Now, weâ€™re not talking about the recent claims that weâ€™ll all be eating insects in the next few years. Thatâ€™s a (flea?) circus to jump into another day.
The bugs weâ€™re talking about are friendly microflora – otherwise known as probiotics, or good bacteria – that live in your gut and work a tonne of tiny wonders for you.
You see, most adults play host to around 2 kilograms worth of probiotics, who all live in the gut (the gastrointestinal tract, which includes your stomach, intestines and bowel). These bacteria are, for the most part, good news.
Because believe it or not, it ainâ€™t just digestion that happens in your gut.
Itâ€™s also where essential vitamins are created, where your immunity stems from, and where your nutritional profile (essentially, whether or not youâ€™re healthy) is determined. It has so many important functions that itâ€™s even been called the second brain.
To deal with all this, there are over 500 types of gut microflora, and all of them are specialists of one kind or another. You could think of your probiotics as a diverse workforce of highly specialised technicians. None of them are wasting space, either: they are all vital to your bodyâ€™s smooth operation.
To point out just a few, these specialists include guards, explosives experts, assassins, chemists, messengers and transporters.
Thatâ€™s right. Youâ€™ve got a whole team of bad-asses hustling around in there.
The guards make sure youâ€™re not under attack from any bad bacteria – known as pathogens – that arenâ€™t supposed to be there. The assassins take the pathogens out when they do attack.
The explosives team breaks down all the food you eat (and their disposal crew takes the resulting chunks where they need to go). Â The chemists are madly grabbing chunks from the disposal team to put together the vitamins you need, while messengers are transporters are rushing all over the place to make sure every part of the system has what it needs, when it needs it.
Your gut is one busy place.
However, as you might have noticed earlier, itâ€™s the majority of your microflora that are good guys. Not the entirety.
There are also a few evil genius types, who are always on the lookout for ways to put it over you. The term â€˜geniusâ€™ is no exaggeration, either – many bacteria are so cleverly disguised that it takes quite some time for the good bacteria to recognise them & boot them out. Not only are they masters of disguise, but they are crazy competitive.
Once these evil types get into your gut, they attempt to colonize it by a process called â€˜competitive exclusionâ€™. They start hoarding all the resources your protective team needs and taking shots at the good guys. If left unchecked, theyâ€™re soon running rampant like rebels looting a defeated city. After that, things go from bad to worse.
You see, your gut can be compromised in a multitude of ways. The hectic pace of modern life often means we donâ€™t even realise that these 3 major problems are constantly barraging our defense team:
Antibiotics and some other medications wreak total havoc on your probiotics. The hintâ€™s in the name – antibiotic. They take a scattershot approach when trying to kill off an evil genius or two , and end up taking out a tonne of good guys in the process. You also unintentionally Â ingest a lot of antibiotics when you eat certain types of meat, which we’ll cover more below.
Stress. Regardless of where itâ€™s coming from, stress can cause major troubles for your gut. Stress makes your intestinal lining more permeable, which can let all kinds of things into your gut that shouldnâ€™t be there. It also wipes out a bunch of microflora, and reduces your digestive systemâ€™s ability to absorb nutrients.
Over-hygienisation. The â€˜hygiene hypothesisâ€™ is a big one – that by constantly sterilizing everything, washing your hands religiously or staying away from anything potentially germy – you actually ruin your gutâ€™s chances of developing immunity to those germs. Which sucks when you actually ingest some of them. This is particularly true when children are overprotected from germs.
Now that you know what theyâ€™re up against, how do you give your defence team the support they desperately need?
There are a couple of sure-fire ways to make sure your gut microflora are getting everything they need. In fact, you can start supporting them today.
Start eating fermented foods. This is the very best option. Fermented foods, which are full of probiotics, include kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and unpasteurized milk and cheeses. Plus these are all delicious, so thatâ€™s a big win.
Get a good probiotic supplement. Make sure it has over 2 billion CFUs (colony forming units), and has Lactobacillus acidophilus in it. Each pill also needs to be coated in an acid-resistant film, to ensure it actually makes it through your stomach acid to the intestines.
Eat lots of vegetables. If you can get them organic, so much the better – theyâ€™ll be covered in nice bacteria that will give your gut a little boost with every bite. Plus youâ€™ll get all the usual benefits of veggie intake!
Try to buy your meats and dairy products organic and grass-fed whenever possible. Feed lot animals are generally fed food that doesnâ€™t suit them (chickens eating grain instead of grass, for example), which makes them sick, so they are pumped full of antibiotics… which are passed on to you when you eat them, as mentioned earlier.
Donâ€™t be too paranoid about germs. Sure, if youâ€™re facing down a plague breakout, get paranoid, but the common cold ainâ€™t gonna kill you. Let your kids play in dirt, and kiss your dogs, and eat food thatâ€™s been dropped. They will thank you for it as they grow up, and you wonâ€™t have to deal with sickly children all the time.
Keeping your gut happy is really, really important. All the microflora that call you home are not just along for the free meals – they work extremely hard for the food you give them. Make sure you take care of them as much as they take care of you. Include probiotics in your diet and you’ll be in good hands.