Gut bacteria – the good, the bad and the ugly


It’s no surprise that our guts play a major role in how we feel from day to day. If we eat a balanced diet, we most likely feel well, have energy and don’t notice our stomachs. But if we make bad choices, eat too much or not enough of certain things, we’ll have stomach aches and lower energy – and will literally hate our own guts.

But did you know that several health-related conditions such as asthma, allergies, obesity, depression and cardiovascular associated problems are now thought to be related to the gut flora, those friendly and sometimes not so friendly bacteria that reside in your tummy? Research is now under way to better understand the relationship between gut flora and your health so that new therapies might possibly target these diseases.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this topic in the media lately, so I turned to Mohamed Sultan, MD, an internal medicine and gastroenterology specialist for Banner Health, for some additional information.

“Though your gut is an essential part of your digestive system, it also plays an important role in your overall wellness,” says Dr. Sultan. “Your colon and intestines host many different bacteria, called microflora, which vary from person to person based on infant nutrition, geographical location, age, and exposure to antibiotics”

Microflora are important to your health, as a fundamental part of your immune system, and help your body absorb minerals. Having the right amount is key. Dr. Sultan emphasizes that an imbalance in these bacteria can cause issues like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gastroenteritis, memory disorders and even colon cancer.

“But there is good news,” says Dr. Sultan. “Clinical studies have shown that certain food products, called prebiotics, can stimulate growth of your microflora and may help keep them in balance, leaving you with a happier gut.”

Love your gut with these tips:

  • Choose food-based probiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria found in many fermented foods and supplements. Several yogurts contain probiotics, which can boost your good gut bacteria and reduce your bad bacteria.
  • Eat prebiotics. Prebiotics contain non-digestible carbohydrates that feed probiotics. They have been linked to a reduction in fat storage and irritable bowel syndrome. You can find prebiotics in whole grains, bananas, garlic, onions, honey, asparagus and artichokes.
  • Minimize red meat and skip the fatty foods. Some fats can increase your lev­els of bad bacteria and even damage the gut lining.
  • Stop stressing. Stress can change your gut flora, reducing your good bacteria. It can also create negative changes in how your immune system functions. So for a happy belly, figure out what has you stressing and start taking steps to eliminate your stressors.
So, keep your gut and those micro flora happy by choosing food wisely and eating pre- and probiotic foods. If you are not sure what is causing your symptoms, you might consider keeping a food diary. Use it to log what you eat and how you feel. Take that to your physician and he or she can help pinpoint what might be causing your discomfort or pain.
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