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The Bugs in Your Belly

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Are Your Gut Bacteria Healthy? - www.ohlardy.com

As I have said previously, I just completed the Certified Healing Foods Specialist course from Immunitrition in September.  The course was packed full of great information that I can not wait to share with all of you.

I am going to start a series on the importance of maintaining the balance of bacteria in our gut and the benefits of probiotic foods.  I think this should be very informative and I will include a few tutorials, recipes, sources, maybe even a video or 2 as the series goes on!

In order to understand why we need to be eating probiotic foods and, possibly, taking a probiotic supplement, we need to understand how bacteria work in our digestive tracts.

Did you know that we are covered inside and out with bugs…mainly bacteria but also some yeasts, parasites and fungi????  Yikes!  Sounds crazy, huh?  Well, these ‘bugs' interact with our body in ways that are important for our health and survival.

Our digestive tracts or ‘gut' (the path from the mouth to the anus…I always wondered exactly what the ‘gut' is…there you go) houses most of these ‘bugs' (or microbiota).  Keeping a healthy, non-damaged gut lining is crucial for all aspects of our health.

Some interesting facts about our gut bacteria or microbiota:

  • Our body contains more than 100 trillion bacteria.  That is more than 10 times the number of human cells you have in your body (1, 2, 7)!  You could say we are more bacteria than human! 🙂
  • 80% of our immune system is in our gut; a healthy gut = a healthy immune system (2, 5, 15).
  • Our gut is also considered to be our ‘second brain'. The gut has more neurotransmitters and produces more serotonin than our brain (1, 2, 4) and the balance of intestinal ‘bugs' are thought to have important effects on mental health (2).
  • Our gut is responsible for getting rid of toxins that our liver dumps in via bile (1) and our gut must break down and help us absorb all the food and nutrients we eat (7).
  • Our gut contains between 2 1/2 to 4 pounds of bacteria at any given time (1, 5, 6). (WOW!)
  • There are hundreds of different species with new ones being discovered each day.
  • These bacteria are comprised of both ‘good' or ‘probiotic' bacteria (such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium) and ‘bad' or ‘pathogenic' bacteria.
  • For our gut to be in proper balance, the ratio of bacteria should be approximately 80% good guys to 20% bad guys.  The good guys help keep the bad guys in check (2, 7).
Researchers are beginning to realize how important the bacteria in our gut are for our health.
Right now, science is mapping the microbes in our body the same way they mapped the human genome in the Human Microbiome Project.  They are trying to catalogue all the bacteria inhabitants in the human body (3, 8, 13).  Hopefully once they are mapped, they can start to figure out some correlations between the bacteria and their effects on human health.

Now we know that we have a lot of bacteria, both good and bad, in our gut.  Why are good bacteria important for our bodies?  They are responsible for numerous activities and interactions within our bodies.  Here is just a short list.

What your good gut bacteria are responsible for?

  • Digesting food (1, 7, 15)
  • producing vitamins (particularly b and k) (6, 7)
  • regulating hormones (6)
  • getting rid of toxins (6)
  • producing healing compounds (6)
  • maintaining a healthy immune system (2, 6, 15)
  • creating end stage digestive enzymes that help you absorb nutrients (6, 7)
  • balancing intestinal ph (6)
  • crowding out invading pathogens (6, 15)
  • improving bowel transit time (6)
  • protecting intestinal walls (6, 15)
  • increasing absorption of nutrients (6, 15)
  • supporting the cardiovascular system (6)
  • and preventing yeast and fungal infections (6, 15)

Whew, that's a lot of things for good bacteria to help with in our gut!

Unfortunately, very few of us have balanced gut bacteria, which means our good guys can't do all the work they are supposed to be doing!  How does your gut get imbalanced? Take a look at this list and see if any of these things apply to you:

How your gut can get imbalanced:

