Healthy Balance of Gut Bacteria Can Make a Difference in Someone’s Health

MASON, Ohio (December 11, 2017) – Those who are experiencing health symptoms they just can’t explain may want to do a gut check.

The body’s small and large intestines play host to millions of strains of bacteria each and every day. A good portion of this bacteria is good and helps the body’s immune system to stay in check. Other bacteria can cause illnesses.

A healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut can play a vital role in a person’s health – ongoing research most recently pointing to its association with rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, inflammatory disease and heart disease, according to Harvard Medical School.

There is no specific test that can tell a person if they have the right balance of good and bad bacteria in their gut, but there are telltale signs that can act as a starting point, according to Marcus Washington, MD, a primary care physician with Premier Health Family Medicine in Mason.

“The bacteria that resides in our gut plays a major role in our immune system, our digestion, and, of course, our stooling,” said Dr. Washington, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “You can tell if you have had a change in your gut bacteria if you start seeing things like diarrhea or constipation, which isn’t normal. You’ll also see an increase in susceptibility to stomach viruses.”

A classic example of how bacterial changes can lead to these symptoms is when a person takes antibiotics

“Antibiotics kill indiscriminately. Meaning any bacteria – good or bad – is killed by the medication,” Dr. Washington said. “What happens is someone gets a sinus infection and they take an antibiotic that causes them to lose gut flora. It’s killed, and when we have that change, diarrhea will often be a symptom of that.”

The loss of gut bacteria, or flora, is just another reason people should be careful of how and when antibiotics are consumed. Dr. Washington encourages individuals to only take antibiotics when a physician prescribes it for an infection that is caused by a bacteria – not a virus.

The right diet is another way to maintain healthy gut flora. Too much alcohol can have a negative impact on good gut bacteria while highly fermented foods – such as sauerkraut – can have a positive impact. Yogurt can contain strains of good bacteria, but Dr. Washington warns against putting too much stock in its impact.

“Things like yogurt don’t do as well replacing your gut bacteria because it has to pass through your stomach, which has the ability to break it down before it enters the intestines,” he said.

Probiotic supplements are an option that provide some people relief from symptoms of gut bacteria imbalance. Probiotics contain multiple strains of bacteria that are healthy for the gut. Research on probiotics is ongoing, but Dr. Washington said there is enough evidence to suggest that they work. Still, individuals should keep the following in mind in order to purchase the right probiotic, and always first check with a health care provider. 

  • Look at the strains – Make sure the strains included in the probiotic have been evidenced to help gut flora. The lactobacillus and bifido strains are among those to be found to help. 
  • Consider the coating – Make sure the probiotic has a coating that will allow it to pass through stomach acid without being broken down. The label should indicate that it has an enteric coating.
  • See if it’s shelf stable – Make sure it doesn’t require refrigeration in order to be effective. This makes it easier to store and take especially when you are away from home. 
  • Mind your budget – There are many brands of probiotics on the market. Don’t assume cost means one is more effective over another. Look at three or four brands that are in your budget and choose the one that meets the previously listed suggestions.

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