IBS, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and GERD. Many factors can affect the balance of good and pathogenic microorganisms in your gut, including medications such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors, chemical exposure, stress, poor diet, antibiotic use in humans and in our food supply, and alcohol intake.
Treatments for Dysbiosis include taking in probiotics and prebiotics from food and/or supplements, medical nutrition therapy such as an elimination diet or anti-candida diet, herbal therapy, and/or pharmaceuticals. The type of therapy is very patient-specific but there are medications and herbs that effectively fight off unwanted bacteria, yeast, and parasites while lifestyle changes are implemented to prevent the condition from persisting or re-occurring long-term.
You can start to replenish your good guys by eating cultured dairy products such as yogurt or kefir, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, raw vinegar, or miso, and by taking a probiotic supplement. When selecting a probiotic supplement it is important to use one that contains living, viable organisms, preferably refrigerated varieties which will stay viable longer. Choose a combination supplement containing several different kinds of flora, including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum, in addition to any condition-specific strain that is appropriate for you. Check with your doctor or dietitian to determine what specific probiotic strain would be best for you. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that fuel probiotics and can help probiotics proliferate and work more effectively. Many probiotic supplements will contain prebiotics such as inulin or FOS (Fructo-Oligosaccharides). Food sources of prebiotics include onions, garlic, various vegetables and fruits, and honey.
If you suffer from a gastrointestinal condition or chronic GI symptoms, your microbiome is likely an important factor to properly address. As a Registered Dietitian I can help you determine which type of probiotics would be most beneficial for you, and how to work more probiotics and prebiotics into your diet. I can also help you to plan a therapeutic diet and lifestyle changes to help you rebalance your system and find relief from your symptoms. Call (602) 422-9800 to schedule an appointment.