Our entire life is one big balancing act. From the amount of time we put into our work, to the time we put into our homes, our relationships between friends and family and the time that we devote to ourselves. We strive for a near perfect equilibrium because the final result is a healthier and happier version of ourselves that equates to a longer and fulfilling life. This desire for a sense of stability does only extend to our superficial well-being. In fact, at any moment in time a constant battle occurs in your gut to achieve an optimal balance of intestinal micro flora.
Our body is in a constant state of homeostasis or always trying to balance itself out. Examples of our body’s desire to maintain a certain equilibrium are the pH levels of our blood or the constant regulation of our internal body temperature. These balances are essential for our lives, they maintain regularity and function of our bodily systems. Total equilibrium is also a good indicator of our overall health, anyone who has ever suffered from a cold or from food poisoning is more than familiar with the effects of a bodily imbalance. A healthy balance is the perfect harmony of our body and mind, internally and externally.
The intestines are where the most complex balancing acts occurs in your body. Inside your gut exists a mix of bacteria and other microrganisms. These microbes can be both good and bad or “friendly” and “unfriendly”. They exist together in this close knit community in a constant struggle to ensure that a good amount of friendly bacteria overwhelms the amount of unfriendly bacteria. It is essential that the friendly bacteria and yeast maintain a stronghold over its counterparts because they are responsible for the maintenance of good health by strengthening the immune system, protecting the body from the proliferation of “unfriendly” bacteria and by aiding in the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food you consume.
The composition of the bacteria in your intestine is determined at birth. When born, an infant is considered “sterile” because it is devoid of microbes. After your passage from the birth canal you receive your first dose of microbes through your mother’s breast milk. Factors like this and the nutrition received during your infant years determine the exact mix of your intestinal microflora. The beginning stages of your microbe exposure is essential in determining your overall health (well into adulthood), researchers have found that the state of intestinal flora in breast-fed babies were far more superior to that of formula-fed babies. The latter group were found to have malabsorption and food sensitivity as well as a higher change of allergy development and susceptibility to infection.
The balance or composition of bacteria received from birth is pretty much set for the rest of your life. That means that depending on the way you were raised or fed, your bacterial composition is uniquely your own and remains – for the most part – unchanged throughout your life. While it stays unchanged however, the mix in your gut is actually very sensitive to outside, foreign invaders that can attack the system. There are many things that can upset the balance of bacteria in your gut, but there exist two very offending perpetrators that can severely affect the composition of your intestinal microflora.
The first wrongdoer is Antibiotics. Antibiotics or anti-bacterials are wonder drugs that became very popular in the beginning of the twentieth century and to this day has become the miracle of destruction. Antibiotics can be helpful when it comes to bacterial infections, however the major downside to taking these medications is that it holds no prejudice. This means that while it destroys the invading or bad bacteria, it also goes so far as to cleanse your body of good bacteria as well. The loss of good bacteria often results in illness or nasty side effects like involuntary bowel movements and diarrhea. And the worst part is, even after finishing treatment a lot of the good bacteria that was lost often times never recover.
The second offender to the gut is disease causing bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi or parasites. The invasion of any sort of pathogen often results in the proliferation or overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria in the gut. This in turn results in not only the loss of outnumbering of good bacteria, but also the loss of overall health and wellness as well. When the balance of bacteria is upset, this makes the body more susceptible to the negative impacts these harmful pathogens can cause.
There are many other factors that affect the bacterial composition in our gut including stress, diet and nutrition, and external factors such as pollutants or the exposure to chemicals. Anytime we put our intestinal flora in the position where it can be negatively altered, we lose a few friendly bacteria in the long run. The effects of such negative factors should be something that affects us forever – there are ways to combat a bacterial imbalance and restore equilibrium to the gut.
Probiotics are live cultures or microbes that function in a similar fashion to the “friendly” bacteria found in our intestines. Their addition to our bacterial mix help restore balance to our compositions and also stimulate the regrowth and repopulation of friendly bacteria in our bodies. Probiotics exist in a variety of groups, species and strains – similar to the composition in our intestines – the most common and essential being Lactobacillus and Bifdobacterium.
Probiotics are easy to take and obtain. They are available in many foods such as cereals, fermented and unfermented milk, yogurts, soy products, juices and more. They are also available in supplement form as pills or powders. By taking probiotics you can help support your digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients and also inhibit or prevent the overcrowding or infection of pathogenic bacteria.
Balance is not impossible in our busy lives and where it matters the most is not all that complicated to maintain. Homeostasis is the most basic function of our living and even when our body can’t seem to get itself on the right track, we always have the ability to help it along the way.