Did you know that over 500 species of good gut bacteria live in your gastrointestinal tract? Now, the words “good” and “bacteria” together may sound unusual to some. After all, one generally associates bacteria with infections and diseases. However, good gut bacteria refers to specific strains of bacteria that are good for your health. This is because they have positive effects on your mental and physical health.
- What is Gut Bacteria?
- How Does Good Gut Bacteria Impact Mental Health?
- How Does Good Gut Bacteria Impact Physical Health?
- How Can You Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria in Your System?
What is Gut Bacteria?
To understand what gut bacteria is, you must understand two terms – microbiota and microbiome. The microbiota refers to the microorganisms that collect at a particular site. The microbiome refers to the microorganism that live within an organism.
When an infant is born, its gut offers a brand new site for bacteria to colonize. Infants born vaginally have microbiomes that correspond with their mother’s vagina. On the other hand, infants born through C-sections have microbiomes that resemble skin. Infants then begin to acquire their own microbiomes over the course of time. According to researchers, infants develop crucial microbiomes during certain stages of their first year:
- Being breastfed
- Getting a fever for the first time
- Being introduced to rice cereals
- Being introduced to baby formula or table food
- Being given an adult diet
Human microbiomes tend to have a dynamic relationship with their environment. They flow from a person to object all around the person. These microbiomes are as unique to each person as their DNA or fingerprints. In fact, studies conducted on participants typing on different keyboards showed that it was possible to pinpoint the person with the keyboard used, just by studying the microorganisms left behind.
As your good gut bacteria, or microbiome, is uniquely yours, your physical and mental health see fluctuations when its numbers increase or decrease.
How Does Good Gut Bacteria Impact Mental Health?
The gut bacteria and brain are connected through what is known as the gut-brain axis. A healthy Central Nervous System (CNS) aids in the healthy functioning of your gut. Neurotransmitters, hormones, and immunological factors are sent from the gut and release signals that reach the brain. In fact, the gut and the brain are the only parts of your body that are known to transmit messages. The signalling that occurs between the gut and the CNS to transmit these messages is known as the gut-brain axis.
Any variations in the microbiomes in your gut can contribute to CNS related disorders. These disorders include anxiety, depressive disorders, autism, and schizophrenia. Many studies link gut bacteria and depression in particular. This is because unhealthy gut bacteria can lead to inflammations in the CNS. Furthermore, they can also cause dysbiosis – an increase in the overall permeability in the gut membranes, which leads to nutritional and microbial content leaking through. Both these factors are linked with the development of mental disorders, showing that gut bacteria and depression do go hand in hand.
However, does this mean that you can treat depression by introducing more good gut bacteria into your system?
Studies on the same are inconclusive. Some patients did respond positively when given probiotics. Their cortisol levels decreased and they also suffered lower amounts of stress and anxiety. On the other hand, 20% of patients did not feel any different after taking probiotics. Moreover, some patients also developed fevers, nausea, and headache due to the bacterial changes.
Similarly, gut bacteria and autism are also linked. A certain bacteria known as Candida is said to increase a child’s chances of developing autism spectrum problems. This is because this bacteria prevents carbohydrates and minerals from being absorbed by the body. They also allow the build-up of more toxins. Due to this, children who are on the autism spectrum can exhibit more autistic behaviours. However, at this point, more studies must be undertaken to sufficiently link gut bacteria and autism.
How Does Good Gut Bacteria Impact Physical Health?
Gut bacteria can play a large role in your physical health as well. In fact, researchers found that the microbiomes in a healthy person are different from those in a sick person. The following are ways that gut bacteria can contribute to many major health problems:
Obesity, Heart Disease, and Type 2 Diabetes:
High levels of gut bacteria affect the way your body responds to food. These bacteria can make your body start turning fibre into fatty acids. As a result, patients develop metabolic syndrome, which makes them more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Inflammatory Bowel’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis:
Patients who have lesser amounts of anti-inflammatory gut bacteria are more prone to developing these diseases. Conversely, very high amounts of inflammation-causing bacteria can make people prone to developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Patients with colon cancer have higher amounts of disease-causing bacteria than others.
How Can You Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria in Your System?
You can improve your gut bacteria by:
Eating Different Types of Food:
The more diverse your microdata is, the better it is for you. This is because you’ll be able to get different benefits from different species of bacteria. Thus, the first step in trying to improve your gut bacteria is to eat different foods.
Eating Veggies, Beans, Legumes, and Fruits:
Fruits and veggies are known for their high fibre content. Think of fibre as food for your bacteria – you may not gain nutritional value from it, but your bacteria will feed on it and grow. Moreover, fibre can help you regular your bowel movements. This can ensure that your digestive system runs smoothly. Include the following foods in your diet:
- Green peas
- Whole grains
Eating Fermented Food:
Fermented food refers to food that has been treated with bacteria. These foods contain lactobacilli, which is a good gut bacteria that offers many health benefits. You should include the following foods in your diet:
Probiotics are made up of complex-carbs that cannot easily be digested by your system. They are food for your bacteria and they promote their growth and reproduction. Probiotics can help reduce certain symptoms that are associated with obesity. This is because they contain a bacteria called Bifidobacteria, which lowers metabolic syndrome.
Exercising can help you promote good gut bacteria. This is because it improves the diversity of your microbiomes. As a result, this can help you combat many symptoms linked with diabetes, obesity and heart problems. It can also help you lose weight.
Good gut bacteria is essential for a healthy body and mind. Take the above-mentioned precautions with your diet and exercise to ensure that your body has all the healthy bacteria that it needs!