We are learning more and more about how the condition of our gut affects our general health. Did you know that the bacteria and microbes in our digestive system contain over one hundred times more DNA than our human body? That is right! We are more bug than human.
These organisms play many roles in the body from supporting the immune system to digestion, metabolism and even our neurochemistry. They communicate with our brain, our liver and our fat tissue.
Diet, antibiotics and age can affect the health of the microbiome. When out of balance, the microbiome may affect our weight by increasing the gut’s capacity to absorb more calories from the food we eat and by diminishing the capacity of hormones like leptin, which is our body’s natural appetite suppressant.
How can you promote a healthy gut?
1. Eat prebiotic foods like onion, leeks, garlic, artichoke, wheat, banana, oats and soybeans. They provide a feast on which our microbes love to dine.
2. Try fermented foods like fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha and kefir which have live organisms in them.
3. Consider a probiotic supplement.
Finding the right probiotic supplement can be a challenge for many reasons.
1. We do not yet have definitive answers on which strains of probiotics are most effective. There is some indication that the actual probiotic strain does not take up residence in the gut, but rather it stimulates metabolites that positively affect the microbiome function.
2. There are numerous probiotic formulas on the market and because they are considered a dietary supplement, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Potency and strains can vary significantly from one product to the next.
3. How much and for how long to take a probiotic is not clear either. More may not be better and could cause bloating, gas and other digestive upset.
Before taking any supplement it is wise to consult with your physician. In the meantime, enjoying some prebiotic and fermented foods and focusing on a diet rich in nutrients may be your best path to a healthy gut.
Danette Peterson is a registered dietitian with Profile by Sanford.