You might be surprised to hear that around 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut. Most of us spend very little time thinking about the health of our intestines, but paying a little more attention to our gut health could have a significant impact on our overall well-being.
In recent years, doctors and scientists have been examining how the flora which live in our intestines might influence our immune systems, and how we can go about increasing the number of ‘good bacteria’ which fight infection and stop viruses from replicating.
What are ‘good bacteria’?
‘Good bacteria’ are the thousands of species which live within our bodies and have a beneficial effect on us. Also known as ‘probiotics’, they help to maintain the balance of the bacteria which live in our intestines, counteracting those ‘bad bacteria’ which our bodies must fight against.
Each of us has a staggering 100,000 billion live microbes living in our intestines, collectively known as the microbiome. Put together, these bacteria weigh an incredible 1.5kg, and around 95% of them are in the large intestine, where they play an important role in fighting rogue viral cells and bad bacteria.
How is the microbiome affected by daily life?
The balance of bacteria in our gut is influenced by many things, including medication we might take, how much stress we’re exposed to, and the environments we live in. That balance is also strongly affected by our diets. A highly processed, high fat, high sugar diet leads to a reduction in the probiotics in our gut, which in turn means we’re more likely to get sick.
Fortunately, probiotics can also be found in certain foods, and eating these can help restore the natural balance and increase the number of good bacteria in your gut. While not technically classed as a ‘medicine’, these foods are usually recommended by medical professionals and can work wonders in improving your digestive system, reducing diarrhoea, easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and boosting your immune system.
Why take probiotics?
There are all sorts of advantages to getting more probiotics into your diet, giving your immune system a boost being the major one. The good bacteria you ingest can also help with nutrient absorption. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, for example, are particularly good at improving your ability to absorb iron, which is needed to transport oxygenated blood around your body.
Some research has also linked good gut health to better heart health, as the good bacteria can reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In addition to improving your ability to ward off coughs and colds, probiotics can protect you against antibiotic resistance in the long term.
Which foods should I be eating to improve my gut health?
There are lots of foods which contain the healthy bacteria you need to improve your gut flora. Chief amongst these are fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, or tempeh and natto, which are both fermented soybean products.
Other good sources of probiotics include Greek or natural yoghurt, kefir, miso, kombucha, pickles, and traditional buttermilk. Some types of cheese also contain probiotics, but not all. The good bacteria have to survive the maturing process, but most types of mozzarella, gouda, cheddar, and cottage cheese will have a healthy live culture population.
Changing your diet for the better
Increasing the amount of probiotic-rich foods you eat can have a huge, positive impact on your overall physical health. The more we come to understand the importance of good gut flora, the more we can appreciate just how much these friendly bacteria do for improving our immune systems and digestive health.
By getting more probiotics into your diet, you increase the number of good bacteria in your gut and give them added strength in tackling all the bad bacteria which could make you sick.
Before making any drastic changes to your diet, however, it’s important that you get the advice of a medical professional. Dubai London Hospital employs some of the region’s top dieticians and nutritionists, as well as some leading lights in the field of gastroenterology. They can help ensure you have a well-rounded diet, to improve your health and lifestyle.
If you would like more information on the services we provide or wish to book a consultation, please get in touch with our team today.