Your gut is home to somewhere between 300 and 500 different kinds of bacteria. And experts say in and around our body there are anywhere between 10 and 100 trillion microbial cells.
The vast majority of those bugs live in our gut. We call them the microbiome.
When those bacteria are in the proper balance—plenty of probiotics (the good guys) to keep the bad bugs in check—they help you stay healthy.
In fact, in the past few years research has uncovered a staggering number of links between our gut bugs and our health.
A healthy, balanced microbiome can help with everything from managing your weight to maintaining your mental health. While an imbalance in your gut flora can put you at a higher risk for cancer, obesity, arthritis and more.
And now new research has revealed a shocking link between our intestinal bacteria and a major cause of heart attack and stroke.
New study links gut bacteria to atherosclerosis
According to researchers at Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute, unexplained cases of atherosclerosis—hardening and narrowing of the arteries—are associated with higher levels of toxic compounds produced by intestinal bacteria.
In the new experiment, they compared three different groups of volunteers.
- Folks with expected amounts of plaque with normal risk factors
- People who seemed protected with high risk factors, but normal arteries
- And a group with unexplained atherosclerosis with no risk factors
And they found group three, with the unexplained hardening of their arteries, had sky high levels of certain toxic metabolites created by “bad” gut bugs.
After they eliminated factors such as kidney function, the scientists concluded the differences in the volunteer’s microbiomes were the most likely culprit.
In other words, we may be able to reduce our risk for heart disease—and those deadly strokes and heart attacks—simply by using probiotics.
But atherosclerosis isn’t the only disease probiotics may help you avoid. Following are four more microbiome-linked diseases which good bacteria could help reduce your risk for.
Experts say having too many bad bacteria in the belly is associated with obesity, raising your risk for diabetes. Plus research has revealed a connection between elevated blood sugar and gut bacteria.
Several studies have linked an unbalanced microbiome to high blood sugar levels and the risk for type 2 diabetes. In fact, researchers have even been able to trigger diabetes in lab mice simply by introducing unhealthy gut bacteria to their digestive tracts.
Research has found a link between gut bacteria and cancer as well.
For example, Colorado State University scientists found colon cancer patients have low levels of the good bacteria which produce butyrate. This compound is essential for a healthy colon.
Other researchers found colon cancer patients have significantly less of the good bugs which naturally fight tumors.
3. Rheumatoid arthritis:
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. When you have the condition, your body’s immune system goes haywire, turning on itself and destroying healthy cells and tissues. And it turns out the bacteria in our intestines could play a role in some cases of the disease.
Experts say that 80 percent of our immune system is located in the digestive tract. And when our gut bugs are knocked out of balance communication between the bacteria and your immune system breaks down. The result is the kind of inflammation that can cause your immune system to start misfiring.
But when the gut gets repopulated with probiotics, inflammation goes down and autoimmune symptoms drop right along with it.
It turns out what’s going on in your gut could have a big impact on what’s going on in your brain. Animal studies have revealed a link between probiotics and mental health. And the connection is so strong researchers often refer to our microbiome as our second brain.
In one randomized, placebo-controlled study supplementing with probiotics for eight weeks significantly slashed symptoms in a group of volunteers suffering from major depression. Probiotics could do the same for you.
Balance your microbiome with good gut bacteria
Feed your own microbiome with plenty or prebiotic foods such as green bananas, onions, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics, which destroy good bacteria right along with the bad. And include more fermented probiotic foods in your diet such as Greek yogurt and kefir.
And consider taking a probiotic supplement too. Look for one from a manufacturer you trust which has a variety of good bugs. Preferably one that has, at the very least, a strain or two of lactobacillus, and a strain or two of Bifidobacterium.
And the higher the colony forming units, or CFUs, the better. Pick one with at least 3 billion CFUs if possible.