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What is gut health and how is it affected by modern life?

Did you know that the human body contains approximately 30 trillion human cells and is home to 38 trillion bacteria? But before you panic, you can take comfort in knowing that many bacteria in your body are, in fact, good bacteria.

All the microorganisms in your body, including bacteria, make up your microbiota. Approximately 90-95% of these microorganisms are found in your gut and belong to thousands of different species.

Among the many benefits, your microbiota helps digest food, absorb nutrients, and regulate and support your immune system.

The good and the bad

Put simply, good bacteria are important and beneficial to our health and, as a result, general wellbeing. But unfortunately, we have seen a decline in the gut microbiome and microbe diversity as humans moved from rural areas into cities. Today, more than half the population lives in cities.

Increased urbanisation, life stress, over-sanitization, overprocessed foods, and pollution are just a few of the factors that have affected the health and diversity of our gut flora.

One article highlights a study where scientists travelled from remote villages in Peru to a large Brazilian city to track the effects that urbanisation has on the diversity of bacteria in people's homes. The findings from the study suggest that people living in cities would benefit from higher exposure to microbes from the outside environment. In other words, we cities should open our windows more often.

Are we too clean for our own good?

While the findings from the above study might suggest that it would be better if we lived in homes with more microbes from the natural environment, there are a couple of things we can do short of fleeing cities and moving to rural areas.

According to the so-called “hygiene hypothesis” extremely clean environments may be failing to provide the necessary exposure to germs that help our immune system to develop.

Therefore, one of the things we can do is reduce excessive cleaning.

Several studies over the past few decades indicate that too much cleanliness may be causing us to develop allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune disorders. While washing your hands with soap and water is important, reducing the overuse of good bacteria-killing hygiene and cleaning products such as hand sanitiser is also beneficial for our good bacteria.

“We are microbial ecosystems that need to be rich and diverse to thrive. It’s important that we don’t kill our good bacteria by using too much hand sanitiser,” shares Gianfranco Grompone, Chief Scientist at BioGaia. “In other words, don’t be too clean, dirt is good for you and your bacteria. A diverse microbiota is a healthy microbiota.”

Another thing we can do is to turn our attention toward our gut.

How gut health affects the body

Since discovering the effects that modern life has on the health and diversity of our gut flora, understandably, gut health has become an area of increased interest today, not only among scientists and healthcare practitioners but also among the general public and consumers.

As we share in one of our earlier posts, gut health, of course, means more than just caring for your stomach. The benefits of good gut health extend to all parts of your body and affect how you feel.

Various studies have indicated that eating prebiotic foods and fermented foods such as tempeh, yoghurt, kombucha tea, and kimchi and taking a daily probiotic dietary supplement may be a way to support the gut microbiome.

Gianfranco Grompone shares, “Ecological diversity is good for the planet, the oceans and our body. We should protect the bacteria in our gut by eating less ultra-processed foods, use antibiotics only when needed and don’t over-sanitise to stay healthy.”

In a clinical trial conducted by Stanford University 36 healthy adults were randomly assigned a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fibre foods. The two diets had different effects on the gut microbiome and the immune system. The researchers discovered that a diet high in fermented foods led to an increase in overall microbial diversity.

Could this be the answer to how we can live better and thrive in today’s world?

You can learn more about probiotics and bacteria strains in our Learning Lab.

Gut health

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