Our digestion is a complex system, with many parts working in unison. For perspective, the digestive system will break down approximately 35 metric tons of food per person over an average lifespan.
Our intestines are home to an assortment of over 100 trillion bacteria. They perform many important functions for the body. An imbalance of the intestinal flora is a common cause of serious stomach complaints.
Human beings have evolved over millions of years, from apes to the creatures we are today. Throughout this transformation, trillions of bacteria have been co-habitants on our skin and within our bodies, helping to shape the course of our evolution. Instead of seeing bacteria as an outsider or invader bent on harming us, we should instead see them as a vital part of our bodies. Just as our body is built of cells and other biological structures, bacteria are a part of our body’s foundation.
The large intestine is a world with 100 trillion microscopic inhabitants - bacteria. That is almost ten times the total number of cells in your body!
You could say that we are, in reality, 90% bacteria and only 10% human.
Bacteria live and work around the clock in our intestines. There are hundreds of different species of bacteria with various jobs and functions. Some live synergistically within the body, performing essential tasks in exchange for a suitable living environment. Others are troublemakers that must be neutralized.
Friendly flora can provide many positive health effects: They stimulate a large part of our immune system. They manufacture vitamin B and vitamin K. They produce substances which lower the pH in the intestines, maintaining acidity that protects against harmful invaders. They produce serotonin which stimulates bowel movements and improves mood. The bacteria can also affect our nutrient uptake and help us burn fat.
Positive Effects of Intestinal Bacteria:
When our intestines contain too little, too much, or the wrong variety of bacteria, problems related to the bacterial imbalance tend to arise. The immune system may be weakened, bowel movements are disrupted, and other unpleasant organisms such as dangerous bacteria and parasites can take over.
This may also contribute to weight gain. In one study, researchers tested the effects of exchanging the intestinal bacteria of healthy-weight animals with overweight animals. What happened? The overweight animals lost weight while the thinner animals gained weight.
As we can see, there are many reasons to keep our intestinal flora in balance.
As we can see, there are many reasons to keep our intestinal flora in balance.
Dysbiosis is a condition where there is an imbalance in your body’s bacterial population. It can occur in different ways: An excess of harmful bacteria paired with too little good bacteria, a build-up of bacteria in the wrong part of the body, an overall excess of bacteria, infection, parasites, yeast or intestinal worms.
Many studies have been conducted detailing the manner in which microorganisms in our body can affect our health. We have now discovered that there are correlations between dysbiosis and a host of illnesses.
Common Disorders and Diseases Associated with Dysbiosis:
The importance of beneficial bacteria has also been demonstrated through the study of eating habits in different traditional cultures. Ancient people across the world are known to have eaten a variety of healthy foods, many of which contained the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. Some of these cultures were:
Asian cultures: consumed a variety of fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
The Ancient Romans: regularly consumed sauerkraut to maintain digestive health.
India: has long enjoyed a yogurt drink called Lassi. It is consumed regularly before meals to ease the stomach and help digestion.
Bulgaria: on some yogurt packages, you can see images of happy, healthy elderly men and women, many of whom are from Bulgaria. They have long consumed cultured milk products such as kefir and are known to enjoy good health well into old age.
Ancient people may not have understood all the ways in which food helped digestion and health, but they did take note of which foods helped keep them healthy.
Antibiotic medications may be necessary for acute illness, but when antibiotics are routinely taken, they can do more harm than good. Antibiotics kill harmful bacteria, but they also destroy the healthy bacteria. This leads to a state of disruption in the bacterial balance after a course of antibiotics.
A common scenario is that a patient is afflicted with a new infection due a weakened immune system shortly after completing a course of antibiotics. Typically, a new course of antibiotics is then administered, further upsetting the balance of intestinal flora. This vicious circle can continue until the good bacteria have been replenished and the balance of bacteria restored.
Lifestyle habits have a significant impact on intestinal flora. Medications, chronic stress, poor diet, alcohol, chlorine and fluoride can all damage good bacteria. Sugar is another major culprit, as it provides food for harmful bacteria and other unwanted intruders such as parasites and yeast. To restore intestinal flora, it is essential to correct all contributing factors at the same time.
Before you are born, your intestinal tract is completely free of bacteria. At the moment of birth, a baby is exposed to her mother's bacteria as she leaves the womb and passes through the birth canal. The bacteria settle quickly in the intestines and begin to stimulate and build up the immune system.
Swedish researchers have shown that children born through cesarean section are not exposed to the same bacteria, and have a reduced amount of certain bacterial species in their gut. The variety of different bacteria is also lower. This could put the child at an increased risk for various diseases as a result of a weakened, understimulated immune system.
Probiotics often help with:
Individuals respond differently to probiotic supplementation. Some people respond quite favorably, while others do not notice a difference or report feeling worse. Therefore, it is often necessary for individuals to start with a trial run to see how they react. But in view of how much of an improvement probiotic supplementation may provide for many people’s intestinal distress, the risk of negative side effects is small.
There are several options to replenish beneficial bacteria: Consume cultured milk products such as yogurt and fil. Eat more lacto-fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and pickled carrots. Or supplement with small capsules packed with billions of good bacteria.
