It seems that gut health is the wellness topic du jour, but the attention it’s received of late shouldn’t mean we underestimate its importance. We take a look at the fascinating world of probiotics and share some gut-loving elixirs you can make at home.
PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS
Probiotic means ‘for life’ (‘pro’ means ‘for’ and ‘biotic’ means ‘relating to life’). Probiotics are the good bacteria that are one of the keys to overall wellness. They add ‘good’ bacteria to your gut to outweigh the ‘bad’ bacteria. Probiotics have a varied role in the digestive system and are able to assist with the manufacture of B vitamins, protect against external toxins and improve the efficiency of the gastrointestinal tract. They also help in boosting the immune system and improve digestion and bowel function.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are indigestible fibre that serve as food for the probiotics in the gut, allowing them to thrive. Naturally prebiotic foods include artichokes, dandelion, garlic, onion, leek, corn and cabbage.
THE GUT: THE CORNERSTONE OF GOOD HEALTH
The gut is the king and queen of the body systems and needs to be nurtured by living probiotics and Nourishing foods to keep it functioning optimally.
In addition to processing and digesting the nutrients from our food, and being responsible for effective elimination, the gut is integral to other vital body functions. It’s home to around 80 per cent of the immune system and is also where many hormones and neurons are made and metabolised. Enzymes and nutrients that are important for vitality are also made and housed in the gut. Pathogens such as bad bacteria and viruses can be overcome with a strong gut, which in turn should lead to fewer illnesses.
Increasing evidence shows that an imbalance of gut bacteria can be implicated in a whole host of diseases and conditions such as asthma, allergies, arthritis and obesity.
Having a robust gut means that nutrients from food are better absorbed and utilised by the body. This leads to glowing skin, stronger hair and nails, and increased energy.
Probiotics contribute to good gut health, which leads to good digestion, good immunity and good emotional wellbeing. The bottom line: if you want excellent overall health, focus on probiotics, good nutrition, the integrity of your gut and moderate daily exercise, and the rest should follow.
THE ROLE OF DIGESTION
Good health begins in the gut. The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is only partly true; ‘you are what you absorb’ would be a more accurate statement. You could eat the most nutritious diet possible, but if your gut microbiota is weak and can’t properly digest and absorb nutrients, it won’t do you much good. That’s why having good digestion is one of the keys to having great overall health, and why improving the function of your digestive system will help improve your wellbeing.
It could be said that digestion actually begins in the mind, with how you feel about foods and drinks and your relationship to eating and drinking.
Physical digestion is the breakdown and absorption of nutrients from food, which starts in the mouth and continues through the gut. If it was laid out end to end, the digestive system would be around nine metres long. We need a regular intake of probiotics to help digest and absorb the nutrients from the food we eat, as well as to increase the number of good bacteria that are essential for good health. Prebiotics also play an important role because they feed the probiotics.
Whether we realise it or not, we damage our digestive system daily, through medications, environmental toxins, food choices and lifestyle. Consuming probiotic drinks is a delicious way to help repair and strengthen the digestive system. The fermentation process that’s used to produce probiotic drinks increases the nutrient profile of the ingredients they contain and makes them much more absorbable.
Your body is made up of trillions of bacteria that live in and on you. The name of this complex and vast group of bacteria is the microbiota. Almost all microbiota live in your gastrointestinal tract. Like fingerprints, every person has his or her own unique microbiota and there are countless strains of bacteria that make up your microbiota. That’s why it’s a good idea to consume a variety of probiotic strains in the form of different fermented foods and drinks to add to this diversity. The ‘microbiome’ is the genetic information contained in the microbiota.
The gut houses around 80 per cent of your immune cells, so it’s a good idea to first work on your gut health in order to enhance your immunity. Think of the immune cells as lab technicians in white coats, interviewing suspects to see whether they are good or bad, and calling in reinforcements if any of the suspects need to be shown the door.
Because the gut is an easy entry point for dangerous pathogens, your digestive system acts as a barrier between you and the outside world. This barrier has a diverse range of gut flora that helps protect against invaders. There is also an intestinal mucus layer that lines the gut, forming another barrier to keep invaders out of your body. Probiotics and prebiotics help to stimulate the production of this mucus layer.
Even if you are generally healthy, taking living probiotics in the form of fermented foods and drinks is an important step in increasing and maintaining the integrity of your gut and therefore boosting your immunity.
Your gut is responsible for around 80 to 90 per cent of the production of serotonin, the amazing feel-good hormone that we all love. This is why the gut is sometimes called ‘the second brain’. When the ‘good’ gut bacteria are overtaken by the ‘bad’ bacteria, serotonin production and other chemical reactions in your body are impeded. You also have around 500 million nerve cells and around 100 million neurons in your intestines, which communicate with your brain via the vagus nerve that connects the brain to the abdomen.
A simple and enjoyable way to consume more probiotic is to create your own kefir at home. Water kefir grains ferment a liquid that’s rich in sugar and minerals, transforming the sugar into a probiotic-rich elixir. It contains different strains of living bacteria and yeasts. When you employ these bacteria and yeasts in a sugar-water factory, they will product a beautifully refined, light and refreshing drinks. Water kefir is easy on the belly and not acidic or strong like kombucha.
Kefir can also be created using coconut water, which contains a naturally high mineral and nutrient content.