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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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