What’s so special about gut bacteria?

I’m a bit obsessed with gut bacteria at the moment. I’ve been brewing kombucha, fermenting kimchi… I even bought a yoghurt maker!

New research keeps popping up linking the gut microbiome to everything from metabolic syndrome to depression risk.

So here’s a little run-down on gut bacteria:

The gut microbiota and microbiome explained:

Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, viruses and other microbes referred to as the gut microbiota, while the genetic material inside these cells are what we call the gut microbiome. The entire microbiota in our gastrointestinal tract weighs between 0.5 to 2 kilograms.

One-third of our gut microbiota is common to most people, while two-thirds are specific to each one of us. This makes our gut microbiome as unique as our fingerprints.

The gut microbiome is not a static thing. It changes throughout life after first colonising the gut shortly after birth and continuing to gather new members from the environment throughout life. Variation is highest during childhood, and it gradually decreases with age. Illness, antibiotic use, fever, stress, injury and dietary changes all affect the blend of microbes that make up the microbiome.

Gut bacteria research:

There are really exciting new discoveries being published and further research underway, including:

–  Weight loss – Overweight and healthy weight twins were found to have significant differences in gut microbiota, with less diversity found in within the overweight twin. When their gut bacteria were transplanted into mice, those with the overweight bacterial transplant gained weight, while those with the healthy weight bacteria didn’t.

– Diabetes – The Personalised Nutrition Project is curently underway and is examining the relationship between gut bactrie and an individual’s glycaemic response to food.

– The gut-brain axis – Key findings show that stress influences the composition of the gut microbiota and that bidirectional communication between microbiota and the CNS influences stress reactivity

– Cancer –  responses to gut bacteria are thought to contribute to cancer at sites far from the gut

 

So, How can you improve your gut microbiome?

The good news is that the balance of bacteria in our gut can be quite quickly altered through dietary manipulation. There are 2 main avenues for improving your gut bacteria that work together:

1) Get the bacteria in there!

This can be through a probiotic supplement (look for one with some diversity and a good total number of bacteria)

OR through fermented foods likes yoghurt, kombucha tea, kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, miso, tempeh

&

2) Feed the bacteria …

You can take all the probiotics in the world, but if you don’t feed them good nutritious foods they’re not going to stick around. Your bacteria thrive on:

Prebiotic fibre – legumes, barley, the onion family, asparagus, linseeds, apples, oats, brown rice and bananas are excellent sources

AND

Resistant starch – oats, legumes, cashews, bananas and carbohydrates such as rice, potato, pasta that have been cooked then cooled down

 

So, in a nutshell, it’s improtant to have a good balance of bacteria in our gut for a whole host of health reasons, and fermented foods, probiotics, high fibre foods and resistant starch can help us to achieve that balance.

 

I’ll post some fermented food and high fibre recipes in upcoming posts 🙂