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(Note: This article is a part of our 31-day series, “31 Days to a Whole Body Makeover“.)
You may have been hearing a lot of talk about gut bacteria (also known as “gut flora”) and what it has to do with our overall health. Perhaps the first time you’ve ever considered your gut bacteria is when the Activia commercials first came out with Jamie Lee Curtis talking about how the probiotics in her yogurt are helping her feel better after just two weeks’ time. That was about the time gut bacteria first entered my consciousness, because my baby would not stop developing ear infection after ear infection, and the antibiotics his pediatrician kept prescribing were giving him the most severe diaper rash! I realized very quickly that the antibiotics were killing his gut flora and that feeding him baby yogurt helped clear up those symptoms.
People are turning en masse to changing the way we eat and consume products in order to help our gut bacteria flourish. There is good reason for this. Researchers are coming out with new studies constantly about how truly critical good gut flora is to our well-being.
Gut bacteria makes up the 100 trillion flora microbes that live on the inside of our digestive tract or “gut”. It is a mutual benefit for them to be there; they keep us healthy and control a large part of our immune system. They live alongside the wall of gut and when they are not being cultivated by our good habits, we begin to see weaknesses within the walls of our digestive tract where our food is being absorbed improperly into our blood system, causing chronic, systemic inflammation.
The lining of our gut is very similar to our skin. Both work to keep the good things in, and the bad things out. If there is a cut in your skin, you know that you must repair that cut, so that bad things do not get in. Just the same, if you have weaknesses in the wall of your gut, you need to repair it with better habits so that your undigested food is not improperly absorbed into the bloodstream. (This dysfunction is called “leaky gut”.)
Why Your Gut Bacteria Matters:
If you are feeling depressed, anxious, foggy-minded, mentally ill, constantly tired, you should care about your gut bacteria.
If you have developed an autoimmune disease such as Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or Hashimoto’s disease, you should care about your gut bacteria.
If you are obese, diabetic, arthritic, fatigued (even with chronic fatigue syndrome), or have developed skin issues such as psoriasis or eczema, you should care about your gut bacteria.
If you suffer from chronic gas, bloating, and/or constipation, you should care about your gut bacteria.
If your children are on the autism spectrum, have hyperactivity and/or attention deficit disorder, have had to take antibiotics, or are often ill, you should care about their gut bacteria.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to suffer from these symptoms. They are within your control, and yes, there is hope!
My Gut Bacteria Testimonial
In February 2015, I hired my weightlifting coach and personal trainer. During one of the first sessions, during a rest period, she mentioned I should be drinking kefir. I had heard of it, but didn’t really know much about it. I just knew it was a drinkable yogurt I have seen in the grocery stores.
I purchased some kefir from the health food store, buying the brand with the lowest sugar content possible. (Note: Many brands will add tons of sugar to make it more palatable, but I think it tastes fine without the sugar. Try to find the kind sweetened with fruit and not cane sugar or any other kind of sugar other than the fruit.) I blended frozen fruit into it and it made a lovely smoothie. Kefir tastes like a tart yogurt. You might mind it initially, but I didn’t. I grew to really love it. If you decide to try kefir, know that it is milk-based, but many believe that the kefir grains eat the dairy away during the fermentation process, so many with dairy sensitivities do not have problems with regular milk-based kefir. You can find or make your own coconut kefir.
After just a few weeks, my mind was so clear! I had so much energy, like, so! much! energy! My anxiety cleared up. I haven’t been sick since February, not one cold! I have always had bronchitis at least once or twice a year for as long as I can remember, but so far, not once this year. And best of all for me, I was happy to see the scale dropping. I knew immediately that there was something to this gut flora thing.
Since then, I have been studying gut bacteria and have been working to implement a plan for both myself and my family.
Your Child’s Gut Bacteria
I know so many of you mothers are dealing with very difficult behavioral issues at home. I know, because I am too.
My older son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when he was three years old. After researching, I found that babies born via c-section to mothers with bad gut flora and who were not able to breastfeed are the most likely to develop their own bad gut flora. Bad gut flora in children might manifest as symptoms of hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, and autism.
