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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 July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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