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The Importance of Bacteria in Digestion

In our bodies, hundreds of different species of bacteria exist, and in the gut alone these far outweigh the number of general cells in the entire body. While some of these species of bacteria can be toxic, other strains are extremely beneficial to the body.

vegetable_soup_pic1) Bacteria shape, develop, and maintain the immune system

Previous studies have shown that bacteria-free animals are more likely to get ill compared to their germ-containing counterparts, as the bacteria is needed to defend against foreign substances and the pathogenic bacteria in the body.

2) Good bacteria influence the central nervous system functioning

Appropriate stress responses actually depend on the balance of good bacteria within the gut. For example, while it’s known that the brain can affect the gut, recent studies have shown that this relationship is bidirectional, meaning that what happens in the gut can actually have a resulting effect on the brain!

3) Bacteria are involved in digestive processes

When undigested and unabsorbed food enters the intestines from the stomach, it is broken down by the good bacteria, and we then get access to even more nutrients and energy. However, many digestive issues have been linked to an imbalance in gut bacteria, as in some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Therefore it is the balance of good and bad bacteria that is crucial in achieving optimal health.

4) Obesity can be linked to bacterial abnormalities

Recently studies have led to the idea that bacteria in those with obesity are more effective in releasing calories from food. So even if two people eat exactly the same meals, one may go on to develop obesity because more calories are obtained and stored. That said though, what you eat could influence the composition of bacteria in your gut; eat a more low-fat, high-fiber diet and you could build up the bacteria that helps you stay lean.

stomach_ache_girl_pain_pic5) Probiotics, which are live bacteria, help treat illnesses

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial to health. There is currently a lot of evidence to show that they have treated a range of illnesses including gastroenteritis, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, allergies, cancer, diabetes, obesity, cholesterol, depression, and anxiety among others. Probiotics can be supplemented in the form of tablets or powder and even in certain functional foods like miso, kefir, tempeh, or sauerkraut. (However, those with underlying immune problems can be at risk when taking probiotics so always consult a doctor before taking them!)

If a person has a particular problem with digestion, there are five R’s that have been used for years in functional medicine to restore health:

1) Remove

Remove problem areas from your daily life, like sugar, alcohol, stress, and foods that may cause intolerances (the most common ones are wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts). This step may also involve removing things like parasites or other pathogenic bugs.

2) Replace

Add back or replace the things that may be missing in the diet. For example, add digestive enzymes or eat more nutrient rich foods. Basically do everything to support the digestive process (this will vary from person to person).

3) Repopulate

Use probiotics or functional foods to replenish the gut, as mentioned above. Prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria may also be of use here.

4) Repair

Repair the damage that has been done to the digestive tract in the past by adding certain vitamins and minerals to your diet, like zinc, vitamins A, D, or C, and L-glutamine rich foods.

meditation_woman_girl_sit_pic5) Rebalance

Work on the mental, spiritual, and emotional side of things to rebalance your life as a whole, as lifestyle factors can very much influence your gut function!

If you experience digestive problems, check with your doctor and/or a nutritionist before embarking on any supplementation or changes in your diet.

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