Before we talk about why it’s important, let’s talk a little about what is gut flora.
Gut flora simply refers to the bacteria that live within our digestive tract. The digestive tract consists of billions of bacteria from over 1,000 different species, with a combined weight of 1-1.5kgs. The highest concentration of bacteria is found in the large intestine (colon).
What does this good gut flora do?
- regulates the immune system
- enhances motility and function of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT)
- improves digestion and nutrient absorption
- produces vitamins (some Bs and K)
- provides protection against pathogens
- assists with weight management
- produces short chain fatty acids which are important for healthy digestive functioning.
Now that you have seen what it does, you can see why it is so important. When there is a decrease in the levels of good gut bacteria (called dysbiosis) many different health problems can arise. These include autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease as well as other health issues such as eczema, IBS, obesity, ASD and mental illness.
What kills good gut bacteria?
- Diets high in animal fat and animal protein
- Diets high in refined carbs (white foods)
- Bacteria, viruses, parasites
- Food intolerances
- Pharmaceutical drugs
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sulphates & sulphites (found in processed meats, wine and dried fruit)
Apart from the disease processes listed above, there are a number of physical signs which can indicate you have dysbiosis including bloating, burping, excessive flatulence, recurring abdominal pain, bad breath, constipation, diarrhoea, rectal itching, weak & cracked fingernails, fatigue and post-adolescent acne.
It is possible to measure the levels of good gut flora in your colon and to identify any bad bacteria that may be contributing to the dysbiosis. This is a simple test which involves collecting a small sample of faeces which is then sent off to the lab for analysis. If there is an issue with the bacterial growth in your small intestine (called Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth – SIBO), you can have a breath test done to assess this problem.
If you have dysbiosis, it can be treated using diet, prebiotic and probiotic foods as well as supplementation with probiotics. It will take some time to restore the balance as the process needs to start slowly to avoid unpleasant side effects. This is why it should be managed by a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopath or nutritionist.
If you think you may be affected by dysbiosis, make an appointment now. We can help you!