By Dr. Somi Igbene
Gut health is getting all the attention in the wellness scene right now, and for a good reason.
Scientists now realise that the composition of the bacteria in your gut can determine how healthy or how ill you are. If you have a lot and enough of the gut-friendly species, you are more likely to thrive, but if you have more of the unfriendly species, you may suffer from a lot of digestive issues and chronic diseases.
The composition of your gut bacteria is determined at birth. The bacteria that colonise your gut if you are born via c-section is different from what you have if you are born vaginally. Breastfeeding also results in a different gut bacterial composition compared to bottle-feeding.
Babies that do not populate enough of the friendly bacteria can end up being very sickly with conditions like rashes, eczema and even asthma.
As you grow older, the food you eat, the drugs you take, the amount of alcohol you drink, and your stress levels also impact your gut microbiome. Your gut flora (bacteria) acts as an organ. They are, in fact, a crucial component of your immune system. They play vital roles in: boosting your immunity, fighting off invading pathogens, impacting how you react to drugs, determining whether you are overweight, underweight or a healthy weight, determining how quickly you age, absorbing nutrients from the food you eat, etc.
The main friendly bacteria species in your gut are the Lactobacilli, which reside mainly in the small intestine, and the bifidobacteria, which live in the colon. These bacteria are not always present in your gut; you have to get them through food.
Even when you get them from food, they only stay in your gut for up to 12 days at a time, so you have to eat foods that contain them regularly to ensure you have a steady supply.
Fermented foods are naturally rich in probiotics. Such foods are usually fermented by culturing them with specific strains of bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Streptococcus and then leaving them to age for long durations. Fermented food like iru and fufu are sources of probiotics.
Supplements are an alternative way to get probiotics in your diet if you cannot easily access fermented foods. Try to choose supplements that contain lactobacilli and bifidobacteria as they are the strains that occur naturally in your gut.
Supplements tend to cause bloating and flatulence if you’re new to them. It may be worth starting with a quarter of the dose recommended and then working your way up as your tolerance increases. If you find that you’re not tolerating them at all, stop taking them and get advice from your physician.