Hippocrates was once quoted for saying “all disease begins in the gut.” Time is proving Hippocrates to be a pretty smart guy, and science is even now linking poor gut health with a myriad of health problems.
From eczema to poor immune health, it seems that our gut health influences much more than we previously realized. If all disease beings in the health, it is logical to realize that perhaps optimal health begins here as well.
Ever had a “gut” feeling? There may be more to it than your realize. It is now estimated that over 3/4 of our immune system resides in our intestinal tract, with over 500 species of bacteria present.
Overall, there are ten times the number of bacteria in the body as actual human cells, and this colonization of bacteria (good or bad) can weigh up to three pounds. With such a large concentration of bacteria in our bodies, it is logical that we depend rather heavily on them for health.
Traditional diets around the world have typically included raw and fermented foods teeming with bacteria, including many beneficial strains. From yogurt, to kefir, to sauerkraut, to fermented fish, cultures around the world are not afraid of a little bacteria.
In our modern society, we’ve effectively managed to pasteurize, irradiate, and process out any naturally occurring beneficial bacteria while at the same time feeding harmful bacteria with a feast of processed starches and sugars.
On top of that, we sanitize our children from the moment they are born, afraid to ever let them encounter bacteria, good or bad, which are necessary for immune development. Besides the fact that research has found that antibacterial soap is no more beneficial than regular soap and water and might be harmful, raising our kids with Lysol in hand may not even let their digestive systems develop properly.
It has now been found that babies are born with a completely sterile digestive system, since in utero, they don’t need gut bacteria for the breakdown of food as all nourishment comes from mom. During the rather messy birth process, the baby’s digestive system begins to colonize bacteria based on the mother’s existing bacteria (good or bad!).
The baby’s bacteria further develops during breastfeeding thanks to certain strains of immune boosting beneficial bacteria found only in breastmilk. Since the baby depends on the birth process and on breastmilk for this balance of bacteria, it makes sense that babies born naturally and then breastfed have lower rates of eczema, allergies, and illness.
Babies born by cesarean or who are formula fed are not doomed from the start, but it is good for parents to be aware of this need for probiotic bacteria and consider supplementation and natural sources.
After the infant stage, toddlers naturally supplement probiotics by putting everything, dirt included, into their mouths. If given the proper resources, these beneficial bacteria grow and flourish, boosting immunity and allowing proper breakdown of food.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm anymore. More often, the balance of good bacteria is altered by an abundance of starches/sugars/vegetable oils in the diet, or destroyed completely by antibiotic use or other pharmaceuticals. Lack of exposure to bacteria in environment and food further aggravate this problem.
In fact, in our Clorox cleaned world of processed foods, many of us might benefit from a good dose of healthy bacteria. The digestive tract as has almost as many nerve cells as the spinal cord, and research is increasingly linking digestive health to overall health.
Beneficial bacteria is necessary to properly digest food (especially starches) and to absorb nutrients. It plays a big role in overall immunity. With the rise of digestive problems like IBS, Crohn’s disease, Celiac Disease, colitis, allergies, etc., a good dose of beneficial bacteria certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The good news is that while outside sources are constantly working against our good bacteria these days, there are ways to boost good bacteria naturally, even for those of us not still nursing or fond of eating dirt.
An Ounce of Prevention…
Grandma said it and it still holds true. One of the best ways to keep beneficial bacteria from becoming depleted is to avoid the things that deplete it in the first place, including:
- antibiotic use (especially if it can be avoided or natural alternatives can be used)
- use of antibacterial soap
- overuse of harsh cleaning chemicals to sanitize environment
- consumption of processed and refined foods
- consumption of sugars or excess of starches
- any sources of stress on the body that can be avoided (lack of sleep, overexertion, etc.)
Building Up Good Bacteria in the Digestive System
Fortunately, even if you’ve depleted your beneficial bacteria by some of the methods above, there are ways to increase it and help balance the bacteria in your digestive system. Chances are, unless you already consume a lot of fermented foods, garden barefoot a lot and eat some dirt, your probiotic balance could use a boost.
Here are some tips for boosting your probiotic balance:
- Don’t Eat Sugars/Grains/Excess Starches/Vegetable Oils– These foods deplete beneficial bacteria very quickly and can consequently suppress immunity and lead to a variety of health problems. There is no need to eat these foods, especially in processed form, so for the sake of your guts… avoid them!
