Learn how beneficial bacteria help ensure more than just optimal digestive health
The beneficial bacteria in your digestive system contribute not just to your digestive health, but your overall health. For example, beneficial bacteria:
- Acidify the colon
- Normalize bowel movements
- Eliminate gas problems and sweeten breath
- Help maintain healthy cholesterol levels
- Help regulate hormone levels
- Aid in the formation of certain vitamins
- Aid in the production of the enzyme lactase
- Bolster the immune system
Beneficial Bacteria Acidify the Colon
A slightly acidic environment inhibits the growth of undesirable bacteria like salmonella (which causes food poisoning), shigella (which causes diarrhea) and E. coli (which can cause intestinal disease and chronic kidney failure). Beneficial bacteria also produce a volatile fatty acid which, along with the acids, makes it difficult for fungus and yeast (like candida) to survive. An ideal pH is between 6.7 and 6.9. (Learn how to measure your bowel's pH.)
Some of the byproducts of beneficial bacteria that help create a healthy acidic environment in the colon are acetic and lactic acids. This is why it's helpful to eat lactic-acid fermented foods in solving digestive problems.
Beneficial Bacteria Normalize Bowel Movements
Beneficial Bacteria Eliminate Gas Problems and Sweeten Your Breath
Bad breath (halitosis) is frequently caused when the wrong bacteria take over in the colon and produce foul smelling waste products and excessive gas. These gases can be expelled through the digestive tract, or they can be reabsorbed into the blood, released in the lungs, and exhaled. All the breath mints in the world won’t correct bad breath caused by a bowel problem.
Beneficial Bacteria Help Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Much of the cholesterol produced by the liver is converted into bile acids, which are stored in the gallbladder and used to help digest fats. Ultimately these acids end up in the colon where they are either destroyed or excreted in bowel movements.
However, people who don't consume an adequate amount of fiber in their diet harbor millions of bacteria in the colon that attack bile acids. These bacteria break the acids down into several substances, including a toxic product called lithocholate—which causes the liver to convert less cholesterol to bile acids. This leads to a couple of serious problems. First, cholesterol begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. Second, the body excretes less cholesterol because it's not made into the bile acid that never reaches the colon. This is especially dangerous because bowel movements are the body’s main method of ridding the body of unwanted cholesterol.
Eating a high-fiber diet alters the type of bacteria in the colon. High-fiber diets promote beneficial bacteria that leave passing bile acids intact. As a result, your body excretes more cholesterol and in effect is "tricked" into creating more bile acids. A high-fiber diet and good bacterial flora can lower blood cholesterol levels and even improve fat digestion.
Beneficial Bacteria Help Regulate Hormone Levels
I could write a book on the relationship between bacterial flora and hormone levels, but it would probably put us both to sleep. I’ll shorten the explanation here, but it's important to understand that there's a connection. (Although the events I'll describe are related to estrogen, a similar process occurs with many other hormones, as well as folic acid, vitamin B12, bile acids, cholesterol, and vitamin D.)
As much as 60 percent of the estrogen circulating in the blood is picked up by the liver and "deactivated." It is then dumped into the gallbladder and later released with bile into the intestines. There, beneficial bacteria "reactivate" the estrogen, and the estrogen is reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
When the bacterial flora is out of balance, the estrogen is neither reactivated nor reabsorbed. Instead, it is lost in the stool. Low estrogen levels have been linked to osteoporosis, PMS, water retention, breast soreness, severe menstrual cramps and heavy flow, slow menstrual cycles, migraine headaches, etc.
Beneficial Bacteria Aid in the Formation of Certain Vitamins
These include vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and the formation of new bone.
Beneficial Bacteria Aid in the Production of the Enzyme Lactase
Our bodies need a sufficient supply of digestive enzymes in order to break down food efficiently and effectively. Lactase is necessary to digest milk and milk products. Without it, an intolerance to dairy products is almost guaranteed.
Beneficial Bacteria Bolster the Immune System
Pathogenic bacteria can enter your digestive system through your nose and mouth, and if they survive the trip through the acids and enzymes of the upper GI tract, they'll find a perfect home in your colon. It's a warm, moist, nutrient-rich environment that lacks oxygen and strong digestive fluids, making it an ideal place for bacteria to grow and flourish.
Without balanced bacteria in your colon, these pathogenic bacteria can gain a true foothold and will then constantly spew their toxic metabolites into your body. This places your immune system in a constant battle just to keep things under control. Having a sufficient population of friendly bacteria in your bowels means your immune system won’t have to work overtime, boosting its overall performance.