A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome, the population of bacteria in our gut, is known to be important to our overall health. When we have imbalances to our gut flora it can have a significant effect on how we feel. We can experience bloating, gas, discomfort, and worse, a poorly balanced microbiome can lead to serious health problems and disease.
About 60 to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases.
So how do we look after the very important microflora that lives inside each of us? It is important as it contains anywhere from five to 10 times as many cells as the 37 trillion cells make up the human body. Further, because 70% of your immune system resides in the gut you have many more reasons why looking after your microbiome should be a priority. When it comes to gut health there’s not one remedy – there are several options to explore. Start on the simplest one or graduate to something new. Whatever you do, keep your maintenance of your gut as varied as your microbiome is to you.
The Starting Point For Gut Health
To begin, a healthy, and varied, diet of fruits and vegetables are important. This includes making sure you have a diet of different foods so that you encourage a diverse microbiome. Eat lots of fruit, vegetables, beans and legumes. Consume fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut that support populations of healthy bacteria in your gut. Abstain from processed grains and load up on whole grains – your microbiome will love you for it.
Avoiding overconsumption of alcohol and sugary drinks is also important. Be especially mindful of medication you are taking to manage long-term health conditions as they can affect your microbiome. Be aware that if you require short-term infection management, that these medications can negatively impact the gut flora. Antibiotics are designed to help eliminate infections, but the collateral damage that occurs to our microbiome can lead to further problems.
Finally, managing the level of stress in our lives is critical. Researchers have discovered that stress is so critical to gut health that both “stress and depression can reshape the gut bacteria’s composition through stress hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations.” Everyone has stress in their lives, so to reduce it, moderate exercise and meditation, yoga, stretching and getting plenty of sleep can help.
Probiotics Have Their Benefits
For individuals with a healthy microbiome, there is good news! A healthy gut flora is remarkably resilient and even after a course of antibiotics most will bounce back quickly and function normally in a matter of days. However, for those who have dysbiosis – or the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut – it can be incredibly difficult to get things back in balance with diet adjustments alone.
There are many things we can do to help support our gut flora and for the last few years the options seem abundant. Most people now know about the benefits of probiotics. These are doses of good bacteria that are designed to boost the levels of the populations of these bacteria in the gut. The benefits of using probiotics are twofold: you increase the level of good bacteria and then in the process they make it harder for the bad bacteria to thrive because they are all competing for the same nutrients.
However, there are some challenges with probiotics. As mentioned previously, the microbiome is often remarkably resilient, so even if you regularly take a dose of good bacteria, when you stop, the imbalance may return very quickly. The other thing to be aware of is how your probiotics are delivered. The stomach is a very acidic environment with many enzymes that, together, are designed to break down food so that you can access the nutrients needed. This process makes the stomach a very harsh environment for probiotics to transit through. In many cases, they do not make the journey in sufficient quantities to have the benefit you need them to make.
Prebiotics Make A Good Partner
Probiotics are not the be-all and end-all supplement when it comes to restoring gut health. Beyond probiotics there are a number of options that you can explore to create an optimal and healthy microbiome.
Something that has become very popular recently is a class of compounds called prebiotics. Prebiotics can take many forms, but the underlying feature of them all is that they provide an environment in the gut that causes good bacteria to thrive. They all share the same properties in that they are non-digestible foods that pass through the stomach that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria.
Many probiotic formulas also now include prebiotics so that you can load up on the good bacteria, while they turn up in your lower intestine with a ready source of food to enjoy and share with their counterparts making it much more likely that they will have a positive effect on the your microflora balance (while at the same time making it more challenging for the bad bacteria).
Level Up With Postbiotics
If you are up on your gut health, you may also have heard of postbiotics. These are the next generation of ingredients that are available to further support a healthy microbiome. A postbiotic is a compound that the good bacteria in your gut produce as a by-product of feeding on the prebiotics and other nutrients that we eat.
Postbiotic molecules are used by our gut to support function and also absorbed into our body to promote health. Clearly, a healthy microbiome is as important to us, as we are important to it!
Postbiotic formulas deliver the by-products that your healthy bacteria normally produce when they are present in your gut in high levels and in the process create an environment that causes the bacteria that normally makes them to thrive. It is an exciting development in gut health. When you are choosing a probiotic formula, choose a product that contains a combination of prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic to give your gut flora exactly what it needs to support the result that you are seeking to achieve.
A new development in supporting optimal gut health, has a strange name but comes from a not-so-strange source: eggs! As most of us know by now, egg yolks are a rich source of vitamin D and zinc, but what you may not know is that they also contain a potent immune molecule called IgY (immunoglobulin yolk). This important nutrient acts as the egg’s immune system by working to bind and destroy bad bacteria.
Until recently, the only way to get the benefit of IgY was to consume raw egg yolks. Not a particularly enjoyable activity, and potentially risky because of possible exposure to salmonella infections. However, a recent breakthrough by a biotechnology company has found a way to extract a highly purified form of IgY from the egg yolk. This means that we can now get the benefits of IgY without having to consume a few raw eggs each day. My company, SRW Laboratories, developed a unique immune formula using IgY called Imm¹ Defence that combines IgY with immune-supporting vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc.
Scientists are most excited about IgY because it targets and binds to bacteria and viruses, facilitating the elimination of bad bacteria in the gut to speed recovery times and free up the immune system to do its day-to-day job. This is an incredibly exciting development for gut health because, for the first time, we can target the bad bacteria in the gut and at lower levels which, in combination with prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics gives your gut the very best chance to be healthy and shifts the balance of dysbiosis (microbiome imbalance) in your favor.
Using Every Tool In The Toolbox
Given the link between a healthy microbiome and our gut health, brain, liver, muscle, skin, bone and overall health it is becoming more evident to researchers that focusing on this key area of our health should be a priority for us all.
Avoiding overconsumption of alcohol and sugary foods and eating a healthy varied diet is the first place to start, but you can stack the odds in your favor and improve your gut flora by supplementing with probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics and now IgY. Using all these tools at our disposal, we have a manageable way to build a healthy and thriving microbiome that will support and strengthen our overall health.