  • Eating a low fiber, high sugar, processed food, nutrient poor diet (i.e. SAD), which makes the wrong bacteria and yeast grow (1, 2, 6, 15).  Does this diet sound familiar?  It's the diet of the majority of Americans.
  • Overuse of medications that damage the bacteria…particularly antibiotics, either taking them as a medicine or ingesting them by eating conventional meat and dairy (1, 2, 6, 7, 15).  80% of antibiotics sold in this country go to our animals (16).  If you are not eating organic meat/dairy, or seeking out grass fed, pastured animals that are treated minimally with antibiotics, you are, without a doubt, consuming antibiotics every single day without even realizing it.
  • Chronic low grade infections and toxins such as mercury and mold (1)
  • Lack of digestive enzyme function (1)
  • Delivering a child by c-section.  The infant misses the ‘microbial bath' from the birth canal (3)
  • Replacing breast milk with formula and other foods (15)
  • Drinking chlorinated/fluoridated water (2, 6)
  • Using antibacterial soaps, hand gels, etc.  (2)
  • Exposure to pollution and to chemicals and pesticides on food (2, 6, 15)
  • and, of course, stress (2, 6, 15)

Do any of the above apply to you?  My guess is, they apply to most everyone!  Everyone's gut is probably not within the appropriate bacterial balance.

Why does this matter?  The length of your gut is protected by a bacteria layer.  When this layer gets damaged, opportunistic pathogenic bacteria and yeasts can grow, the lining becomes damaged and our body has a difficult time absorbing nutrients, allowing us to become malnourished (15).

Ever hear of ‘leaky gut'?  This seems to be a phenomenon right now.  We can ‘heal and seal' (15) our gut!  We need to get the balance of our bacteria in check so our intestinal linings can heal!)  When our gut microbiota/bacteria get imbalanced, our health can suffer in a variety of ways.

Researchers are linking gut bacteria imbalance to numerous things, including:

  • celiac disease, leaky gut, gluten intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (2, 7, 15)
  • insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome (2)
  • eczema and dermatitis (2)
  • psychological disorders, especially depression (2, 7, 15)
  • colds, influenza (2)
  • liver disease (2)
  • herpes (2)
  • chronic fatigue (2)
  • acne (2)
  • gas and bloating (2, 7)
  • nausea, constipation and diarrhea (2, 7)
  • headaches (2)
  • sugar cravings (2)
  • food allergies (2)
  • chronic ear, urinary and yeast infections (7)
  • chronic halitosis (7)
  • Chron's disease (7, 14)
  • autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and MS, juvenile diabetes (9, 10)
  • ADD, ADHD, Autism (3, 7, 11, 12, 15)

Wow!  And, this isn't even a complete list!!!!  So…what can you do about this information?  You see how gut bacteria are so important to our health and wellness.  It is our responsibility to maintain and nourish our microbiota.  This is hard to do with a SAD diet full of fake foods.

How can you ensure that your gut microbiota is properly balanced?

  • Try an elimination diet.  Cut out gluten, dairy, yeast, corn, soy and eggs for a few weeks and see how you feel (1).
  • Treat infections and overgrowths (see a good nutritionist, naturopath, functional medicine doctor, integrative medical doctor)
  • Take digestive enzymes and probiotics (1, 7)
  • Increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids (1)
  • Reduce exposure to chlorinated water (7).  Buy a filter for your showers.  Drink filtered water.
  • Try to go organic…avoid foods heavily sprayed with pesticides, insecticides, fungicides (7)

And two that I consider to be the MOST IMPORTANT:

  • Eat whole, unprocessed foods with plenty of fiber (1, 2, 7).  (Sound familiar?  Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not A Lot…Thank you, Michael Pollan!).  This will help the beneficial gut bacteria to flourish.  Eating REAL FOOD will help you balance your gut.  Get rid of the processed garbage!  Choose more nourishing ingredients, read labels and source better quality food!
  • Eat fermented or cultured foods, such as sauerkraut, yogurt, dilly carrots, beet kvass and more.  A probiotic supplement may contain 10 billion units of bacteria but a serving of fermented food can have 10 trillion units (3).  One small serving of cultured veggies, can be worth the cost of an entire bottle of probiotics!!!

The next several posts within this series are going to be about the history of fermentation or culturing of foods, how to culture foods yourself and how you can incorporate probiotic foods into your diet which will help you to balance your gut bacteria.

If you would like to get more information on the importance of maintaining a healthy bacterial balance in your gut, if you are suffering from one of the issues listed above (or you have children who are suffering) and are interested in learning how to ‘heal and seal' your gut, I strongly encourage you to get the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD.

