Gut health: The whole world appears to be talking about it; and health practitioners confess that good gut health is the foundation of a healthy & happy life, since the gut seems to be connected to and influence multiple body mechanisms.
Anywhere you go, it seems like everybody is talking about probiotics, prebiotics, how fermented foods can change your life, etc. But is this true or is there more to it? What does good gut health actually mean? What can we do to improve our gut health?
At Morlife, we like to get our facts & science right! So let’s start by trying to understand what gut health really means. According to scientific literature, “gut health” lacks a clear definition; so we will use the common definition accepted by the general population that says that 'gut health is the absence of disease along the gastrointestinal tract'. What's interesting though is that science does not have a definition for the term 'gut'. For this purpose we will use the term gut that refers to the alimentary canal between pylorus and the anus (see picture below).
Inside the gut, millions of microbes populate, associated with many body functions. This community of microbes is called gut microbiota and lives within our body. We would even say that we are made up of more bacteria than human cells. To put that into perspective, we're talking 90% bacteria and 10% human cells! So we have 10 times more bacterial cells in our body than we have human cells. (Creepily, some people even argue that “they are not really OUR bacteria, we are THEIR human”).
- Our microbiome can weigh up to 1.5kg (these microbes are heavy!)
- 10’s of trillions of microorganisms live in our gut, including 300 to 500 different species of bacteria
- Two thirds of the human microbiotia are completely unique to each individual. This means that the composition of microbiota in your intestine is like a fingerprint (how cool is that?)
There is no secret formula to having the healthiest gut, as our gut is a very complex system and everyone has different gut issues. What we do know is that there are certainly dietary and lifestyle changes that can help you to improve your gut health significantly and feel the amazing difference.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SUPPORT OUR GUT?
1. PROBIOTICS – Get ready for a novel ‘cause things are about to get real!
This is one of our favourite topics to talk about, because we admire the secret powers behind probiotics. While most of us acknowledge the need for probiotics, what a lot of us don't know is exactly how much we need. According to scientific literature, the proper definition for probiotic is: “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host”.
Based on this definition, if bacteria does not have a POSITIVE effect on one’s health, then it cannot be called PROBIOTIC. This is pretty straightforward. Probiotics are ONLY good bacteria that can have a positive impact on the human body.
Here's some food for thought. Imagine that there is a product on the supermarket shelves that claims to have “Probiotics”. These probiotics may not survive the acid environment of our stomach and die before they reach our gut. So basically instead of eating probiotics we are simply eating a dead cell that once was a bacteria that will no longer have any effect on our health. This dead cell cannot be called a probiotic as it no longer delivers a positive effect on our bodies.
If you're wondering how the heck you can be sure your probiotic is doing a good enough job or how to choose one that will, then read on.
How do we choose between so many available bacteria types, and which ones are the good and bad ones? The answer lies in the STRAIN.
Microorganisms often have weird & complicated names like: Lactobacillus rhamnosus 23V. This long & difficult name is VERY important, especially the last word because that is how we can identify the strain. Here's how you can break your probiotics down:
Bacteria’s first name (e.g., Lactobacillus); It is general and refers to a group of organisms based on similarity of qualities (like physical characteristics, metabolic products).
Bacteria’s second name (e.g., rhamnosus); It is a much more narrow classification based on shared common features that distinguish them from other species within that genus.
Is an even more specific classification! Distributes members of the same species into subgroups based on one or more properties of these bacteria (e.g., 23V).
Identifying what benefits you are looking to get from your probiotic will help you single out the specific strains you need.
Before buying a supplement containing probiotics, consider the following things:
- Is the bacteria that I am buying shelf stable? Any food manufacturer can add live probiotics at the point of manufacturing, but then after a couple of days this bacteria will die, since some of them require a particular environment to survive (but some species are actually shelf stable, so look for the right ones).
- Is the bacteria acid resistant? Can it survive the acidity of our stomach and reach our gut where it is supposed to have its magic effect?
