Flora refers to a group of plants or bacteria particular to a specific place or region, including the human body. Gut flora exists internally and contributes to our overall health by helping fight infections. Unfortunately, our everyday life can get in the way of their functioning.
Antibiotics, for instance, can kill off the good bacteria inside our microbiome. Too many processed foods can exacerbate the issue. This results in a lack of diversity, leaving us vulnerable to disease. The good news is that it is possible to undo the damage. Check out the guide below to learn how to restore healthy gut flora.
Gut flora refers to the microorganisms that reside in our intestines. Other names used for these microorganisms are gut bacteria, intestinal flora, microbiota, microbiome, and microflora. They play a major role in maintaining human health. When neglected, they can lead to chronic disease and issues with digestive health.
Antibiotics fight bacterial infections and have saved millions of lives over the years. However, they can also threaten our friendly gut bacteria and our microbial diversity, which needs to be nurtured for good gut health.
Antibiotic-associated diarrhea is a possible side effect as a result of the impact on your gut flora. Antibiotics can also cause a shift in your microbiome. This shift can result in problems like malabsorption, digestion changes, candida (yeast) overgrowth, and even changes to your mental health.
Of course, antibiotics are sometimes necessary. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have before beginning treatment.
People say you are what you eat, and it turns out they might be right. Highly processed foods, alcohol, and refined sugars are all bad news for our gut microbiome and our overall health.
Bad bacteria can be fed by a diet that is too high in sugars because it creates an optimal environment for them to thrive in. These microbes contribute to inflammation and gut permeability, also known as leaky gut.
Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame also cause shifts in gut microbiota and lead to intestinal dysbiosis or a severe imbalance of microorganisms. At the same time, foods like peas, yogurts, and different types of fruit can help our good gut bacteria flourish to maintain harmony in your gut biome.
We can't ignore the link between our brain and our gut. Gastroenterologists have pointed out how people are likely to experience more disease flares and increased inflammation during stressful periods in life. While it's also true that acute inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or infection, chronic inflammation can also be indicative of an unhealthy gut.
Sleep is one of our fundamental needs, and it also has a major impact on our gut health. Not getting enough sleep or having chronic low-quality sleep can disturb the ratio of bacteria in our gut, increase the risk of insulin resistance, and increase gut permeability.
Intestinal metabolism is closely connected to brain function through our circulatory system and vagus nerve that together create a network called the “brain-gut axis” or “microbiota-gut-brain axis.”
Sleep deprivation is linked to many serious diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Sleep is also closely tied to our circadian rhythms. Interestingly enough, it appears that our gut also follows circadian-like cycles. So, any disruptions in our body’s internal clock can adversely affect our gut health.
Processed foods contain a lot of fats, sugars, and salt. These foods are mostly made of already highly modified ingredients like whey, isolated protein, or high-fructose corn syrup, together with additives such as preservatives and stabilizers.
These items can inspire unhealthy interactions within the body. For example, white bread is digested much faster than whole grain bread, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels, which can eventually lead to diabetes.
Avoiding ultra-processed foods and eating organic food can help restore healthy gut bacteria and keep gut microbial diversity intact.
The best foods for a healthy gut flora are fruits and vegetables high in nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber—a nutrient that does not get digested by our body but is needed by certain gut bacteria for growth. Raspberries, artichokes, green peas, broccoli, bananas, and apples are all rich in fiber.
Whole grains also contain lots of fiber and several nondigestible carbohydrates, like beta-glucan. These carbs are not absorbed in the small intestine but are instead used by the large intestine, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. Whole grains also increase feelings of being full after eating and reduce inflammation and certain risk factors for heart disease.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (good bacteria) that do not permanently colonize our intestines but provide health benefits by changing the composition of our microbiome and supporting our metabolism.
Healthy probiotic bacteria can be fed from probiotic-rich foods, especially fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt. There are also probiotic supplements that can be ingested in a variety of ways.
Remember, probiotic supplements can be combined with a prebiotic. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that feed the microorganisms in our gut and are, basically, the “food source” for the friendly bacteria in our gut flora.
Chronic alcohol use can damage our gut health, leading to serious problems like dysbiosis. A study examining the effects of alcoholism on the colonic microbiome found that dysbiosis was present in 27% of the alcoholics participating in the study.
However, these findings are only consistent with excessive drinking. Moderate consumption of red wine, for instance, can actually provide us with some protection against harmful gut bacteria.
We can improve our gut health and our gut flora by being more physically active. Regular movement can promote the growth of bacteria that produce butyrate, a fatty acid that can help repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation, preventing diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and insulin resistance. Exercise-induced shifts in the gut microbiota also protect against obesity and can help improve metabolic function.
Sleep is critically important for the gut microbiome. Our circadian rhythm, sleep-wake cycles, and quality of sleep can majorly impact the health of our gut microbiota. We need to get a good-quality sleep to keep our digestive system healthy and avoid the risk of inflammation. Going to sleep at a reasonable time and adopting healthy sleeping habits can also lead to positive improvements in our gut flora.
Cigarettes are a known carcinogen, a chemical that causes and promotes cancer. Smoking also causes harm to almost every organ in the human body and elevates the risk of heart disease and stroke. Smokers are also more likely to experience inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and even Crohn’s disease compared to non-smokers. Fortunately, it is possible to reverse some of the damage that smoking causes. Researchers have found that quitting smoking leads to increased gut flora diversity.
Gut flora plays a significant role in both our physical and mental health. Maintaining a diverse, healthy gut microbiome can also result in improved immunity against diseases such as colorectal cancer, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel syndrome. Taking care of our health involves cutting back on ultra-processed foods, alcohol, smoking, and general unhealthy habits.
Restoring gut health starts with adopting a healthy diet rich in fiber, natural sugars, and probiotics. Improving our sleep quality and increasing our physical activity can also improve the state of our gut flora.
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Healthy gut flora can be compromised by poor health choices and medical treatments. Restoring our microbiome can take up to six months so long as you stick to a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and avoid habits that can be harmful to our overall health. These behaviors should be exercised and enforced daily for long-term success.
Gut flora can be negatively affected by consistent antibiotic use and unhealthy behaviors including smoking and the continuous consumption of processed foods. However, it is possible to recover that beneficial bacteria. A change in diet and a healthy lifestyle can help restore gut flora. Resuming exercise, cutting back on alcohol, and improving your sleep quality should show positive results.
A diet rich in fiber and organic foods is good for restoring gut-flora. Fruits and vegetables containing natural sugars can fix your cravings while helping you avoid harmful refined sugars.
Beans, legumes, and whole grains contain lots of fiber. Apples, bananas, leafy greens, raspberries, artichokes, onions, asparagus, and oats are also good sources of fiber. Fermented foods containing probiotics can also help boost the gut microbiome. These items include yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and tempeh.