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A Comprehensive Guide to Your Gut

Enhancing Your Immune System Series

Written By: Laura Tetrault & April Adan

Reading Time: 7 mins

Have you thought much about your gut lately?

I’m not talking about the one that affects how you look in a swimsuit. I’m talking about the organ inside your body. Also known as your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, your gut is made up primarily of your small and large intestines and it has a very specific job description -  extract energy from the food you eat, absorb nutrients and water, and remove waste. Seems simple, right?

But if you’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately it might have something to do with what’s going on in your gut.

There are trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that call your GI tract home. But even with so many microorganisms, only 10% to 20% of your gut flora will be shared with anyone else. That means the remaining 80% is unique to you. That also means that it’s really hard to determine what a “normal” gut is like or what “normal gut health” is.

Scientists are intrigued and are devoting time and energy to unlocking the secrets and connections your gut has with the rest of your body. We are learning new things quickly, but because of the diversity between individuals, there is still a lot we don’t know.

What is a Microbiome?

Did you know that you are more microbe than human? Only 43% of your cells are human.

The rest of those microbes live as part of colonies of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and archaea.  They’re known as your microbiome. And like any metropolis, your microbiome has its good characters and its less desirable ones. The bacteria and other cells that live in your microbiome are referred to as your microbiota. And like a city, you want your good populations to outnumber the bad ones so that your body functions as it should. As the mayor of your city, the choices you make, what you eat, how you sleep and the environment you expose your body to, establish the state of your microbiota.

Let’s look a little closer at the occupants of your microbiome and define what they are and what they do.

Prebiotics - are food for your good gut bacteria. You can get these dietary fibers from foods like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, apples, oats and bananas - among many other foods.

Probiotics - are live bacteria and sometimes yeast that give you some type of positive health benefit. Your good gut bacteria help accomplish the correct functioning of your GI tract and support your intestinal immune response. They also help make sure the walls of your intestines keep their integrity, which helps to keep all the bacteria and yeast where they belong.

Why Does Gut Health Matter?  

Poor gut health can contribute to autoimmune diseases, leaky gut, disorders like arthritis, dementia, heart disease. Some links have been made to cancer, while other studies suggest a connection between gut health and risks for obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes and even depression.

Interest in this area of health has been rising over the past 20 years. There are clear relationships between the state of your gut, your immune system and your mental health but more research is needed to understand the intricacies of those complex connections.

We’ll look more at what we do know below, but first let’s look at some cause-and-effect relationships between poor gut health and disease.

Diseases Connected to Gut Health

Probiotics and your immune system

A diverse gut flora helps our bodies learn that not all bacteria is bad. It teaches our body what it should tolerate and what it should react to. As a result, we are more likely to be able to withstand outside invaders and develop well regulated immune systems.

Probiotics are an important part of maintaining your immunologic equilibrium through their direct interaction with immune cells. They also suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Diversity in your GI tract is a good thing, so a broad-spectrum probiotic may increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Your microbiome is uniquely your own. There are many different strains and species of probiotics, each used for different purposes and outcomes. So to figure out what will be most beneficial for your health you should talk to your healthcare provider.

What are the Benefits of Probiotics?

Probiotics can provide many immune boosting benefits, including:

  • Reducing the number of upper respiratory tract infections you get and make any you do get less severe
  • Reducing your need for antibiotics
  • Enhancing your ability to address gastric conditions
    • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
    • Diarrhea
    • Ulcerative colitis
    • Functional gastrointestinal disorders
    • Necrotizing enterocolitis
    • Celiac
  • And assisting chronic inflammation reduction

 

Gut Check - The Care and Feeding of Your Microbiome

We have the ability to improve our gut health. We can power up our good bacteria with good food, sleep and exercise, or deplete it by poor food choices, unhealthy lifestyles and high stress levels.

While there are good supplements you can take [insert link to probiotics in shop], there are also foods to eat and habits you can adopt to support your gut and boost your overall immune health.

Do, Don’t and Avoid  - An Owner’s Manual for Your Gut

Do:

  1. Focus on fiber rich foods - whole grains, veggies, legumes
  2. Incorporate probiotic rich foods

 

Don’t:

  1. Skimp on sleep - you’re not the only one with a circadian rhythm, your bacteria also have one and messing with it, messes them up.
  2. Overuse antibiotics - they can be like casually dropping an atom bomb into your gut. Yes, they’ll get the bad bacteria, and everything else with it.