- Is the bacteria resilient? Meaning can it colonise our gut and stay there and even start a new family? Or do we have to consume it every single day to achieve the positive benefits?
- What is the right dosage of probiotics that I should take? Have you ever heard of the term CFU? It stands for Colony Forming Unit of each living bacteria. The dosage of a probiotic is based on this CFU count and research says that successful results have been achieved when using dosages between 107–1011 CFU/day (This seems to be quite a lot, but at least we are increasing the survival chances of some bacteria).
- Is there any evidence supporting your Bacteria Strain? You need research proving that a particular type of bacteria can have a positive effect on a particular functionality (e.g. can improve IBS symptoms). It is extremely important to do your homework before going shopping for probiotics!
- What benefits are you expecting to get from taking probiotics? Because different probiotic strains have a wide variety of therapeutic effects, which explains why they can be useful for so many different conditions:
Enhanced GIT IgA secretion
GIT microbiota modification
Breastmilk microbiota modification
Vaginal microbiota modification
Production of beneficial compounds (e.g., short chain fatty acids)
Repair of the intestinal barrier
1ST STEP: Find out the benefit that you want to have and look for the strain that best suits this purpose (get ready to dig deep into research)
2nd STEP: Check if the product that you want has the adequate amounts of viable microorganisms (>109 CFU of each organism per dose)
Prebiotic is another big trendy word at the moment. But what does it really mean? A prebiotic is: “a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon the host's well-being and health.”
A prebiotic resists digestion in the human intestine and reaches the colon where it can be fermented by the good gut microflora. Although all prebiotics are fibre, not all fibre is a prebiotic.
Examples of well-established prebiotics are:
- Inulin – At Morlife, we have Inulin available on its own and in formulations
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – we also have a product called Inulin PLUS that contains both inulin and FOS
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
One thing that is clear, we all benefit from having prebiotics as they are the food that will feed our good gut bacteria! Remember, prebiotics are the the food for good gut bacteria, and probiotics are the good bacteria.
This is basically a combo with the goodness from both worlds containing: probiotics + prebiotics! This is definitely the best supplement as it contains the good gut bacteria and its food combined. How good is that?
4. FILTERED WATER
We all know how important water is in our life! Aside from hydrating and cleansing, water is also a player when it comes to digestion. So make sure that you drink plenty of filtered water to keep your body working at its best.
Moderate exercise is good for not only gut health but also for overall well-being! Exercise stimulates our body to produce special compounds involved in body mechanisms helping us to stay healthy. Some studies even suggest that exercise can alter our gut microbiome and help the good gut bacteria to strive over bad bacteria. So exercise not only help us to stay fit but also supports our good gut bacteria.
6. EAT RIGHT
Have you heard that good gut bacteria feed on good food and that bad bacteria feed on bad food? Well, this is totally true! Having a diet full of fatty foods, sugary products, alcohol, etc… will most likely feed bad gut bacteria and they will start multiplying themselves outnumbering the amount of good gut bacteria (this might be a big problem for us). On the other hand you can have a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fibrous products, etc… which will feed good gut bacteria and keep fighting the good fight!
Fibre is very important for us as it also regulates digestion, helps our bowels to move properly, keeps us regular, and lowers blood glucose levels, between so many other good things. So go ahead and try to reach your recommended daily intake of 30 g of fibre per day!
7. STAY HEALTHY & AVOID ANTIBIOTICS WHEN POSSIBLE
Nobody likes to be sick or to go to the doctor! We all like to stay healthy and enjoy life as much as we can. So when we actually get those hard-core infections, we will most likely end up at the doctor’s and having to take antibiotics to kill those bad bugs. The problem is that often antibiotics (biotics = life, antibiotics= antilife) do not only kill the bad guys, but wipe out the good gut bacteria too. That’s why, it's important to get onto a good probiotics and prebiotics supplement once you finish your antibiotics, as you need to re-flourish & re-nourish your gut again. But once again be aware of the importance of strain here, since different antibiotics kill different strains of bacteria!