Do you ever think about the microbiota in your gut?  Do you take probiotics or eat cultured food yet?  Would love to hear about your experiences!

Pin It!

Are Your Gut Bacteria Healthy? - www.ohlardy.com

If you want more information about fermentation, ‘good' bacteria, and the health of your ‘gut', check out my other posts in this series:

The Science and History of Culturing Foods

What You Need to Culture Fruits and Vegetables at Home

Lacto-Fermented Berries

Lacto-fermented Pineapple Papaya Chutney, a delicious digestive aid

10 Uses for Fermented Foods (and an easy recipe)


1. http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/04/28/ultrawellness-lesson-4-gut-digestive-health/
2. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/24/one-of-the-most-important-steps-you-can-take-to-improve-your-health.aspx
3.  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/06/27/probiotics-gut-health-impact.aspx
4. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/03/18/mcbride-and-barringer-interview.aspx
5.  Cultivate From Within by Khem Shahani, Ph.D.
6. Immunitrition
7. The Power of Probiotics by Caroline Barringer
8. Microbiome project
9. http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2012-rst/6933.html
10. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/335561/title/Gut_bacteria_linked_to_MS
11. http://realfoodforager.com/gut-bacteria-found-in-autistic-children-is-different/
12. http://jmm.sgmjournals.org/content/54/10/987.short
13. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/science/studies-of-human-microbiome-yield-new-insights.html?pagewanted=all
14. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081114185942.htm
15.  Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD
16. http://blogs.prevention.com/inspired-bites/tag/antibiotics/


  1. I was just having this conversation with a friend! I am starting to take
    a probiotic again as I believe my system is so out of whack. I experience a lot of the symptoms above. However, when I take the supplement I get horrible heartburn. How would you explain that? Someone told me that is a sign that I am imbalanced and that is the “bad flora” fighting back. What do you think? Have you heard of that before? Keep up the good work! Loving all the info. 🙂

    1. I think that it’s probably die off too. Try taking a smaller amount , maybe even as small as 1/4 of a capsule, and slowly work up to a full capsule.

  2. Thanks for sharing! My family has been on the GAPS diet to heal leaky guts in a few of our family members for the last year. I’ve made several fermented food recipes from your website and I’ve learned a lot from your articles about fermentation. I also appreciate that you cite sources to back up what you’re saying.

  3. This is a very timely and helpful post! I was just saying to a friend today that I dont know how much beneficial bacteria is in fermented foods. I dont know exactly how much/often each day I should eat them to help heal my leaky gut(almost 5 years of battling this!), I have a pretty bad case and although I am definitely making progress, I wonder if I should take a pro biotic along with the fermented veggies. Or are the veggies enough? Im still losing weight and my hair is still shedding more than it should(although way improved!) I thinking at this point I should amp up the healing process a bit more. I am concerned about the constant inflammation this condition causes and its been going on a long time. I am so appreciative of you sharing this information with us. Thanks!

      1. Thank you Tamara, I have been looking into one now, that I like, Young Living Life 5. A friend has used it with great success. I have been doing the bone broth for a couple of months now(daily) and started using fermented foods with each meal about a month ago. Still want to know how much natural probiotics are in the fermented foods and how much is a healthy amount. But I figured it was time to add in a supplement. Thanks! 🙂

  4. Love your article! My husband and I have been doing the Page Food Plan for 5 weeks and are seeing great results. Essentially it is protein, non-starchy veggies and nuts and seeds. We love it. However, my mother in law is doing the same thing and has seen little change in her symptoms (Candida, extreme headaches, sleeplessness, IBS.) She has been taking a whole foods anti fungal and pre and probiotics. Any thoughts on this? I am at my wits end with advice for her.

  5. I suffered with acid reflux for more than 15 years. Sadly, having this information would have led to a speedy recovery. Instead, I have been on acid blockers which caused a whole host of negative side effects! Thinking back, your comments regarding high sugar diets for Americans is spot on. In college, I had some pretty bad habits including drinking gallons of Koolaid. I distinctly remember the first time I had a reflux cough after drinking one. I unwittingly set this whole saga in motion. Super appreciative of you and others who are getting this important information out there so the general public are more informed regarding their health conditions and steps they can take to get back on track!

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