The Good Guys in Your Gut

by Heather Ferber on October 7, 2014

Perhaps you have already heard the statistic that 70% of your immune system is located in your gut.  Kind of hard to imagine, but it’s true! Your gastrointestinal tract is a critical component of your immune system. The surface area of your GI tract is estimated to be the surface area of a football field – quite large! With all this area for potential absorption, your immune system must work optimally to keep the bad bugs from entering your blood and lymph systems.

Your stomach is designed to help keep germs to a minimum with it’s very low pH (usually ranging from 1-4).  This acidity will kill many bugs before they have the chance to enter your system. You also have mucous that contains antibodies which can help neutralize germs. Enzymes, saliva and bile also aid in the process of keeping us protected from bad bugs.

Your gut is also lined with special good bacteria that aid in creating an optimal gut flora zone or biome.  These good bacteria are present in conjunction with a few bad bacteria (about 80-85% good and 15-20% bad is considered normal) and play a special role in optimizing your GI tract.

Published research over the past few years has discovered that these bacteria (also referred to as microorganisms) play critical roles not only with immune function, but also with weight management, levels of energy, nutrition absorption/digestion and gene expression.

Unfortunately, with busy lifestyles, many people consume processed foods that contain sugar, wheat, and other not-so-healthy ingredients, or the consume too much alcohol off of which tend to kill off the good gut bacteria and create suboptimal conditions within the gut.  This imbalance may ultimately play a role in weight gain, lack of energy/fatigue, malnutrition, and development of disease.

The term “probiotic” has been heard much more frequently the past couple of years. The World Health Organization’s definition of probiotics is “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.[1] Probiotics are a supplement that can be purchased over the counter and contain varying numbers and types of micro-organisms that can aid in rebuilding the balance of your good and bad gut flora.  Probiotics are taken orally and there are many of them on the market.  Get help from your MD or other health care advocate in choosing the best probiotic for you.

Not into taking a pill?  Or looking for a more natural solution? There are also foods you can consume to aid in replenishing your good gut bacteria. (And sometimes these foods have FAR MORE beneficial bacteria within them than the average over the counter probiotic.)

Fermented foods are foods that have been through the process of lactofermentation meaning the natural bacteria are feeding on the sugar/starch in the actual food.  This results in the creation of lactic acid. The process of fermentation preserves the food and creates various strains of probiotics (among other good stuff such as enzymes, B vitamins, and omega 3 fatty acids).  There are an endless variety of foods which can be fermented, but some of the more popular options include beets, carrots, green beans, green/purple cabbage, pickles, and soy beans.  Fermented combinations that are more popular include kimchi, curtido, and kefir.

A couple weeks back, unfortunate circumstances brought me together with a college acquaintance and his wife who told me about living their dream in Northern Wisconsin on a farm. And their dream just happened to include fermented foods!  Spirit Creek Farm is run by Andrew and Jennifer Sauter Sargent. They live in a solar powered home and run their  farm and business on 70 acres along the South Shore of Lake Superior. Spirit Creek Farm is committed to making organic, raw, vegan fermented vegetables that can help you get your gut health back in balance.  Of course, after reconnecting, I had to run out and try their products (which are found locally in SE WI) and the kimchi was my product of choice.  DELICIOUS!  You can check their website for product availability all over the midwestern states.

As a huge proponent for probiotics and fermented foods, this was a re-connection that was meant to be.

Your gut is such a critical component of your overall health and wellness.  It’s important to keep it clean and well balanced.  As the season of increased sickness and bugs descends upon us, think about making good food choices and replenishing those critical bacteria lining your GI tract.   Your immune system will thank you!

My kraut topped with sweet Hungarian paprika and pepper.  YUM! YUM!

My kraut topped with sweet Hungarian paprika and pepper. YUM! YUM!

 

[1] Schlundt, Jorgen. “Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria”. Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria. FAO / WHO. Retrieved 17 December 2012.

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