In Japan, it is common to repair flora with fermented soy products such as natto, miso, and tempeh. There are several advantages and disadvantages to this approach.
Yogurt offer a simple and inexpensive way to replenish good bacteria. A disadvantage is that these products can aggravate your stomach if you are sensitive to lactose or milk protein. Lactose-free products works if lactose is a problem. Choose products that are natural and free from additives, sugars and flavorings, and preferably organic.
* If you have been suffering from stubborn, recurring stomach complaints, you may be sensitive to the milk protein, casein. If this applies to you, it may be worthwhile to avoid all forms of milk products for 4 weeks to see if your condition improves.
Sauerkraut, pickled carrots and kimchi are all great choices for replenishing probiotics. Your body gets the benefits of healthy vegetables and good bacteria. Lacto-fermented vegetables also contain a wide range of bacterial strains, which provides a good variety of flora. To reap these benefits, the product must be unpasteurized. Unfortunately, most options in the larger supermarkets are pasteurized.
Look for unpasteurized varieties at the health food store. Start with very small amounts, just ½ teaspoon, then gradually increase to 1 to 2 tablespoons at the start of each meal to minimize any side effects.
The advantage of capsules is that you can easily supplement with large doses of bacteria. There are also a variety of different brands. Brands may differ in the quantity, type, and blend of bacteria, and may or may not contain prebiotics. It can be difficult to know which brand to choose as different brands may provide different results for individuals.
Tips for Selecting Probiotics:
Try a variety of brands: different brands contain different bacteria, so try to find one that suits your needs.
Variation: the intestines have hundreds of unique strains of bacteria. By choosing a brand with a wide variety of bacterial strains, you increase the chance of replenishing the varieties that your body is lacking. A supplement with 10 different bacteria strains tends to be better than a supplement with just 1.
How many bacteria? The need varies from person to person. For milder imbalances or prevention, it may be sufficient to supplement 1-2 billion a day. For acute needs, it may be required to supplement 25-100 billion a day, particularly after antibiotic treatment.
Start small: for some, probiotic supplements may start out by stirring the pot as good bacteria starts competing with bad bacteria, creating further imbalances before healthy flora is restored. Therefore, it is wise to avoid starting with mega-doses of 25 billion or more, but to instead start with lower potency supplements.
Prebiotics: food for the good bacteria, allowing them a better chance to survive in your body. Inulin and FOS are two examples found in many supplements. Prebiotics can both alleviate or aggravate stomach complaints. If you have problems with gas or bloating, it is often best to avoid prebiotics to start. But over the long-term, it is important to supplement with prebiotics to support good bacteria in the gut. You may also get prebiotics in your diet from vegetables, fruits, root vegetables, and grains.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria bifidum are two effective bacteria strains.
The right bacteria: there has been some research done to determine how various bacteria strains can protect against different types of stomach problems. Look for those bacteria strains that have been found to alleviate your specific condition.
*If it is necessary to take antibiotics, one should take extra measures to protect and replenish the balance of intestinal flora. Remember, antibiotics do an excellent job wiping out harmful bacteria, but they unfortunately eliminate the beneficial bacteria in the process. After a course of antibiotics, the balance of intestinal flora is often disrupted. There is a risk that harmful bacteria can take advantage of this imbalance, flourish, and out-compete beneficial bacteria.
Try some of the techniques above to see if they can help alleviate stomach complaints. Leave a comment if you have some experience to share about probiotics.
Constipation is a widespread problem. Why do you get it and how can you normalize your bowel movement? Learn about the 10 foods to avoid and 10 foods that can help.
Heartburn and acid reflux occur when stomach acid leaks into the esophagus and causes burning and irritation. In addition to extreme discomfort, it can cause bad breath and erosion of tooth enamel. Below, you can learn more about 8 effective home remedies that can quickly relieve discomfort caused by heartburn and acid reflux.
A common misperception is that gastric acid overflows into the esophagus because you have excess stomach acid, and therefore need to take medications to neutralize the acid. But many times, there are other culprits causing heartburn. There are, in fact, three other common causes of heartburn, one of which is a shortage of gastric acid rather than a surplus, which should then be treated differently
Stomach acid is needed to break down the food we eat and to kill bacteria and parasites that we ingest with our food and through the environment. For some of us, a shortage of stomach acid may lead to poor digestion, bacterial overgrowth, and parasitic invasion. These conditions further disrupt digestive processes, as incompletely digested food particles remain in the intestines to ferment and cause the buildup of gas.
Excess gas irritates the stomach, and the pressure from further down the digestive tract increases which may cause stomach acid to leak and cause heartburn. Slow digestion also causes food to remain in the stomach longer, which can result in multiple meals overfilling our stomachs capacity. An overfilled stomach increases the risk of leakage.
Helicobacter Pylori is the one of the world's most common causes of bacterial infections, affecting about 50% of the world's population. In most individuals, it gives no symptoms, and may even provide some benefits. But in some individuals, this bacteria is quite harmful and is the most common cause of peptic ulcers.
