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Go with Your Gut: The Science Behind Your Gut Bacteria

Go with Your Gut: The Science Behind Your Gut Bacteria

“Going with your gut”, a common phrase meaning to go with your feelings and intuition now has another meaning. Beyond a sixth sense, going with your gut can now reference that you are focusing on something much larger- about 100 trillion times larger, in fact. You read right, 100 trillion times. What am I talking about? If you guessed gut bacteria (aka the microbiome, microbiota, or microflora) you are correct!

But what exactly is gut bacteria, what does it do for my health, and how can I support a community of 100 trillion cells?!

100 trillion? Really?

Yup, turns out the microbiome and Zimbabwe’s currency (their 100 trillion dollar note actually exists) have something in common. If you are thinking that 100 trillion sounds like a crazy large number, you are not alone. Many friends and family members have asked me a variation of the following question: “How do 100 trillion cells fit in my gut?” My response usually involves something to the extent of “Bacteria are really, really small.”

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That’s cool and all, but what are bacteria?

So glad you asked! Bacteria are tiny (microscopic!) single celled organisms. Bacteria are extremely prevalent on Earth, having been found in disparate locations ranging from 40 miles up in the atmosphere to miles underneath the ocean’s surface. Additionally, bacteria are found throughout the human body.

Large communities of bacteria on the skin, in the gut, and reproductive organs make up distinct profiles, classified as the microbiome. Microbes can be divided into classes based on different characteristics, with some classes contributing to health, while others classes cause infection and disease. For the microbiome, there are three predominant microbial classes that have been associated with a “healthy” microbiome: Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Firmicutes.

What’s with all the health hype? 

Recent research has shown that the microbiome positively promotes health by aiding in digestion, providing energy and nutrients that are difficult to acquire, outcompeting harmful bacteria, and training the immune system. Sounds great, right? I think those are enough reasons for all of the recent interest and coverage. However, it’s not the only piece of the puzzle.

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Just like most good things have fine print, the microbiome is no exception. Altered microbiome profiles have been linked to chronic diseases like obesity, inflammatory bowel conditions, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, and much is still unknown about these interactions and associations.

So what can I do to nourish my microbiome?

Nourishing your microbiome starts with nutrition. You may have heard of the terms prebiotics and probiotics. These “biotics” are the two primary ways you can support your microbiome. Breaking down the two words can get at what these things actually do for the microbiome. “Biotic” means relating to, or resulting from living things, especially in their ecological relations. “Pre” means before and “pro” means to stimulate or support. So just by looking at the words alone, you can get a pretty good sense of what they do for the microbiome.

Basically, prebiotics are the “food” used by microbiome. Prebiotics are composed of complex carbohydrates that can predominately be digested by microbiome. Some examples of prebiotics include inulin, polydextrose, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).

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On the other side of the equation are the probiotics. Probiotics contain microbiome-promoting bacteria. Common probiotic strains include Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, and Lactobacillus, which have been shown to support a healthy microbiome. However, just because you may see these strains listed on food ingredients does not necessarily mean these foods will have a probiotic effect. For this reason, in order to be classified as a probiotic, the specific strains must result in proven health benefits and/or contain more than 108 organisms per gram (i.e. 100 million bacterial cells/gram) at the end of manufacturing.

Where can I find prebiotics and probiotics?               

In case the words inulin, FOS, and GOS don’t mean much to you, the following foods are rich sources of prebiotics: bananas, honey, whole grains, artichokes, leeks, onions, and garlic. In addition, you can find prebiotics in fortified foods and beverages. Aim to eat about 2-30 grams per day of prebiotics, which can be achieved from eating ¼ of an onion, 1 banana, and about ½ cup whole wheat flour (or something that has been made with ½ cup whole wheat flour. As for probiotics, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and other fermented foods contain probiotics. If you’d rather get your dose of probiotics in the form of a supplement, go for it.

Myths about microbiome

What about the relationship between low-calorie sweeteners and the microbiome?

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You may have heard or read the most recent article that linked low-calorie sweeteners and negative modifications to the microbiome. However, coverage from media stories often leaves out critical details (design, results and limitations) from research studies and most often tells and sells a story based on one study that is counter to what the totality of scientific research in the area concludes.

The majority of media stories about the role of low-calorie sweeteners on the microbiome use the same few studies performed in animal models, and try to pose that the findings have direct implications to human health. Excuse me? This should not happen and these articles should shift their focus to research stemming from clinical trials (the gold standard). In case you were wondering, there are no published studies that assess the relationship and impact of low-calorie sweeteners on the microbiome in humans.

So there you have it, yet another reason to go with your gut to support your overall health. Try to incorporate prebiotics and probiotics into your diet. Don’t let the myths and misinformation about the microbiome bog you down, but rather, stick to the science and your gut will be good to go!

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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