If you have any doubt about the importance of gut bacteria on colon health and, subsequently, on the squatting experience, consider this: One of the most promising treatments for ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s Disease is the Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT), is a procedure in which healthy bacteria from a donor’s fecal matter (or sometimes just the donor’s fecal matter itself) is transferred to the gastrointestinal track of the recipient. This procedure has been most successful in treating people who have an overgrowth of Clostridium Difficile bacteria, (C. diff for short). Want to know more? Visit The Fecal Transplant Foundation online today.
As it turns out, the average person lugs around about four pounds of gut bacteria, some harmful, some beneficial, some neutral. When the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria get out of whack, the harmful bacteria proliferate like microscopic rabbits, the colon gets irritated, and you pay the price… in the bathroom, if you’re lucky enough to get there in time.
While an overgrowth of harmful bacteria causes diarrhea, a scarcity of bacteria contributes to constipation. Unlike other components of stool, bacterial cells retain moisture. When your gastrointestinal tract has too few bacteria to loosen the feces and keep them moist, stools become dry, hard, and more difficult to pass.
Although the treatments for chronic constipation and diarrhea vary depending on the cause, in many cases, the solution is the same — restore the healthy balance of intestinal flora, which calls for a three-pronged approach:
- Stop killing your intestinal flora.
- Reintroduce the beneficial bacteria whose populations have been decimated by antibiotics, poor diet, infection, or other causes.
- Feed the beneficial bacteria to enable them to crowd out the harmful critters.
Stop Killing Your Intestinal Flora
Assuming you were born vaginally, as opposed to caesarian, and were breast-fed, you inherited a healthy dose of beneficial intestinal flora from your mom. It was the best gift she could ever give you. An infant’s intestinal flora triggers early development of the immune system. A recent study conducted by researchers at NYU’s School of Medicine and Stanford University’s School of Medicine shows that the intestinal flora of infants born vaginally differs significantly from that of infants born caesarian, which may partially explain the increasing incidence of childhood asthma, allergy, and other illnesses related to the immune system.
Since birth, your intestinal flora has been under siege. Antibiotics, in particular, can decimate gut bacteria, both harmful and beneficial, and alter the delicate balance of your intestinal flora. Environmental toxins, including pesticides, food additives, and chemicals in everything from the air we breathe and the water we drink to the household cleaners we use and the clothes we wear, can disturb the balance. Bacterial and viral infections of the gut can also disrupt the balance, increasing populations of harmful microbes while decreasing populations of beneficial microbes.
The first step to restoring a healthy balance is to stop or at least reduce these attacks on your intestinal flora. Here are four suggestions:
- Find a doctor who fully appreciates the importance of gut bacteria on your health and is careful in prescribing antibiotics. If you’re not sure where to start, consider searching the Institute for Functional Medicines’ practitioner search tool. Functional Medicine doctors are like detectives — they like to get to the root cause of illness and know a lot about gut health.
- Eat a healthy diet, primarily plant-based, along with protein sources that haven’t been subjected to large doses of antibiotics (grass-fed beef, for example, and milk that’s free of antibiotics and growth hormone).
- Reduce or eliminate consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners along with starchy foods (simple carbohydrates), such as wheat products, potatoes, rice, and high-glycemic fruits.
- Drink plenty of pure water — at least about two liters (a half gallon) a day.
Reintroduce Beneficial Bacteria: Probiotics
Although nothing can match the diversity of microorganisms you were given at birth and acquired throughout the course of your life, you can put your intestinal flora on the road to recovery through the use of probiotics — beneficial microorganisms (live bacteria and yeasts) found in certain foods, including:
- Also available as probiotic supplements in pill, powder, or pearl form
Tip: If you’re taking a probiotic supplement, look for a quality product that contains at least five billion colony forming units (CFUs) containing lactobacillus and bifodobacterium. Other bacterial strains can be very helpful, as well, but these are the two biggies.
Feed Your Beneficial Bacteria: Prebiotics
A sick gut is often the product of an unhealthy diet, not just your diet, but the diet you feed the microorganisms in your gut. With probiotics, you merely plant the seeds. Prebiotics are the fertilizer — the “soil” conditioners — that enable the probiotics and other beneficial microbes already in your gut to flourish. Actually, prebiotics are plant fibers (consisting of soluble fiber and non-digestible sugars) that can travel down through the small intestine to the large intestine undigested and feed the beneficial bacteria that reside within the bowels.
In a way, prebiotics are even more important than probiotics. With probiotics, you plant only a few strains of beneficial microbes in your gut. With prebiotics, you nourish the diverse collection of microbes that you have acquired via birth and through your many years of life. Combining pre- and probiotics is optimal, because the two work synergistically to boost populations of beneficial bacteria throughout your gut.
If you eat a healthy high-fiber diet, you’re already doing plenty to feed your intestinal flora. If you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet, however, taking a prebiotic supplement may help.
Keep in mind that nutrition is about more than just your body; you need to think about those trillions of hungry microbes in your gut, the microbes you literally cannot live without. Keep them healthy and they will reward you a trillion-fold.
Tune in next week for more about pre- and probiotics.
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Disclaimer: This blog post on intestinal flora provides general information and discussion about medical issues and health-related subject matter. The words and other content provided in this post, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If you or any other person has a medical concern, consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care professional immediately and do not rely on the information presented in this post. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog post or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.