Digestion – probably still an unpleasant topic for most people. We should pay much more attention to our intestines, including their busy bacteria and microorganisms.
Not all bacteria in our intestines are beneficial. Some undesirable types of bacteria have a negative effect on the entire microbiome and therefore not only affect our digestion, but our overall well-being. Intestinal flora that is disrupted by factors such as stress or poor nutrition can be seen, among other things, in a weakened immune system, limited defense against pathogens and even in mental health. But let's start from the beginning.
It's not just living conditions that determine the environment in our intestines. The exact composition of the intestinal flora is largely decided before birth. During pregnancy, some useful microbes settle in a baby's intestines and are transmitted via the mother's placenta. These are supplemented by several trillion bacteria at birth. When the child is breastfed, the microbiome continues to build up through breast milk. For this reason, people who were born with a cesarean section or were unable to breastfeed are more likely to have problems with intestinal health. This becomes apparent later in life in the form of allergies or intolerances.
In total, there are around 100 trillion germs in the intestines - and together they weigh up to two kilograms. The beneficial bacteria sometimes produce vital enzymes, vitamins and amino acids and 'filter' pollutants ingested with food. The intestine is therefore the most important organ for the immune system - after all, it regulates around 80 percent of all immune responses in the entire organism.
Anaerobic bacteria such as Bacteroides spp., Bifidobacterium spp., Lactobacillus spp. or Eubacterium are among the health-promoting bacteria. Aerobic bacteria, on the other hand, for example E.Coli or Enterococcus spp. are putrefactive and are usually only found in one percent of the intestinal flora.
The balance of the intestinal flora can quickly become unbalanced. Long-term physical and mental stress, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and even medications such as antibiotics can have a negative impact on the microbiome. Intestinal problems of any kind, such as autoimmune reactions (e.g. psoriasis), a weakened immune system and food intolerances, can result. In addition, an imbalance affects mental health and weight. Among other things, the microbes control the production of important hormones and thus, via the gut-brain axis, neurological processes in the brain.
It must have become clear how important a healthy intestine is for our health. However, it is all the more important to know how to nurture and care for it in order to achieve holistic well-being.
First of all, the triggers of the imbalance should be eliminated as quickly and as best as possible. If you often suffer from psychological stress, it can be helpful to find an outlet to create balance. Whether it's exercise, meditation or special breathing techniques - it's important that the stress reduction method works for you. Feel free to get creative and try it out. Pottery, painting courses or regular massage treatments are just a few examples of how you can plan a regular break. In addition to relieving stress, regular exercise can also do wonders for digestion. It stimulates intestinal movement and promotes the transport of food through the gastrointestinal tract.
It is also recommended to specifically strengthen the intestinal flora after treatment with antibiotics. You will find out which foods are suitable for this in the next section.
Diet has a huge impact on our intestinal health. No wonder, after all, food passes through our entire intestinal tract - every day. Simple sugars, like those found in white flour and refined sugar, can even promote the growth of bad yeast. But sweeteners also disrupt the intestinal flora and inhibit the growth of beneficial bacterial strains. Heavily processed sausage products can also irritate the intestinal mucosa. That's why it's recommended not to eat more than 500 grams of red meat per week. You should also avoid low-quality fat sources such as margarine, lard or mayonnaise and instead use healthy oils such as linseed oil, olive oil or hemp oil.
A varied diet with different, especially regional and seasonal fruits and vegetables is the basis for a happy microbiome. There are also a number of fiber and plant substances that can positively promote the intestinal flora. Foods rich in inulin, pectins and lactic acid bacteria support the growth of benign bacteria.
On the one hand, inulin stimulates the reproduction of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. These in turn can develop special substances that have a beneficial effect on digestion, intestinal mucosa and the pH value in the intestine. Asparagus, salsify, chicory, artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes in particular are rich in natural inulin. However, there are now also special preparations and powders that contain inulin in concentrated form.
Fermented foods containing lactic acid naturally bring lactobacilli into the intestines and also initiate the first digestive process. Sauerkraut, natural yogurt, kombucha, miso and kimchi are valuable sources of probiotics.
Pectin, on the other hand, is a prebiotic that serves as food for intestinal bacteria. It is found under the peel of fruit and vegetables and is particularly well absorbed when grated or pureed. Oats and barley also contain beta-glucans, complex carbohydrates that help form a protective gel that soothes the stomach and intestines.
Spices can also be real intestinal heroes. Turmeric stimulates intestinal juices, ginger has a detoxifying effect. Chili, oregano and thyme have antibacterial active ingredients.
If, for example, the intestine is completely out of balance due to persistent stressful situations or a course of antibiotics, a stool examination can provide relief after unsuccessful therapy with natural additives. Here, the intestinal flora is analyzed in detail in order to analyze possible disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites and to check the composition of the microbiome. A doctor can then make treatment recommendations to specifically rebuild the microbiome with missing bacterial strains.
Sources: Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, Carstens Foundation, German Allergy and Asthma Association, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Institute for Microecology