Fighting the Good Fight

From all the groans and gurgles going on in my abdomen, it sounds like a major battle is being fought. I’m not sure yet which side is winning, but I know which side I’m rooting for.

The noises aren’t painful themselves – although if anyone was in earshot, I would be embarrassed – but I am also experiencing significant bloating and other symptoms of an IBS flare. Days like these, I’m grateful for yoga pants and the ability to work from home!

Healthy intestines are the key

I’ve been studying a lot lately about probiotics and building a healthy intestinal microbiota. The microbiota is the collection of different helpful bacteria that we have in our gut – formerly known as gut flora – and more and more research is showing that a variety of bacteria is more conducive to healthy digestion. And the microbiota doesn’t just impact digestion, it helps boost our immune system, prevents the absorption of toxins, reduces systemic inflammation and pain, and improves mood by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.1,2

Research has found that the Westernized diet, which is characterized by high-fat, high-sugar, and low fiber foods, negatively impacts our intestinal microbiota and can lead to damage to the intestinal wall. The intestinal barrier can also be damaged due to stress or exhaustive exercise. When that barrier is damaged, a lot of food byproducts that normally wouldn’t be allowed into our bloodstream suddenly are. Sometimes that means larger food particles, which the body may identify as foreign and mount an inflammatory or allergic response (this is how some food intolerances and food allergies can occur). More environmental toxins also get into our bloodstream due to damaged intestinal barriers, and no one needs more toxins.1

Creating a healthy microbiota

While the general Westernized diet is not good for the intestinal microbiota, I’ve also been learning there are ways to improve our microbiota, including:

  • Eating more fermented foods. Fermented foods have all sorts of health benefits, including bringing in the good bacteria our bodies need.1 I’ve been consciously eating more kimchi, kombucha, and honey in my diet.
  • Taking probiotics. While nutritionists recommend getting what we need from foods, supplements can be effective, especially in the case of probiotics. Research has shown that adding probiotic supplements can decrease anxiety, reduce symptoms of depression, diminish perceptions of stress, and improve mental outlook.1
  • Eating more fiber. Fiber acts as fuel for beneficial bacteria that are in your gut and increasing fiber can help boost the colonies of good bacteria over the bacteria that can be harmful.3 Good sources of fiber include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.

Researchers have scientifically proven that changing the way we eat does change our intestinal microbiota. So, I’m cheering for the good bacteria, boosting their bench strength with probiotics and fermented foods, and replenishing them with fiber.

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