What’s Your Gut Telling You?

Peer into the microscopic world of beneficial gut bacteria, and see how the fermentation renaissance is helping revive their roles as the heroes of health.

| Winter 2019

Adobe Stock/sinhyu

You may think you’re simply you. But, there’s so much more to you than meets the eye. You’re a collection of ecosystems that breed communities of microorganisms throughout your skin, mouth, gut, and other parts of your body, collectively referred to as your “microbiome.” In the same way your fingerprints are uniquely yours, so is your microbial signature. No two microbiomes are the same. Even the microbes on your left hand significantly differ from your right hand. The collection of bacteria inhabiting your body is a product of your life experiences, food choices, and your unique lifestyle.

While the whole concept of sharing your space with microbes may feel a bit creepy, it’s really something to be celebrated. After all, you can’t live without many of them. Countless microscopic beings ensure the healthy functioning of various processes in your body by quelling inflammation, regulating the immune system, metabolizing excess cholesterol, and performing other necessary functions to keep you alive and well.

A Good Gut Feeling

Within your microbiome live 100 trillion bacteria — the bulk of which reside in the gut. While the amount of bacteria far outnumbers your 50 to 100 trillion cells, most of them are beneficial bacteria, also known as “probiotics.” Like a complex ecosystem, your gut microbiome is similarly vulnerable to disease because of many factors, including the heavily processed standard American diet (SAD), which delivers massive amounts of sugar, chemical additives, preservatives, and harmful oils to the gut. In addition to harmful ingredients in our diets, the gut microbiome also lacks the quantity and diversity of probiotics found in the diets of our ancestors, who regularly incorporated fermented foods into their daily regimens. When it comes to your microbiome, the adage “you are what you eat” couldn’t be more true. The key to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome lies in decreasing inflammatory and disease-causing bacteria, while eating fermented foods that increase the numbers of beneficial probiotic bacteria.

The Pros of Probiotics

The probiotics in your gut perform a wide variety of functions, depending on the strain. According to research published in the medical journal Internal and Emergency Medicine, some probiotics help you maintain a healthy weight. Research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that certain probiotics kill harmful infections, even ones that reside in other parts of the body, such as the lungs. Still other probiotics in the gut have been found in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology to prevent or reduce allergic reactions.

Superbugs have quickly learned to outsmart antibiotics and become resistant to them. According to the Food and Drug Administration, 70 percent of all bacterial infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the antibiotics used to treat them. But, there’s a plot twist in this war against superbugs: Beneficial bacteria have emerged in the form of the nearly forgotten fermented foods of our ancestors.  While the research is still in its infancy, a growing body of studies points to probiotics as potentially effective against drug-resistant infections, such as Heliobacter pylori (linked to ulcers and other conditions) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a frequently life-threatening infection often linked to hospital stays. In contrast to antibiotics, which only attempt to kill harmful bacterial infections in one way, probiotics — such as those found in fermented foods — have been found to fight MRSA infections in three ways: 1) competing with the infectious bacteria for nutrients; 2) secreting bacteria-killing bacteriocins; and 3) preventing infectious bacteria from producing a protective coating, known as a “biofilm.”



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