- Eat Lots of Real Foods- Eating foods like vegetables, proteins and fats will help support beneficial bacteria that feed on certain types of fiber in foods like veggies. They will also support the body in culturing additional good bacteria, as will…
- Consume Fermented Foods and Drinks– Foods like Sauerkraut, Kimichi, Fermented Salsa, Fermented Veggies, Natural Yogurt, Kefir, Naturally Aged Cheeses, etc. are natural sources of Probiotics and eating a variety of these will help get in all the beneficial strains of bacteria. Cultured drinks like kombucha and water or milk kefir also provide probiotics.
- Use natural soap and water instead of antibacterial– Antibacterial soap kills bacteria, good or bad, and some suggest that overuse of antibacterial soap may be contributing to the rise in resistant strains of bacteria like MRSA. Use a quality natural soap and warm water to clean hands.
- Start Gardening– Believe it or not, the benefits of dirt that ring true for kids are still beneficial to adults. If you aren’t fond of mud pies, take up gardening. It is a way to get your vitamin D and probiotics in while producing your own food… a win-win!
- Don’t Overuse Antibiotics– There are certainly cases when it is best to use antibiotics, but for mild illnesses that can be left to run their course or treated naturally, consider skipping the antibiotics, which will deplete all gut bacteria, including the beneficial strains. If you do need to take antibiotics, make sure to take a high quality probiotic at the same time and for a while afterward to help replenish bacteria. Also, colloidal silver, which is a great antibacterial for topical uses, may not be the best choice to be taken internally.
- Take A Probiotic Supplement– Many of us need more help in the probiotic department than simple dietary changes can provide. That being said, supplementing probiotics without a change in diet and lifestyle is just a waste of money! If you are already eating real foods including fermented foods/drinks and using other ways to replenish your bacteria, consider supplementing probiotics, at least for a while. This is also an important recommendation if you are currently using or recently have used antibiotics. Children with eczema, allergies, digestive disturbances or those who were formula fed can often benefit from probiotics as well.
- Try to GAPS/SCD diet– These diets are specifically focused on healing and rebuilding a digestive system that has been harmed over time. If you have specific or acute symptoms, one of these diets may be the fastest/best way to help your body recover.
What do you think? Do you get enough good bacteria? Ever realize your guts did so much work? Tell me below!
Discussion (45 Comments)
I am really disappointed, as I found out I will have to be on antibiotics during delivery of my child due to Group B strep. I know this is a preventative, but I am really worried about killing off the good bacteria for my baby. Do you have any idea on how long it will take my system to recover after this antibiotic dose? I plan to breast feed, but don’t know how long it will take for my child to start receiving “good bacteria” from my breast milk. Any help is appreciated.
Wellness Mama, this is one of the best flows of information for probiotics. I am doing a presentation today on making kombucha green tea and had a few kinks in the flow and this really helped focus and provide the clarity that I was looking for.
Dr. Patrick Garrett
Great article but I think I missed the tie-in with the title lol what is a stinking gut? Is it called that because of eating fermented foods?
Do you have a recipe for the coconut yogurt?
Jasmine Santa Maria
I have been taking the Lady Soma Probiotics for about 1 year now and I can’t belive the difference it makes in my digestive health! My OB/GYM reccomended Lady Soma. I have had stomach/instestinal problems my whole life and I have diagnosed with IBS. since taking the probiotics I have seen alot of improvement.
“Overall, there are ten times the number of bacteria in the body as
actual human cells, and this colonization of bacteria (good or bad) can
weight up to three pounds.” How is this possible when the brain alone weighs 3lbs? Adult skin weighs 9-15 pounds…
Because billions of bacteria don’t weigh very much. The entire amount of bacteria weighs that total, even though it is made of of many, many bacteria…
Joseph W. Motacek
It’s because we have 100 trillion of these bacteria in and on our body, and their collective weight adds up to that.
Would probiotics be helpful with acid reflux and heart burn? I eat a whole food/paleo diet and have tried going off the Prilosec or Zantac, but the acid is still so bad. What could be the cause of the excess acid or the reflux?
You might not be producing enough stomach acid! Check out Chris Kresser’s website:
Antacids are probably doing the opposite of what you want. You actually need more stomach acid if you’re having heartburn. Start taking raw Apple cider vinegar 5 min (1-3 tsp) before each meal and again after as needed. This has been one of the biggest game changers for my health!
