As a holistic nurse, my practice and philosophy are focused on prevention. So, when I started thinking about a topic that can really affect and enhance and ultimately help to prolong a person’s life, I had to get down to the basics. Our gastrointestinal tract dictates a lot of our health. From producing serotonin to helping our immune system, a healthy GI tract is imperative. To have a healthy GI track, we need to look at our gut flora.
I will start by explaining what gut flora is, what it does, what types there are, and what affects gut flora. In the course of my research, I found studies showing that coffee is really beneficial to gut flora and will link research explaining these findings. At the end of this article, I will share some recipes you can make in your own kitchen that are full of probiotics. These recipes are cheap, easy to make and delicious!
What is Gut Flora?
Gut flora consists of a complex of microorganism species that live in the digestive tracts of animals and is the largest reservoir of human flora or microbiota. Gut flora’s primary benefit to the host is the gleaning of energy from the fermentation of undigested carbohydrates and the subsequent absorption of short chain fatty acids. Intestinal bacteria also play a role in synthesizing vitamin B and vitamin K, as well as metabolizing bile acids, sterols and xenobiotics. Wikipedia definition of gut flora
What gut flora does
Our digestive track is coated with a bacterial layer, much like a thick layer of turf on the surface of the gut epithelium, providing a natural barrier against invaders, undigested food, toxins and parasites. Apart from providing a physical barrier, they work against invasive pathogenic micro-organisms by producing antibiotic-like substances, anti fungal volatiles, anti-viral substances, including interferon, lizocym and surfactins, that dissolve membranes of viruses and bacteria; they engage the immune system to respond appropriately to invaders. In addition, by producing organic acids, the beneficial bacteria reduce pH near the wall of the gut to 4.0 to 5.0, making a very uncomfortable acidic environment for growth and activity of pathogenic “bad” microbes, which require more alkaline surroundings. Pg 16 of GAPS- Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride.
Much interest has been focused on the correlation between health gut flora and autism, autoimmune disorders, Hashimotos thyroiditis (low thyroid), systemic lupus erythematosus, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, and mental health are just a few of the autoimmune diseases linked to poor gut flora. A syndrome called “leaky gut” occurs when the barrier is impaired, leading to intestinal permeability. Food and other materials can enter the bloodstream, which the body recognizes as a foreign substance. The immune system goes into overdrive and can start attacking your body tissue that may be similar to the foreign invaders. This is what is called an autoimmune disorder. Good article on leaky gut and autoimmune disease
Mental Health Tied to Healthy Gut Bacteria
Gut microbes may communicate with the brain, scientists say, by modulating the immune system or by producing their own versions of neurotransmitters.
“I’m actually seeing new neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria,” says John Cryan of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Abilene, who studies how microbes affect the endocrine system. “These bacteria are, in effect, mind-altering microorganisms.” This research raises the possibility that scientists could someday create drugs that mimics the signals being sent from the gut to the brain, or just give people the good bacteria — probiotics — to prevent or treat problems involving the brain. Gut flora and mental health
Types of gut flora
Researchers have classified people into categories of bacterial ecosystems, or enterotypes. You’re an ecosystem. One of three possible types.
Bacteriodes-known for breaking down carbohydrates have been found to be the most abundant
Prevotella – known for breaking down meats and fats, and makes vitamin B1 and folic acid
Ruminococcus – helps cells absorbs sugars
What is interesting is that scientists can tell there are three ecosystems of bacteria from which all mankind is a part of. Each of the flora are found in varying degrees in a person’s digestive track.
What affects gut flora
Antibiotic use, poor diet, weight loss, chronic stress, chlorinated water, heavy metal exposure and pregnancy can all affect gut flora. A pregnant woman can affect the quantity and quality of gut flora to their baby by her stress level and nutrition. Heavy metals and gut microbes pregnancy and gut flora
On a positive note, we have the ability to restore gut flora with a few easy to make recipes or a good quality probiotic. Research into how coffee effects our gut microbes revealed some interesting findings. Earlier this year, Spanish researchers unveiled coffee as a notable source of soluble fiber. Now, a team in Germany confirms the finding and shows that beneficial gut microbes can easily digest the coffee-bean fiber left in brewed liquid and extract its energy for their growth. Because the waste products of that digestion—also called fermentation—can repel some disease-causing bacteria, the new data suggest that coffee drinking might represent more of a benefit than a vice. coffee as a probiotic
You can tell if your gut flora is impaired by a variety of symptoms. Bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, foul smelling stools, food sensitivities or cravings, to name a few. A course of antibiotics will wipe out your healthy microbe,s so you can be sure you will need to restore them. Here are a few recipes you can make at home:
We need daily servings of fermented, probiotic rich foods over an extended period of time (6 months up to 2 years) in order to restore the beneficial bacteria. By this I mean 1/4 to 1/2 cup fermented vegetables along with other types of probiotic rich foods. Raw apple cider vinegar is also a good probiotic. For instance, yogurt (made at home) contains lactobacillus bulgarius. The culture was named after a group of people who were known for their longevity. Kefir grows a beneficial yeast that combats destructive types of yeast. Fermented vegetables aid in digestion and provide vitamins and enhance the immune system. It is very important to have a diverse group of foods to restore healthy gut microbe colonies. Start out with a very small amount of food at first. If you try to jump in all at once, you can experience a bad bacteria die off, which can be unpleasant. I have personally made fermented carrots, beets, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, and the very first probiotic I was introduced to – rejuvelac.
To begin with, rejuvelac is any soaked and sprouted grain that is allowed to stand at room temperature until it ferments. The most popular are wheat and rye- I am making Amaranth rejuvelac – almost any grain will do. Rejuvelac was made popular by the renowned raw food expert Dr Ann Wigmore. Fermentation breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple amino acids which are easier for the body to digest. It is rich in enzymes and vitamin C. It aids in digestion and healing.
How to make Rejuvelac:
1)Start with 1/2 cup any type of grain. The most popular is wheat and rye berries. I use amaranth.
2) Soak in purified water for 24 hours. Drain and rinse 2 – 3 times a day until sprout tails appear.
3) Place grain into large jar. Add 4 cups of purified water and let sit on the counter for 2 – 3 days. Cover loosely with a dish towel or cheesecloth.
4) You will notice small bubbles will start forming on the side of the jar. The liquid will be slightly cloudy.
5) Taste – It should taste clean and fresh with a hint of lemon. Strain off grain, store in refrigerator. You can add purified water to the grain and make another batch. I like to add a bit of lemon juice to the rejuvelac for taste.
The used grains can be dried and used in a favorite recipe or eaten as a cereal.
Here is a video on how to make rejuvelac:
Here is a good video on making sauerkraut or vegetables – note you DO NOT put lids on tightly as she does in this video!
Here is a video on milk kefir-
And last, but not least, apple cider vinegar. I like to take a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before meals to aid in digestion.