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Can You Increase the Good Bacteria in Your Intestines?

Normal intestinal bacteria are so numerous that you have far more bacteria than the total number of cells in your body. The "good bacteria" in your intestines help to prevent bad bacteria from infecting you, and may help to prevent intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and cancers.

When you eat, enzymes from your intestines, stomach, liver and pancreas break down your food into its building blocks that can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars; proteins into amino acids; and fats into glycerol, fatty acids and monoglycerides. However, many foods contain undigestible starches that cannot be broken down into sugars, so they cannot be absorbed in the upper intestinal tract. When they reach the colon, bacteria ferment these undigestible starches to form other chemicals including short chain fatty acids that protect your intestinal lining from irritation and cancer, and are absorbed into your bloodstream to lower cholesterol and prevent heart tacks. Some of these "good" bacteria, such a lactobacillus, are used to ferment and preserve some foods made from milk or plants. Eating live-culture yogurt may help you maintain or increase the number of good bacteria you have in your gut. Not all yogurt contains live bacteria; read the label to make sure yours is "active."  Various "probiotics" are marketed to help grow healthful gut bacteria; see Probiotics and Prebiotics.

However, the best way to assure that you have a high number of beneficial bacteria in your colon is to eat plenty of plants.  What you eat determines the types of bacteria that grow in your colon. See How Soluble Fiber Promotes Good Gut Bacteria and Anti-Inflammatory and Pro-Inflammatory Foods.  Eating plenty of foods that contain soluble fiber helps the good bacteria to overgrow the bad ones by depriving them of oxygen. Soluble fiber is found in varying amounts in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and other edible seeds.This helps to explain why your health and freedom from disease depend to a large degree on what you eat.   
Checked 9/22/18

May 30th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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