I was sick for a long time and kept getting one illness after another. When my doctor’s advice was “Hand sanitizer–put a bottle in every bag and every room,” I decided to do the opposite and now make my own fermented vegetables, brown rice, sourdough, and yogurt. I also no longer take birth control or other unnecessary prescriptions and use herbs instead of antibiotics, but it is a hard battle to achieve good health these days.
Hello! Thanks for all your inspiration & insight! I am a first time mom, and my five month old son is – at this point – strictly breastfed. However, he is allergic to nuts, dairy and eggs. Long story short, I think there are a couple reasons that I might have a gut in need of a little repair – could that be influencing his health? What would you recommend I eat to help him (us)? I attempted to take a probiotic supplement, but Will had a strong allergic reaction due to the lactase… Thank you very much!
You are definitely wise to think that your gut may need some help,
and really, his might too! I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve heard
that Bio Kult probiotics have virtually no dairy and don’t affect
those who are lactose intolerant, though you’d want to check on that
for sure with the company. You could also try making water kefir or
kombucha and drinking those yourself to get the probiotics, and
neither of those should have dairy in any amount. You could also try
the GAPS diet for yourself, and the child version when you start your
baby on foods (minus the one’s he can’t tolerate!).
If you/he tolerate coconut, you could buy or make coconut yogurt for
probiotics or coconut kefir. I suspect that if he has these issues
already, you do need serious doses of probiotics, but also that there
is a likely grain intolerance as well. I’ve never seen these not
connected in working with clients. The good news is, with many of the
people I’ve worked with are eventually able to tolerate dairy, nuts,
eggs, etc after a year or more grain free and focusing on rebuilding
the gut lining. It is great that he is still exclusively breastfed,
since you’ll have a blank slate to work from with his diet. If
possible, avoid ever giving him sugar or processed foods, and work on
getting rid of these yourself if you haven’t already.
Other things that might help: If you can find one (they do exist!)
take a quality probiotic without dairy in it
-drink enough water
-start including probiotic rich dairy-free drinks for you and for him
once he starts on other foods/drinks
-include fermented foods in your diet and his once he starts eating
-avoid sugar and processed foods, which will feed the bad bacteria
-avoid juices for the same reason
Hope that helps some! Let me know how it goes!
Wonderful! Thank you, Katie. This is a huge help. I must admit… I am a health nut, and the grain free thing is challenging… But, I am VERY intimidated looking at the GAPS diet! A couple more questions for you: Do you buy only organic meats (and fish)? Also, do I simply take the probiotic myself? Or do you recommend I give it to Will, as well? In researching, it appears some advocate pumping and putting the probiotic right in the milk. What are your thoughts?
Hi Katie I was just reading all these comments and Im so lost. I can’t find any doctors that DONT just wanna throw a bandaid on my health problems. They give me tons of antacid and tell me I might have food intolerances. Which I think I do but now it’s everything I eat that makes me dizzy, nauseated, cold chills, no energy, muscle pains, headaches etc. I have constipation from any grains, unable to digest meat(stays on my stomach all day), diarrhea with severely undigested food. I do have lots of mineral and nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin b, etc. My health deteriorates every day. Now I have mood swings now as well cuz of pain. My upper middle to right side of my stomach. Oh I’ve had my gallbladder out about 3 years ago btw. Never had trouble till this year. Things have drastically gotten bad in the past month and it’s scary. Can you please help? Where do I start? I want to try betaineHCI cuz I just cannot digest food properly anymore but should I take a probiotic with it? Should I try these two things or something else?
Joseph W. Motacek
It sounds like you have IBS. One of the first things to do would be to have a colonoscopy, to rule out any other issues.
If you do indeed have IBS, then first you should really learn and become an expert on the human microbiome.
Second, you should begin your research and learn what a microbiome transplant is. It’s going to sound “yucky”, but the truth is, it works, and it can reverse IBS.
Third, you could try visiting the IBS self help and support group, you might learn some things.
What should I look for when buying probiotics?
You want it to have a variety of live strains, and preferably a
number in the billions! I’ve hear that Bio Kult is a really good
brand, though I’ve never used them myself.
Which ones are you using then? You stated in your other article about vitamins and supplements for children, that you use Bio Kult probiotics?
Hello. I have a question. Is there a way four me to extract honeysuckle extract from the flower to put in my organic homemade lotion? By the way, so glad I’ve found you!
Katie - Wellness Mama
I’ve never tried, but let me know how it turns out if you do!