Food and Health

Listen to Your Gut

by Amy Gannon for the Saturday Gazette-Mail, Health Outlook

“Listen to your gut.”

We have all heard that advice many times. But what most don’t know is that your gut, in a very real way, has a mind of its own. Recent research leads us to believe that everyone has an inner ecosystem in their gut, or lower gastrointestinal tract, that is as unique as your own fingerprint. Cells of microorganisms outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one in a normal healthy adult, according to the latest research. The make-up of the gut’s “fingerprint” begins with our trip down the birth canal. Whether we were breast or formula fed and if we grew up with pets are thought to affect our gut’s long-term composition.

This inner ecosystem is comprised of helpful, good bacteria which are very much related to our overall health. Some experts even consider the gut as the largest organ of immunity in the body, promoting the development of a healthy immune system by providing a physical barrier to harmful bacteria and synthesizing essential vitamins and nutrients.

A healthy diet is vital for good gut health. Diets in high in fiber, plentiful in whole grains and rich in fruits and vegetables promote the growth of a greater diversity of healthy microbes in the GI tract by providing fuel for the good intestinal bacteria.

Interested in another way to promote healthy bacterial growth in your gut? Regularly consume foods that are good sources of probiotics – live microorganisms when administered in the proper amount offer health benefits to humans. Sources of probiotics include foods that contain live, active cultures. Yogurt, kefir products, aged cheeses and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and soy milk are all good sources.

You may have heard the names of some probiotics on yogurt commercials- Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These good bacteria, along with a host of others, are thought to help with a wide variety of ailments by reducing GI inflammation and supporting the immune system. Strong evidence indicates that probiotics may lessen the negative gastrointestinal side effects of antibiotics and promising applications exist for ailments such as childhood respiratory infections, tooth decay and inflammatory bowel disease.

Probiotics have a very good safety profile, especially when consumed as part of a varied, healthy diet. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women, small children, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised should check with their healthcare provider before using probiotics.

Modern scientists have likely just uncovered the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the gut’s role in the overall immune system. With potential relationships between intestinal bacteria and disease such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders, the new phrase may eventually be “a yogurt a day keeps the doctor away.”