It might be an “out of sight, out of mind” experience. We can’t see the 100 trillion bacteria that live inside our bodies and directly affect our health, so maybe we don’t think about them. We should, however.
To begin with, our bacteria population outweighs our total number of bodily cells by several times. That alone is impressive, but the influence of our bacteria is as well. You see, there’s an actual “food fight” among bacteria that happens to food as it moves through the body. For example, sometimes “bad” bacteria can crowd out “good” bacteria, indulging in nutrients in your intestines, looking for an opportunity to overrun your gut and to harm your health. The truth is that the diversity of bacterial species in your gut can help determine how efficiently your cells process and store food. Likewise, what you eat alters the populations and kinds of bacteria in the gut.
Simply put, it’s either a healthful, symbiotic cycle OR a vicious cycle, depending upon your bacteria population and what you eat.
For instance, one study points out that diet strongly affects human health by modulating gut microbiome (or bacterial) composition by noting that microbiome makeup changes detectably within 24 hours of initiating a high-fat/low-fiber or low fat/high-fiber diet. Again, this can be good or bad, depending on the state of your gut bacteria and the foods you eat.
Another example is that two bacteria dominating the human gut, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, may come into play with obese people. Bacteroidetes amounts are proportionally decreased in obese people compared to lean people, but proportionally increased with weight loss on two types of low-calorie diets. These findings indicate that obesity has a microbial component.
In yet another study, researchers discovered how the typical Western diet containing high amounts of processed and sugary foods adversely changes the mix of bacteria in the intestines, setting the stage for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or colitis. Additionally, gut environments exposed to conventional milk-based fats cause inflammation to rapidly progress.
Scientists are still studying just how microorganisms respond to our diet—the food fight, if you will. What they do know, however, is that our guts are part-microbe, part-human entities which sometimes cooperate with each other or fight against one another.
One thing’s for sure, however: they’re always hungry, and the fight is ongoing.
Additionally, other lifestyle choices can negatively influence your gut bacteria. These include use of antibiotics, chlorinated/fluoridated water, agricultural chemicals, pollution and even antibacterial soap.
Now, here are some things you need to know when it comes to winning this bacterial fight:
The ideal balance between bacteria is about 85 percent “good” and 15 percent “bad.” The truth is that once harmful bacteria rise above the 15 percent mark, they impede the immune system from working properly and can promote disease. They can also adversely influence gene activity and expression as well as the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients.
Your bacteria—good and bad—talk with each other chemically through something called “quorum sensing.” Each bacteria type secretes tiny molecules that allow the bacteria to “count” how many of its own kind exist. This process can also evaluate the strength of competing bacterial colonies, and once these colonies reach critical mass, then the bacteria act as a synchronized group—which will either affect you and your health for better or for worse. For good bacteria, of course, it’s wise to make sure your diet consists of probiotic-rich foods, including fermented and cultured items.
Interestingly, the way bacteria multiply is by consuming nutrients from their environment—primarily the gut. Once they grow to twice their size, bacteria then divide down the middle, creating an army of bacteria—either good or bad—that will determine your health destiny.
All the while, the food you eat plays into the mix. And that’s a food fight you want to win.