I deeply suspect that because many babies who do not breastfeed develop more ear infections and have to take antibiotics, that those antibiotics contributed to my son’s symptoms as well. I know that many mothers are just not physically able to breastfeed, and after two solid months of trying everything several different lactation consultants suggested, I finally had to throw in the towel myself. For two months, we failed to properly latch every time, and I had to pump his every meal. There is only so much a mother can do, and it is such a heartbreaking realization! So please do not feel guilty if you too were not able to breastfeed, I am not suggesting that in the slightest. I have my own suspicions (a mother’s intuition, maybe?) that it was the cause for my son’s symptoms, especially because my second son was solely breastfed for the first six months of his life, and I continued to breastfeed him until he was 2.5 years old. He never had a single ear infection, not one dose of antibiotics, and he never developed any of the classic autism symptoms. Because of the connection of diet to behavior issues, many parents are turning to elimination diets (eg GAPS diet) to help relieve these symptoms. Parents are cutting out gluten, casein, nightshades, and other foods found to cause inflammation in the body, and are seeing great results.
10 Easy Ways to Cultivate Good Gut Bacteria
So how do we cultivate the flora in our gut for optimal health? Here are ten easy ways you can start to change your flora today! In just two weeks, you will see amazing results!
- Cut out processed foods. Cut out sugar, junk food, fast food, and industrial oils (vegetable and seed oils). These foods have been linked to depression, anxiety, and loss of cognitive function. Also, sugar feeds candida, the yeast in your gut that weakens the structure to allow for leaky gut, and the more you feed the yeast in your body, the more you keep craving sugar. This is why it is so hard to break out of the sugar cycle! source
- Lemon in your water. Lemons turn your blood alkaline and help cleanse the liver. The liver cleanses the blood, and helps remove a lot of those microbes that get past the gut wall, so having a healthy liver is vital.
- Coconut oil pulling. This one sounds a little strange to people just getting into holistic health, but coconut oil is antimicrobial and will help kill the bacteria living around your teeth, gums, and tongue, keeping it from entering into the bloodstream. It may take a month to really feel a difference with this, so it’s worth it to stick with it. source
- Only drink water. I’m talking about what you regularly drink to quench your thirst. Cut out soda pop, fruit juice, milk, and coffee. Good things to drink once a day that will help your gut flourish include kefir, kombucha tea, bone broth, and hot herbal tea. Use them as a supplement, and use water to hydrate.
- Eat at least 60 grams of protein a day. We need protein to heal our bodies and we are simply not getting enough protein. Get real, whole protein from lean meats and eggs, not from protein drinks. Whey protein is made of milk which is a big cause of inflammation for many people. If you must supplement, or if you are vegetarian/vegan, try hemp protein.
- Stop watching the news. It depresses you, especially if you are eating. The only thing it is going to do is cause stress, and that causes digestive stress. Cutting back on stress is so important for overall health because our brains and our gut are very much in sync. If you sit down to eat while stressed, that is going negatively impact your digestion. If you can’t cut back on all stress, start with one thing you can control: watching the news.
- Eat salads daily. It’s time to start eating salads for breakfast, friends! It might feel weird at first, but I promise, you’ll fall in love with how good it will make you feel in the morning. You need at LEAST one salad per day.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Your digestive enzymes begin in the mouth, and you need those enzymes to for optimal digestion. If you had a mom who made you chew your food 20 times, thank her from me. Actually, even better, chewing each bite for 40 chews is the best. You want it almost liquid, or of the consistency of applesauce. I will explain more in number 9 as to why this is important.
- No ice in your drinks. Ice actually slows your digestion down. You need food to leave your stomach within two hours, but ice will make it leave in more like four hours, and the more time it sits in the stomach, the more it is broken down to a putrid mush, and the flora in your body cannot feast on that. So cutting out ice and making sure you chew your food super thoroughly will help your stomach not hold on to it longer than it needs to.
- Take the right supplements. (The links will take you to the exact products I personally use and LOVE.) Digestive enzymes are great for helping the digestive process, and will really help you if you experience a lot of gas with food, especially with a higher intake of plant-based foods. Take probiotics supplements. Look for these strains in your probiotics: Lactobacillus plantarum,Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis (B. animalis), andBifidobacterium longum. (Oh, did you know there are kids’ probiotics?) And eat fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, coconut kefir, coconut yogurt, pickled fruits and vegetables, and kimchi.
It’s amazing how much our food truly does affect our lives. If you would love a more in-depth description of food and its impact on our entire body, I cannot recommend enough the book It Starts With Food. This book was authored by the creators of the Whole30, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, and it is an excellent and thought-provoking resource. Whole30 changed my life, and I’m positive that if you start thinking of your food as medicine, your life will be changed, too.