It is becoming fairly well known now that our bodies have approximately the same number of bacterial cells as human ones. Your body is almost like a warzone – all the bacteria are little soldiers fighting to make their colony the largest in the land. If this doesn’t sound like enough of an incentive to look after the bacteria that inhabit your gut, read on to discover how your dietary decisions could be affecting half of your cells!
The bacteria in the gut need food; therefore they are reliant on what we eat to grow their colonies. Different bacteria will thrive off different types of food – one colony may thrive more on fibre, whereas another may thrive more on sugar. Bacteria are very intelligent and will either cause us to crave their favourite foods or cause us to feel down and uneasy until we give them the foods that make them thrive. You can read more about the connection between the gut and the brain here. A more intense consumption of sugar will allow the latter colony to thrive, increasing your sugar cravings and therefore putting you at risk of diabetes.
An example of an organism that thrives off sugar is Candida albican. The good bacteria of the gut generally control this organism, but as soon as it starts to dominate your gut it can produce toxins. When this happens, you might find it hard to get out of bed and suffer from headaches or depression. Preventative measures include ensuring you have the optimal balance of good and bad bacteria and keeping your immune system healthy.
Studies have shown that too much sugar feeds bad bacteria and suppress the good bacteria. While much of the research is preliminary and has only been tested on mice, scientists believe these studies provide clues for what our sugary diets are doing to our bodies. One such study found that feeding mice a diet high in fat and sugar caused a drop in mental and physical function. Simple sugars are easily digested and absorbed by the small intestine, meaning they do not reach the large intestine and colon where our microbes live. These microbes get hungry and nibble on the lining of the gut, allowing food particles to enter the bloodstream. The integrity of our gut lining is pivotal to prevent immune system alerts from foreign molecules such as food, so this disruption results in inflammation and wreaks havoc on your body.
Scientists believe the key to a healthy gut is increasing microbial diversity, as low microbial diversity is more likely to result in the microbes manipulating the host. All you have to do is eat a varied diet that is rich in fibre and good bacteria. Make sure you check your labels to see the amount of sugar you are putting into your body, as you might be counteracting any probiotics you are taking!