When you eat your digestive system is responsible for breaking down the food that you eat into its most basic form. Proteins become amino acids, carbohydrates become saccharides, fats become glycerol and fatty acids, DON’T STOP READING YET IT GETS MORE INTERESTING... HONEST. These substances are then utilised around the body for all basic functions, energy requirements, growth and regeneration etc. The list is endless. Basically any process your body goes through relies on what is broken down from the food you eat.
Different enzymes in the stomach are responsible for breaking down different kinds of food and these enzymes come from the GOOD bacteria in our digestive system, ‘good’ meaning the bacteria that is supposed to be there.
Eating whole, natural foods along the lines of meat, fish, nuts, vegetables and fruit will be beneficial to creating an environment in which these good bacteria can flourish. This will lead to greater absorption and utilisation of the nutrients from the foods that you eat.
One result of an unbalanced diet (high in processed foods, high in sugars, low in fibre, low in nutrients etc) is that bad bacteria can grow in the gut and start to take over from the good bacteria. These bad bacteria do not release the enzymes that we need. Without enough of these necessary enzymes (or the right kind in the right places) we begin to have a problem breaking down what we eat. This can lead to a myriad of digestive complaints, food intolerances and other similar or associated problems. This will also be very detrimental to any attempts to burn fat and/or build muscle.
Low levels of gut health are very common and a contributing factor to other illness’, poor mental performance and general feelings of lethargy.
Where this becomes a little more serious is when gut health deteriorates to the extent that the gut wall allows bacteria, toxins and partially digested food particles into the blood stream. The immune system will then try to identify these substances in order to trigger the most appropriate immune response. Often it will get this wrong as they are not actually the viruses which it is used to dealing with. This complex immune response and release of antibodies will often go on to damage healthy tissue around the body. Different people will be affected in different ways and often will display symptoms associated with a particular illness which the immune system has wrongly primed itself to combat.
Because the health service treats illness from a symptomatic perspective then someone may end up being treated for an illness which they don’t actually have. The treatment will not work long term as the symptoms are actually being triggered by undigested foods and/or toxins finding their way into the blood stream.
In order to re-establish a healthy gut you must eradicate as much of the bad bacteria as possible and re-introduce good bacteria.
Bad bacteria love to feed on sugars so a period of cutting down on carbohydrates especially the simple sugars will be highly beneficial, one month should be long enough in most cases. Combine this with a good strength probiotic and a diet high in fresh, fibrous vegetables (raw where possible) should be enough to re-establish a good level of digestive health.
Gut health is essential for everyone but optimum gut health is especially important for anyone looking to improve body composition. Inflammation caused through digestive issues will make it very difficult to release the energy you have stored as fat. You will also not be able to digest and utilise the proteins you need to build muscle or extract the energy you need to train hard from what you are eating. So even someone who has changed to a healthy diet may not really feel the benefits until they have addressed gut health.
The importance of a strong enough probiotic
Yoghurt drinks which claim probiotic properties simply aren’t strong enough to do the job. The small amount of good bacteria in them will not make it far enough through your digestive system to make any significant difference to your overall gut health. A good strong probiotic capsule such as Bioglan Gastrohealth has over 20 billion cultures and 4 separate strains of probiotic. One a day should ensure that the ‘friendly’ bacteria manage to successfully re-establish themselves throughout your digestive system and drastically improve gut health. Udo’s Choice Super 8 is another good one, as is Health Aid’s Immuprobio.
The importance of gut flora to pregnant women
A pregnant woman will pass on her gut flora to her child so looking after digestive health is even more important when pregnant.
Antibiotics and gut flora
The use of antibiotics will indiscriminately destroy bacteria in the gut and gut health can be severely compromised as a result. After a course of antibiotics you should always follow steps as outlined above to re-establish a healthy gut.