Helicobacter Pylori can "drill" through the mucous membrane of the stomach and cause inflammation. Long-term infections can also reduce the amount of stomach acid, contributing to several ailments and prolonged stomach discomfort
If you are diagnosed with a Hiatal Hernia, it means that part of the stomach has been pushed through the diaphragm into the thoracic cavity. This condition makes it harder for the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus to form a tight seal, and stomach acid may leak and cause irritation. According to Katrin Hint, a physician specializing in general medicine, 4 out of 10 people may be afflicted with a Hiatal Hernia.
GERD: If you have severe and frequent bouts of heartburn, you may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms of GERD include cramps, chest pain, a lump in the esophagus, stomach ache, cough, and nausea.
There are many effective methods for quickly relieving heartburn that do not require drugs or other medication. Here are some home remedies that can prevent bouts of heartburn or effectively alleviate discomfort should it occur.
Our stomach acid contains the highly corrosive material, hydrochloric acid, which gives it a very low pH of 1-3. It is so acidic that if you put some stomach acid on your hand, you would get a severe burn. This may seem like an extreme environment to have within our bodies, but high acidity is necessary to break down our food into usable parts and offer protection against parasites.
Baking soda is on the opposite end of the pH scale, and can quickly neutralize excess stomach acid. Mix ½-1 teaspoon of baking soda in 2 dl water and drink as soon as you feel discomfort in your chest or esophagus. But be careful to take the solution immediately before or after meals, because proper digestion is dependent on the pH of your stomach acid.
Clean water is one of the easiest methods to provide quick relief. A quick drink can rinse your esophagus free of stomach acid.
It is also important to drink enough water throughout the day. Your stomach and intestinal lining depends on adequate supplies of water to protect it against the strong stomach acid contained within your digestive system..
A ripe banana can help support healthy levels of stomach acid and can often alleviate indigestion and prevent heartburn. Bananas are also a binding food, easing intestinal distress and helping with diarrhea.
Kiwis have also been found to help indigestion, heartburn, and diarrhea. But the kiwis must be ripe or they will have a laxative rather than binding effect.
Apple cider vinegar is a home remedy that can help bring relief for a variety stomach complaints, including acid reflux and heartburn. It can stimulate the production of stomach acid and strengthen digestion which often alleviates the symptoms of several types of stomach ailments. For some, however, it may have the opposite effect and increase irritation in the esophagus. It is always worthwhile to give apple cider vinegar a try, just be sure to listen to your body and discontinue its use if it doesn’t agree with you
Apple Cider Vinegar has also shown promising results for weight loss. In a study of obese Japanese men, results showed a drop of 1-2.5 kg over a 12-week period when participants drank 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily.
If you wish to add apple cider vinegar to your health regimen, start with 1 teaspoon in a glass of water and drink 15 minutes before a meal. The amount can be gradually increased to 1-2 tbsp
Ginger is another tool that has long been used for heartburn and stomach ache, as well as nausea and motion sickness. Ginger can be added to food, eaten raw, or drunk as tea by placing it in boiled water and allowing it to steep for a few minutes.
Ginger may be too strong for some individuals, so start with a small amount and observe how it affects you.
This flowering herb has long been used for its calming effect and to neutralize gastric acid. Drink a cup in the evening for a calmer stomach and better sleep. It is also good when used to calm intestinal distress.
By regularly drinking enough water, eating ginger and maintaining a good diet, trouble caused by heartburn and acid reflux can often completely disappear with time.
This is an extremely useful spice that is gaining more and more attention due to its health-giving properties. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that supports digestion and reduces acidity.
Turmeric can easily be used in cooked meals. Most Indian curry dishes contain a lot of turmeric. If curry isn’t your thing, turmeric is also available as a supplement in capsule and powder form. It is primarily the active component of turmeric, curcumin, that is being credited for its positive health effects, so look for a supplement with a standardized dose of curcumin listed on the label.
The aloe plant, described by the ancient Egyptians as the "plant of immortality,” has been used for over 5000 years for its healing properties. Aloe Vera contains over 200 active components, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and polysaccharides.
Aloe can often relieve irritation in the esophagus and sooth heartburn, but it also helps relieve ailments such as IBS and bloating. Aloe has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and seems to be able to support the cleansing of yeast and parasites. Start with a small dose and increase gradually to 40-60 ml/day
For additional relief from heartburn and acid reflux, there are effective dietary supplements available.
Contains zink-L-carnosine, mastic gum and slippery elm. These have long been used to help treat and reliave an upset stomach. Especially heartburn and acid reflux. Ulcetrol is probably the supplement I have seen provide the greates relieve against heartburn for my clients.
Some foods are known to trigger heartburn. Here are some of the most common:
· Citrus fruits and juices
· Alcohol, especially red wine
· Tomatoes in all its forms
· Drinks containing Caffeine, such as coffee and tea.
· Carbonated drinks, such as soda and mineral water.
· Greasy fried food
Sleep with your upper body elevated
When the upper body is raised slightly, due to the effects of gravity, it becomes more difficult for stomach acid to leak from the stomach up into the esophagus.