Honor and support your gastrointestinal tract and the life that exists there…
Your gastrointestinal tract (GI) is the most important organ system in your body because it determines what enters your body. The nutrients that are absorbed are what the body has to repair and regenerate and produce energy, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and other cofactors needed for the metabolic processes that maintain life. All other organ systems are dependent upon the GI tract.
Don’t worry – your GI tract isn’t alone. The health of the GI tract is maintained by the estimated 100 trillion bacteria, which are essential for normal physiology and psychology. Scientists haven’t been able to identify all of the bacteria, affectionately named “flora”, but it has been determined that these essential little beasties have many important functions, such as
- helping to break down food particles. Without the beneficial bacteria to help break them down fully, foods can become toxic substances, such as casomorhpines and gluteomorphines that interfere with brain and immune system function.
- influencing brain development and maintaining normal brain function and behavior.
- producing essential nutrients, such as vitamin K.
- assisting in the absorption of nutrients.
- providing a physical barrier against invaders, undigested food, toxins and parasites.
- producing antibiotic-like, anti-fungal and anti-viral substances, which defend against invaders and stimulate the body’s immune system to respond appropriately.
- producing organic acids to keep the guts pH around 4.0-5.0, which is unfavorable for pathogenic bacteria.
- providing the food necessary for the cells of the gut lining.
- taking up space – their presence inhibits opportunistic, pathogenic bacteria and yeasts, which also inhibits the formation of pathogenic bacterial toxins and their damaging effects to the gut wall. Damage to the GI tract allows undigested foods to leak through, which causes an inflammatory response in the body.
This is only a partial list of the benefits of beneficial bacteria, otherwise known as probiotics. Even though science is just beginning to understand the importance of probiotics we know their existence is imperative for a healthy GI tract and body/mind health.
Wait a minute. Mind, you ask? Yes! Scientists are discovering that the presence of certain bacteria and yeast affect our mood and behavior. For example, candida overgrowth or die-off produces acetaldehyde – the same by-product that causes a hangover from drinking alcohol. Since most people are eating predominately refined carbs, sugars and grains that promote the growth of candida, it is no wonder so many are experiencing an inability to think – a condition referred to as “brain fog”! Research is just beginning to unravel how microbes influence our brain development, function and behavior. Until more is known, it’s a good idea to take steps to promote a healthy balance of gut flora.
One of the main concerns with an imbalance in the GI tract flora is the resultant growth of candida. Refined carbohydrates and sugars, use of antibiotics, birth control pills and steroids can encourage the growth of candida, which can inhibit the growth of the probiotics. Candida overgrowth can result in a myriad of health maladies because of the waste products they produce that are toxic to many body systems, such as the acetaldehydes mentioned above. Their waste products can also be recognized by the immune system and create an inflammatory reaction, which can lead to leaky gut.
There are foods to help support the presence of probiotics and ensure their proliferation. Unsweetened yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut (homemade or from the refrigerator section), and other fermented food products help to provide probiotics. Prebiotics, such as inulin, are dietary fibers that help to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, by providing an ideal food for them. Excellent sources of inulin are asparagus, artichokes, garlic, leeks, and onion.
Probiotics can also be taken in supplement form. Since they are life forms, care must be taken to preserve their viability. Make sure you check the expiration date on the product and purchase them from the refrigerator section unless they are specially processed, which makes them more expensive. Certain strains of bacteria are more beneficial than others so ask your health care provider for recommendations.
One of the healthiest habits we can develop is to eat foods that contain probiotics every day. While you’re at it, give a little toast of thanks to the little ones that keep our GI tract healthy.