 

Avoid:

  1. Eating a diet made up of white breads, white pasta, white rice and other refined carbs, sugars, and artificial sweeteners
  2. Stress – it may seem inevitable, but it’s important to do what you can to lower your stress. Chronic stress can lower your good bacteria and increase your bad bacteria.

 

Feed Your Gut - Best Foods for Your Gut Health

 

What we eat matters. And the changes we make to our diet can have a significant impact on our microbiome in a short period of time. By adding more probiotic rich foods into your diet, you could see the following health benefits:

  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved digestion
  • Increased energy
  • Healthier skin
  • Reduced episodes of cold and flu
  • Improved digestive tract function
  • Weight loss

 

Superfoods for Gut Health

Food

What is it?

Benefits

Organic Bone Broth

Soup base that is made by cooking chicken bones and simmering.

Contains essential minerals, vitamins and collagen. It helps provide a protective layer to the intestinal lining that can help seal the gut and keep pathogenic bacteria from entering.

Garlic
(Allium sativum) 

Is a bulbous plant that belongs to the onion family. 

Garlic is high in inulin, a type of non-digestible carb or “functional fiber” that feeds the good bacteria in the digestive system. It also has anti-fungal and antiviral properties to ward off invaders. 

Grass Fed Raw Cheese

Made from raw Goat’s milk, Sheep’s milk, or A2 cow’s milk that are fed grass.

 

 

High in probiotics including thermophillus, bifidus, bulgaricus and acidophilus

Note: pasteurized cheeses don’t have the beneficial bacteria

Olive Oil 

Is a liquid fat extracted from olives 

Promotes higher biodiversity of beneficial gut bacteria. It also has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. 

Organic Flax Seed

A soluble fiber
derived from the seeds
of the flax plant.

It is an excellent source of fiber, lignans, and omega-3. It aids digestion, reduces constipation/inflammation and helps improve LDL levels. 

Unsweetened Kefir

 

Is a fermented milk drink made using starter “grains,” which are a combination of good bacteria and yeast.

A source of calcium, B12, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and can contain up to 50 or more species of probiotics that improve the diversity of the gut microbiome.

Fermented Vegetables (Sauerkraut & Ginger)

Made from fermented
probiotic-rich veggies

Is a great source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Contains organic acids that aid good bacteria;  Lactobacillus sp.

Broccoli

Cruciferous vegetable belonging to the brassica family 

Broccoli is rich in fiber and antioxidants. It helps reduce inflammation in the gut and increase bioavailability of sulforaphane  -  an antioxidant. 

Unsweetened Kombucha

 

Is a fermented beverage of black tea and sugar (e.g. cane sugar/honey etc.)

Provides digestive support, increased energy and liver detoxification, some have L-theanine to help you sharpen your focus

Apple Cider Vinegar

Is apple juice fermented by yeast

Is a prebiotic that can help maintain good bacteria in the gut. 

Organic Fermented Soy – Natto, Miso, Tempeh

Made from fermented soy beans

Fermented soy contains a variety of microorganisms that helps diversify the gut microbiome which improves overall gastrointestinal health.

Kimchi

Is made with Chinese cabbage and a number of other foods and spices, like red pepper flakes, radishes, carrots, garlic, ginger, onion, sea salt and fish sauce

Packed with probiotics, vitamins and minerals as well as 34 amino acids,
Kimchi is a great choice for supporting immune health.

 

Are you wondering if it is safe to supplement?

Probiotics are considered safe and are known to improve various bowel and digestive issues. If you’ve decided that probiotics are for you, here are some things to look for:

 

How to Read the Label

  • Check the date and the expiry date of the probiotics.
  • Look at how your probiotics should be stored
  • Look for the number of colony forming units (or CFUs) - you want 5 billion CFUs or more
  • Get the ‘enteric coated’ probiotics. It’s a long way to your gut and these probiotics have to make it through your stomach without being destroyed.

For more help, come and see us.  We love to hear your questions and we can direct you to quality brands and the supplements that will be right for you.

References

Introduction to Your Gut
 
Gut Health
Diseases Connected to Gut Health
Probiotics
Do’s and Don’ts
Probiotic Foods