Gut health…. What is it?
My recent mother in law would down a bottle of Yakult every morning saying it “was good for her gut”. She did this for years, all the while eating a less than healthy diet. I did not think this small bottle could help undo the harm she was doing with her poor diet, and all the health problems that never seemed to improve. However being the good daughter-in-law, I kept my mouth firmly closed… Last Tuesday, I went to “The Gut Movie”, and I feel it raised more questions for me than answers. So, here I am asking the question.. what is gut health, and is Yakult all it’s cracked up to be? I sat down today and did some reading on the gut and Yakult. More on Yakult later…
Your gut, or gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is lined with microbes collectively called the microbiome, which includes bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. This microbiome has a large impact on the immune, metabolic and neurological systems in our body..
The idea that bacteria are beneficial can be tough to understand. We take antibiotics to kill harmful bacterial infections and use antibacterial soaps and lotions more than ever. The wrong bacteria in the wrong place can cause problems, but the right bacteria in the right place can have benefits. This is where probiotics come in. Probiotics are commonly known as friendly, good, or healthy bacteria, they are live microorganisms that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses. Promoting a healthy digestive tract and a healthy immune system are their most widely studied benefits at this time, but there are even studies around autism and ADHD being linked to the gut.
The root of the word probiotic comes from the Greek word pro, meaning “promoting,” and biotic, meaning “life.” The discovery of probiotics came about in the early 20th century, when Elie Metchnikoff, known as the “father of probiotics,” had observed that rural dwellers in Bulgaria lived to very old ages despite extreme poverty and harsh climate. He theorised that health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in sour milk. Since then, research has continued to support his findings along with suggesting even more benefits.
Though it sounds gross and even unhealthy, gut bacteria perform many important functions in the body, including helping the immune system, producing the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, making energy available to the body from the food we eat, and disposing of foreign substances and toxins. Unfortunately, though we always have a mixture of good and bad bacteria, sometimes the bad guys increase in number, which can play a role in a number of health conditions. There are clear signs that point to an imbalance that has the potential to make you sick.
Your stomach doesn’t feel right
Diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, and heartburn are classic symptoms of problems in the gut. Gastrointestinal discomfort—especially after eating carbohydrate-rich meals—can be the result of poor digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. Reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel disease, and colitis have all been linked to an imbalance in the microbiome.
You’re craving certain foods
Craving foods, especially sweets and sugar, can mean you have an imbalance of gut bacteria. If there’s an overgrowth of yeast in the system, which might happen after a course or two of antibiotics where you wipe out all the good bacteria, then that overgrowth of yeast can actually cause you to crave more sugar. Fun fact- an overload of sugar and fermentation in the gut can lead to a positive blood alcohol level even if you do not consume alcohol!
The scale is going up or down
Certain types of gut bacteria can cause weight loss, especially when they grow too numerous in the small intestine, a condition called SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth). Too many microbes in the small intestines can interfere with absorption of vitamins, minerals, and fat. If you’re not able to digest and absorb fat normally, you can actually see some weight loss. Other types of bacteria have been linked to weight gain, as certain microbes are able to harvest more calories from foods than others.
You’re anxious or feeling sad
Roughly 80 to 90 percent of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, social behaviour, sleep, appetite, memory, and even libido, is produced in the gut. When less serotonin is produced, it can negatively impact mood. Gut imbalances of the microbiome can trigger depressive symptoms.
You’re not sleeping well
Not having enough serotonin can lead to bouts of insomnia or difficulty getting to sleep, chronic fatigue and symptoms of fibromyalgia can be tied into gut bacteria imbalances as well.
Your skin is acting up
Skin rashes and eczema, a chronic condition characterized by inflamed and itchy red blotches on the skin, can develop when there is an imbalance in gut bacteria.
You have an autoimmune condition
Imbalance in the microbiome plays a role in more than just GI symptoms. Diseases affecting the immune system, known as autoimmune diseases, can also indicate an imbalance. Rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are tied in with imbalances in the gut bacteria.
I have some of these symptoms… how do I improve my gut health?
Eating right is the first step in improving your microbiome. In fact, the types of foods we eat can change our gut bacteria in as little as 24 hours, and after a week we can increase the different types of bacteria (biodiversity).
To feed your good bacteria and starve the less desirable bacteria, swap out processed foods, breads, and pastas for more plants, fruits, seeds, and nuts. Consider adding fermented foods into your diet, including yoghurt, kombucha, kimchi, and kefir, which naturally contain probiotics, or healthy bacteria.
We need to feed the probiotics too!
It’s also a great idea to fill up on prebiotic foods, which actually feed the good bacteria. Try pistachios, bananas, garlic, onion, wheat, and oats, plus ancient grains such as quinoa, millet, or chia.
Lastly, avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. Any time you take an antibiotic, you’re going to knock out a lot of the healthy bacteria. If you have needed a course of antibiotics (please always take the full course and don’t stop half way just because you’re feeling better!), consider taking a probiotic supplement to recreate a healthy bacterial community in your gut (and not Yakult!).
I don’t have time to make kefir, or fermented foods and shop bought Kombucha is full of sugar …. but want a supplement
I tried making my own Kombucha (successfully I may add) however I am unable to tolerate Kombucha unless I drink it at the vinegar stage as sugar upsets me and causes massive inflammation in my body. I eat lots of raw veges, fruit and grains, but I certainly don’t eat kimchi, or fermented foods. My ‘go to’ probiotic comes in a two sachet serve, that doesn’t require refrigeration and is great for travelling. It combines pre and pro biotics when added to water or juice, has 30 billion little bacteria guys per 5g serving, is Australian researched, made and owned.. … It can be purchased online here (or contact me if you’re not tech savvy)
On a final note, I promised I’d talk more about Yakult.. so here is the low down.
It has 11.4gm sugar in a small 65 ml bottle.. (2 ½ teaspoons)
It’s second ingredient is heat treated skim milk- heat treated substances increase inflammation in your body.
It’s third ingredient is dextrose.. more sugar
Yakult light contains artificial sweetener… I think you know where I am going regarding the health implications of artificial sweeteners…
Yakult is packaged in plastic… draw your own conclusion here…
FINALLY (drum roll please) Yakult contains L. casei Shirota strain- Swiss researchers were not able to show any beneficial effects of the L. casei Shirota strain
My conclusion- drinking unproven probiotics in sugar laden, ultra processed drinks encased in plastic is perhaps not the best idea.. My poor mother in law..
All opinions expressed are Annie’s own…
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