Although bacteria often get a bad rap for causing disease, certain bacteria found in the gut perform the useful function of keeping the bad bacteria that cause disease under control, thus reducing your risk of becoming ill. Some good gut bacteria are even thought to play a role in preventing and treating certain types of digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and digestive cancers.
What do good bacteria in the gut do?
The good bacteria in the gut have the important task of fermenting non-digestible carbohydrates found in plant foods and breaking them down into simpler components, some of which have positive health benefits. One of the components created by bacterial fermentation known as butyrate has two important health benefits. It helps to increase the absorption of calcium and magnesium from the intestine and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. The good bacteria in the gut are also thought to have a positive impact on immune function and play a role in maintaining normal colon activity. They can help to prevent such nuisances as traveler’s diarrhea and can even reduce the incidence of constipation in the elderly.
Unfortunately, sometimes the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the intestine becomes too low. This can result from taking antibiotics which wipe out not only the bad bacteria but the good as well. The good news is there are ways to increase the number of good bacteria in the gut. Here are some ways to do that:
Avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics
This is one of the quickest ways to wipe out good gut bacteria. Although there are certainly times when antibiotics are needed, they’re often prescribed by well meaning doctors for viral infections in an attempt to please the patient and prevent “secondary infection”. Since viruses don’t respond to antibiotics, the use of antibiotics will likely create more problems than they solve by destroying gut friendly bacteria. This can result in diarrhea and other intestinal problems. Always question the reason you’re being given an antibiotic. They shouldn’t be taken frivolously.
Eat more cultured foods
Cultured foods are foods that are naturally fermented, containing a variety of healthy gut bacteria. When you eat these foods, friendly gut bacteria take up residence in your intestines and help to support healthy digestive function along with the other positive health benefits these good bacteria bring. Cultured foods include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kefir, yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha, among others. Eating these foods every day will help to keep your intestinal tract happy.
Take probiotic supplements
If you don’t enjoy eating cultured foods, you can increase the number of good gut bacteria in your intestinal tract by taking a probiotic supplement. There’s a great deal of variability in the quality of probiotic supplements. It’s important to choose one with a variety of bacterial species to get maximum benefit. You should also choose one that has an adequate number of bacterial colonies, at least five billion colony forming units per dose. Since most adults need between ten and fifty billion live colony forming units per day, you would want to take the supplement twice a day. Older adults, over the age of fifty, should get closer to fifty billion live colony forming units each day. Probiotic supplements can be found at most health food stores and other stores that sell vitamins. Usually higher quality probiotic supplements are refrigerated.
If you’re concerned about protecting your intestinal health and maintaining a healthy immune system, increasing the good bacteria in the gut can be helpful. Eating more cultured foods or taking a probiotic supplement are both excellent ways to do just that.