GUT REACTION: HOW INTESTINAL BACTERIA AFFECTS OUR WELLBEING
Could your mood be linked to the amount of healthy bacteria that resides in your gut? It seems incredible, but current research from the University of California, Los Angeles, indicates that it does. The study found that adding probiotics – or friendly gut bacteria – to our diets “may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment,” said researcher Dr. Kirsten Tillischin in a press statement “Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function”
But the state of our intestinal bacteria has been linked to far more than mood…
Gut bacteria’s hidden functions
Bacteria start to colonise our intestines from the very moment we’re born. By adulthood, these microorganisms number 100 trillion – that’s a mind-boggling minimum of two kilos of bacteria in the gut. Gut flora is essential to digestion – this has long been known. But it’s only in the past few years that gut bacteria imbalances, where unfriendly bacteria dominate the good guys, have become linked to a cornucopia of conditions: depression, heart disease, obesity, immune and autoimmune disease, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Autism and asthma have also surfaced as being related to a rise in unfriendly gut bacteria, while friendly bacteria’s role in protecting against colon cancer has also been uncovered.
Factors known to kill off good gut bacteria include:
- Poor diet with too much sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Unclean food
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Birth control pill
- Not drinking enough water
Good digestion is key to good health
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments have the goal of harmonising and balancing the body as a whole organism. Seemingly unrelated diseases are no longer disconnected when viewed through the eyes of TCM. In Chinese Medicine, the proper functioning of the Spleen and Stomach are core to our wellbeing. If these organs are not doing their job, it will result in weak digestion and constipation, which can trigger a host of conditions from insomnia and headaches to infertility and even cancer.
Food allergies and gluten intolerance are also linked to poor digestion. Acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbs can be given to strengthen and balance Spleen and Stomach. This improves digestion and corrects gut bacteria imbalances.
Around 70 to 80% of our body’s immune cells are in our intestines – keeping gut flora balanced and digestion functioning at healthy level is so important to our body’s immunity and general wellbeing.
Signs that your intestinal flora is out of balance include some symptoms that you might expect, and some that you may not:
- Gastrointestinal infections
- Diarrhea and irritable bowel movements
- Feelings of incomplete bowel movements
- Gas and bloating
- Abdominal cramps/pain
- Bad breath and foul smelling stools
- Yeast infections (like athlete’s foot)
- White fuzzy tongue coating
- Bad breath
- Joint pain
- Allergic reactions
- Skin problems such as rashes, boils, pimples, acne
- Menstrual disorders
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Back pain
- Short-term memory issues, mental fuzziness
- Sinus congestion
Getting the good bacteria back on top
A balanced diet is crucial to restoring good digestion and addressing gut flora problems. The bacterial good guys thrive on a diet that is high on fibre and low on animal proteins, sugar, and refined carbs (like pasta and white bread).
Probiotics are the big news in gastrointestinal health. These can work as a pick-me-up for the gut, boosting the number of friendly microorganisms that, in turn, start to crowd out the unwelcome bacteria. Probiotics are commercially available as general supplements or in breakfast juices and yoghurts fortified with ‘live active cultures’. Speak to your health practitioner for a range that might be more suitable probiotics for your specific health condition.
Some foods that contain naturally occurring probiotics include:
- Kombucha tea
- Sourdough bread
- Dark chocolate
According to TCM, if left untreated, an under-functioning digestive system and an imbalance of intestinal flora can lead to numerous health problems, both minor and major. Looking at current research on digestion and gut flora, modern science is finally catching up with this age-old view.
Eli Huang specialises in treating digestive disorders. If you suffer from any of the above disorders treat them immediately. Her treatments for intestinal bacteria imbalances encompass Chinese herbs, acupuncture, probiotics and colon cleansing.