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Wodraska: Nurturing gut bacteria key to health

Published September 26, 2013 9:39 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bugs are in the news lately, the kind of bugs everyone should want with them.

Today we're talking about the bugs in your gut, or at least the ones that should be there.

Probiotics have been a popular marketing item in the health food industry for many years. That's for good reason since we need the right flora in ours guts to properly digest food.

However a recent study has added more interest in these friendly critters.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis transplanted intestinal flora from overweight and lean people into mice then started tracking their effects.

The mice who were the recipients of the bacteria from the obese people gained more weight even though they didn't eat more than the mice who received flora from their lean donators.

Researchers then added some of the bacteria from the lean mice into the obese ones. The weight and metabolism of the obese mice improved.

Another interesting find was the "bug swap" wasn't successful when the mice were fed a higher-fat, lower-fiber diet typical of Americans. The bugs needed a low-fat, high-fiber diet for the transplant to work.

One of the researchers, Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, said the findings were in line with others that showed obese people typically have less gut bacteria than lean people do.

Researchers believe there is potential to start combining bacterial concoctions to match a person's diet so the person could take the bacteria in pill form.

While that potential might be an exciting prospect, the value in this study to me is seeing how one's gut health affects the body's overall health.

Key to the bugs' success in establishing their colonies was a good diet. Too often people eat a poor diet and have unhealthy lifestyles then think taking a probiotic or drinking whatever is the latest fad in probiotic drinks is going to make up for their unhealthy food choices.

But this study and others suggest even those temporary fixes don't take.

One needs to take care of their bugs like their pets to have the best overall health.

Feed them well and give them a nice clean environment in which to live, and they'll treat you well, too.

If you ignore them, they are going to suffer.

Unfortunately, most digestive systems are so compromised that many people can't just start eating a better diet to solve the problem. Normally, gut colonies need to be re-established with a good probiotic that has human strains of bacteria in them.

Fecal transplants — yes you read that right — are becoming more and more popular because they are more successful in establishing bacteria since the bugs don't have to survive the upper digestive tract to get to their homes.

But remember, the bacteria will thrive only as well as one takes care of them. Eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fermented foods, which have their own strains of bugs, and healthy fats in fresh foods and not processed sources will all go a long ways in helping the gut flora do their job.

The result will be a happier gut and probably a slimmer you.