The Fascinating World of Gut Bugs
by Laura Cini
The gut microbiome is such a fascinating topic. So much has happened in this area in recent years: improved technology for testing the gut microbiome, an explosion of research, books written, and podcasts released.
We understand so much more about this bustling world within our digestive system. As natural health practitioners, this information has made a huge difference to how we treat our many clients with digestive problems like abdominal bloating, nausea, and sluggish digestive systems.
The thought of around 100 trillion teeny tiny bugs living in the small and large intestine comprising the gut microbiome can be hard to wrap your head around, especially when diving into this topic for the first time. My gut health lecturer made us laugh by explaining it as like a car park. He said there’s loads of microorganisms living on the surface of the digestive system and occupying ‘parking spaces’. ‘Parking spaces’ are limited and ideally you want your ‘car park’ filled with a healthy number and a broad diversity of good gut bugs.
These good guys have a huge impact upon your health and their job list is long, including the digestion of some foods, the health of the immune system and even making vitamins, like B12. Researchers are also recognising that the gut and brain are good friends (the gut-brain connection) and the health of the gut has a big impact on the brain.
A happy and harmonious community of gut bugs often contains bacteria, fungi and viruses, mostly found in the large intestine. They are a diverse bunch with fabulous names like Akkermansia muciniphila and Roseburia hominis.
So, this is all sounding lovely and utopian, what could go wrong? Unfortunately, like a rainforest, this is a pretty delicate ecosystem, and it is easily disrupted. One common problem is the overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria and fungi, usually part of the community, but at low levels. Usually, they just mind their own business, but if ‘parking space’ becomes available, they can multiply to unhealthy levels. They start occupying more than their fair share of ‘parking spaces’ and causing all sorts of trouble.
Gut bugs are quite exacting in what they like and don’t like and what helps them to stay in a healthy balance. To give yours some TLC, firstly, feed them well. Your gut bugs eat what you do and for them, gourmet food is a diverse range of plant foods. Eat a rainbow of coloured plant foods. Foods like berries, olives, spinach, red onion, broccoli, green vegetables, and – hooray – dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa), apples and almonds are spot-on.
Watch your sugar intake and take time to relax. Both sugar and long-term high stress can harm the gut microbiome. Fermented foods containing probiotics are friendly for your digestive system. Sauerkraut, kombucha, miso and kimchi are great options and widely available.
Positive changes can be seen in the gut microbiome only a few days after changing your eating habits. Even small changes can make a difference and your gut bugs will thank you.
FRESH AND ZINGY GREEK SALAD
6 firm ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 Lebanese cucumbers, coarsely chopped Handful lettuce leaves (optional)
1 red onion, sliced into rings
1 red capsicum, halved, deseeded, coarsely chopped 200g olives
200g feta, coarsely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
125ml (1/2 cup olive oil)
60m! (1/4 cup) white vinegar
Combine tomato, cucumber, lettuce, onion, capsicum, olives and feta in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with oregano. Whisk together the oil and vinegar in a jug. Drizzle over salad and toss to combine.