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The Forgotten Organ

Forgotten Organ - Pro:Kinesis Personal Training, High WycombeNot the Heart, Liver or Kidneys, but without it you would still die… Microbiota.

We are all clearly aware of how important our vital organs are (heart, brain, liver and kidneys etc) when it comes to our health, and so we naturally tend to think about how we can improve their functions, but there is what scientists are calling ‘The Forgotten Organ’, whose health and function is just as important to you as your vital organs.

Microbiota is a complex community of micro-organism species that live in the digestive tract of all humans and animals. We carry around 100 trillion micro-organisms, made up of over 10,000 different species, some of which are common to all of us, and some of which are as unique as our fingerprints. Our bodies need a good microbiota because it performs so many crucial jobs. One simple example is its importance for helping ferment and absorb undigested carbohydrates, but even more amazing is its complex ability to influence your metabolism and immune system. Critically it provides signals to your body to grow fighter immune cells which seek out and help destroy harmful or foreign organisms. A loss of balance in your microbiota therefore prevents your immune system from functioning at its best, increasing the risk of infection and disease.

Ideally we should work on limiting the things that harm our microbiota, i.e. excess alcohol, too much sugar and fat, smoking, high stress levels, low carbohydrate diets, insufficient sleep and a lack of fibre in our diets. Additionally, and especially at this time of year, lots of people become sick and are given antibiotics to help kill off infections caused by harmful bacteria, but the downside is that those same antibiotics also kill off many of the good bacteria living in our guts, which can lead to the reduced ability of our bodies to fight off further disease. We should therefore only use antibiotics where our body hasn’t been able to fight off an infection itself and is absolutely necessary  .

It is also important to try to feed the existing or remaining microbiota by eating a diet rich with live bacteria, and help it recover or add to a depleted microbiome. You may have heard of the terms ‘probiotics’ and ‘prebiotics’, but weren’t sure what they are or more precisely what they do.

– Probiotics is a phrase used to describe live bacteria cultures that add to the existing gut microbes, i.e. specific ‘good’ micro-organisms that can be ingested to improve the variety and quantity of organisms in the gut. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are just two common examples widely used in probiotic labelled foods.

– Prebiotics is a phrase used for labelling up non-digestible carbohydrates, such as inulin and fructo-oligo-saccharides, that can be consumed by humans, and which are designed to feed the gut bacteria already present, promoting both its activity and the growth of the microbiota itself.

We can make sure that we look after our microbiota by consuming foods rich in either probiotics or prebiotics; such as dark chocolate, live yoghurt, fruit, vegetables (like chicory, artichoke, peas and green leafy veg), green tea, oats, wheat, beans, honey and pickled foods. Or exposing ourselves to ‘germs’ from being around dogs, cats and general outdoor dirt, which helps develop and improve the variety of bacteria in our microbiota.

The result is an amazing symbiotic relationship; look after your microbiota, and you will help it look after you.