In fact, mental issues from depression, to Alzheimer's disease, to autism and even addiction have now been found to have links to the health of your gut bacteria.
So it almost goes without saying that ensuring those little "critters" are healthy is imperative if you want to be healthy as well!
The good news is, taking care of your gut bacteria isn't really all that difficult. The 7 simple tips below will help you to rebuild and rebalance your gut bacteria if you haven't paid much attention to it before, and to maintain a healthy balance from now on.
Fiber is one of the main foods that good bacteria in your gut feed on, so make sure you are eating plenty of veggies which contain the enzymes and types of fiber that your microbiome needs. All types of green vegetables, and especially root vegetables provide lots of good food for your gut bacteria.
Fruit is good for you as well, but be careful not to consume too much of it, especially if you have problems with yeast, as the sugars in fruit can also lead to an overgrowth of yeasts. Avoid fruit juices, which are high in sugar and lower in fiber, and when you do eat fruit, consume it in its whole form.
2.) Add fermented foods to your diet!
I've written about fermented foods a lot in the past, and for good reason. Fermented foods are not only one of the absolute best ways to repopulate the good bacteria and restore balance in your gut, but they also are also good for you in other ways as well, plus they are just plain delicious!
Fermenting many vegetables and even grains helps to make them more digestible, and increases the availability of the nutrients they contain, so your body is able to get more nourishment than it would from the same food in its un-fermented state.
Humans consumed fermented foods for thousands of years, as up until the advent of refrigeration, it was one of the main ways to preserve fresh foods and keep them from spoiling. Some health experts now believe that the rapid growth of many kinds of digestive and other health problems and diseases in the modern world is linked to the loss of fermented foods in our diet.
The good news is, home fermentation is generally very safe, and a lot easier than you might think! (Check out our archives for some easy recipes to try.) There are many different kinds of fermented foods that you can add to your diet, and the more of them you consume, the more balanced and healthy your gut bacteria will become. It's easy and fun to make your own naturally fermented vegetable pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and other beverages, and even vinegar. Tempeh, miso, and even beer, wine and dark chocolate are also fermented - though don't go overboard on these last two for obvious reasons! :-)
If you are purchasing any of these foods rather than making them yourself, make sure they have a label stating that they contain live cultures (in most cases these should be refrigerated) and that they have not been pasteurized after culturing.
3.) Take a good-quality probiotic supplement.
Especially if you are just getting started with caring for your gut bacteria, or if you have recently taken an antibiotic drug for any reason, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement with a wide variety of bacterial strains and high numbers of beneficial bacteria can help to re-establish a positive bacterial balance, and eliminate unhealthy bacteria and yeasts that may already have a foothold in your digestive tract.
If you wish to take a probiotic supplement on an ongoing basis, this can help your body maintain good levels of healthy bacteria, but if you choose not to do this, just make sure that you do take one for at least several months after using antibiotics or recovering from an illness.
4.) Avoid refined flour and sugar.
(You knew I was going to say this, didn't you?) While many of us are somewhat addicted to these substances, refined grains and sugars are some of the worst things you can eat - not just for your gut bacteria, but for your overall health. These foods encourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeasts which can proliferate in your gut, smothering out healthy bacteria and leading to all kinds of digestive and other health problems.
As difficult as it may be, take steps to begin cutting these refined and highly-processed foods out of your diet. Substitute whole grains (preferably sprouted/fermented), and small amounts of natural and minimally processed sugars only, such as raw honey (which contains natural anti-bacterial properties plus lots of healthy enzymes and other good stuff), maple syrup, and unrefined date sugar.
5.) Never take antibiotics unless it is absolutely medically necessary!
What is an antibiotic? It's the opposite of a pro-biotic. Basically, it kills bacteria - and it does so fairly indiscriminately. Antibiotics kill off all the good bacteria in your gut - as well as the bad! Unfortunately, this often means that, without proper feeding and supplementation, the bad bacteria are able to re-grow and take over your system before your good bacteria gets re-established. This is why it is so important to take a good probiotic after a course of antibiotics.
Unfortunately, antibiotics are prescribed far too often in today's world, and often when they are not even needed, and will cause more harm than good. If your doctor tries to prescribe you an antibiotic, make sure you ask why, and exactly what the antibiotic will do to help you get better. Remember that antibiotics are useless against a virus! Unless you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics are usually unnecessary and should be avoided.
Also, be aware that many commercially-raised meat animals are fed high levels of antibiotics - both to keep them healthy in unhealthy environments until slaughter, and sometimes to promote weight gain and faster growth. Some of these antibiotics may make their way into your body if you consume this meat, so if you are a meat eater, try to steer clear of conventionally-raised meats, and instead, choose grass-fed or pasture-raised meats, which are typically not given nearly as many antibiotics.
6.) Avoid chlorine whenever possible.
Chlorine is added to most municipal water supplies to kill and control bacterial growth. While this may be helpful in preventing water-borne illnesses, it is most decidedly not helpful to your general health. Chlorine can upset your bacterial balance when you consume it through drinking water, or even by skin absorption when showering.
To keep your microbiome healthy, consider installing a whole-house water filter that removes chlorine, or at least use a water filter for your drinking water and on your shower head.
7.) Don't use antibacterial soaps, wipes, or hand sanitizers.
Recent studies have found that Triclosan, the main ingredient in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers, is one of the main causes of antibiotic resistance, and also contributes to the development of allergies, asthma, and eczema in some people. Triclosan was recently banned in some states (and many countries outside of the U.S.) in most consumer products due to these issues, but other antibacterial chemicals still on the market can have a similar effect.
Unless you work in a hospital or in a highly-contagious environment, 99% of harmful germs can be controlled by simple hand washing with hot water and regular soap - which is much better both for your health, and the health of your microbiome.
As we are continually discovering at ever-deeper levels of detail, the health of your bacterial colony, the health of your body, and the health of your brain are intricately connected in ways that we don't even fully understand yet.
Taking care of these little "critters" should be a top priority if you want to be healthy, so watch out for their needs when you eat, drink, and go about your daily activities, and they will repay your attention with good health for years to come!
To your good (gut) health!