Balance is so important in our lives, but often so hard to find, especially at this busy time of the year. I hope you are taking some time for yourself amid the chaos of the holiday season. This is such a great time to stop and reflect on where you might need more balance, maybe in places you’ve never even considered.
Many of the women I talk to understand how important it is to balance work and fun. They also know how vital physical balance is to daily life, and work on strengthening core muscles to maintain good balance and prevent falls. They even talk about balancing their hormones to keep their mood stable and mind clear.
But I don’t hear many women talking about the keeping the right balance of bacteria in their gut. But just like any imbalance, if your intestinal flora is skewed too heavily towards unhealthy bacteria, dysbiosis results, and it can have a huge impact on not only your gut health, but your overall health as well.
Let’s take a closer look at how, and then I’ll give you some quick tips to help keep your gut balanced so you can stay healthy and enjoy life to its fullest through the holiday season and beyond.
Bacteria Isn’t Always Bad
Most of the time, when people are talking about bacteria it’s because something made them sick. So many of the people I talk to about good bacteria didn’t even know there was such a thing! When I tell them there’s more bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract than cells in their body, they often looked alarmed. But there’s no need to panic!
While some bacteria compromises our system and makes us ill, the flip side is that some is essential to keeping us healthy. This “good” bacteria helps with digestion, absorption, vitamin production, creation of short chain fatty acids to feed intestinal cells, and controlling growth of harmful microorganisms.
What is Dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis is the term used when your system is not in a state of “symbiosis.” Symbiosis means the balance of good and bacteria is ideal. Dysbiosis, on the other hand, means the balance has been tipped by either a drop in good bacteria or an overgrowth of harmful organisms. When intestinal dysbiosis occurs, organisms that shouldn’t be dominating (like “bad” bacteria, yeast, or protozoa) have taken over, and may cause disease.
For optimal health, I believe you must have healthy balance between the organisms that live in your gut. There are more than 400 different organisms working to prevent an overgrowth of any particular one, but a variety of circumstances can tilt that balance, leaving your intestinal flora lopsided. And that can lead to a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms. Let’s look at a few common issues that dysbiosis can cause.
Symptoms of Dysbiosis
Whether you have too many harmful organisms, too few beneficial flora, or SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) where the bacteria has settled in your small intestine rather than your colon where it belongs, even a slight imbalance can cause painful symptoms. These include bloating, belching, a burning sensation, upset stomach, or flatulence after meals; diarrhea or constipation; lower belly pain; or excessive gas.
The trouble doesn’t have to be in your digestive system though. The longer you go in a state of dysbiosis, the more health issues you might be faced with, including leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, hormonal imbalance, joint pain, autoimmune diseases, and weight loss resistance.
Why Does Dysbiosis Occur?
In order to address dysbiosis, it is crucial to understand the underlying cause. In a healthy body, beneficial flora won’t be overtaken by bad bacteria. So what shifts the balance?
Some research shows that the bacteria in your gut is established at a very young age. Some children are more susceptible to imbalance, including those born by C-Section (because they aren’t exposed to bacteria in the birth canal), formula fed infants, or young children who are prescribed a lot of antibiotics. This means that you could have an imbalance that you’ve unknowingly carried around for your whole life.
Another big driver of dysbiosis is the food that we eat. The typical American diet is loaded with processed food and added sugar – none of which promote a healthy digestive system. And the longer we eat these things, the worse the dysbiosis may become, until you can’t help but notice it.
There’s a range of other factors that impact dysbiosis as well, including prescription medications, especially antibiotics, stress and emotional health, food allergies or sensitivities, intestinal infections and parasite infestation. I’m willing to bet that at least one of these factors applies to you, so if you’re dealing with digestive problems, considering dysbiosis just makes sense.
Dealing With Dysbiosis to Balance the Flora in Your Gut
Now that you understand a little more about dysbiosis and how common and complex it is you might be wondering “What next?” The good news is that there are some easy ways to correct dysbiosis – and avoid it in the future. Here are a 5 tips to help you on your way to having a well balanced gut.
1. Don’t Feed the Imbalance
Sugar feeds organisms that wreak havoc in your gut: Harmful bacteria, parasites, yeast and fungi. If you want to get rid of them, you have to starve them. This might mean eliminating all sugar from your diet for a period of time. Starchy foods convert quickly to sugar, so you may need to eliminate those as well. But don’t panic – there are plenty of delicious foods that don’t contain sugar. And if you’re worried about the holidays, just cut back and eat well at least 80% of the time. Even if you indulge, you can get back on track quickly if you remember that holidays are finite — they don’t go on and on for weeks or even months!
2. Eat Plenty of Fiber
Good bacteria feed on fiber, so you want to be sure your diet includes plenty. Fresh, whole foods – including plenty of fiber rich vegetables, are great for boosting the beneficial flora in your gut.
3. Look At All Sides of the Issue
You don’t need to hurry through the process of getting healthy. A slow, steady holistic approach that explores all the angles makes it far more likely that you will sustain your new habits. Don’t forget that past behavior can be a really great clue. Examine what happened when you were young to see if there could be a long term dysbiosis that has never been addressed.
4. Eat Fermented Foods
Boosting the amount of fermented foods in your diet can help maintain a or rebalance your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria. Some good sources are sauerkraut, kefir kimchi, and miso. Kombucha is gaining in popularity, both for the health benefits and because it tastes great!
5. Try a Probiotic Supplement
Sometimes, the good guys need a little help. Taking a high quality probiotic, like my proprietary Biotic Support formula, can give the beneficial flora just the boost it needs. But it’s important that you don’t just choose any old product off the grocery store shelves. To get the right mix, be sure to do your research and find a formula that’s been tested and verified.
Heal Your Gut for a More Balanced Life
It’s so important to remember how essential balance is to all aspects of your life – and that includes gut health. There’s no need to suffer in silence. When you realize that dysbiosis could be hampering your ability to full enjoy your life, you can take action. Making wise food choices and paying attention to your gut health can restore joy to the holiday season – and beyond! You can start by using a good probiotic such as the one we have in the Store.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD