Usually, we don’t pay much attention to our intestinal health until we experience some discomfort that requires a visit to the doctor or a prescription. Since we often focus only on weight and fat loss, we overlook other key factors that are important for our well-being. Several studies have shown that one-third of the world’s population suffers from digestive disorders, such as abdominal distension, constipation or diarrhea.
What you need to know about intestinal flora
The microbial ecosystem of the intestine contains native species that permanently colonize the gastrointestinal tract, along with a variable series of living microorganisms that temporarily travel through the digestive tract.
Native bacteria are birth-acquired (through the birth canal) and during the first year of life (breastfeeding), while temporary bacteria are continuously ingested through food and drinks, to mention a few.
The intestinal microbiota, also known as ‘intestinal flora’, are the community of living microorganisms in a particular ecosystem made up of all these bacteria and about 100 billion microorganisms – that is more than 10 times the number of cells found throughout the body.
The intestinal microbiota and its primary functions
• Helps with nutrition and metabolism of nutrients: some of the biochemical activities of the intestinal microbiota include energy recovery, vitamin production and the absorption of iron and calcium in the colon
• Protection: it helps prevent the invasion of infectious agents or the overgrowth of potentially pathogenic species
In 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when used in the correct amount, are beneficial to the health of the consumer.”
However, the microorganisms that inhabit our body are not the only ways to take good care of our intestinal health.
Ways to improve digestive health
1. Eat fiber: fiber helps digestion by adding volume and consistency to the food we eat until it breaks down and leaves the body through a bowel movement. You should consume at least 30 to 40 g of fiber a day.
2. Drink plenty of fluids: as mentioned above, fiber helps digestion, but this can’t be done without the help of fluids. It is important to drink the recommended eight glasses of water per day. Tea is a good option as well.
3. Avoid processed foods: reduce your consumption of convenience foods, such as frozen dinners, chips, cookies, candy, etc. They often contain large amounts of saturated fats, salt and preservatives.
4. Never eat in a rush: remember that digestion starts in the mouth, with correct chewing. Relax, take your time to eat slowly and enjoy each bite.
5. Get enough exercise: we recommend exercising at least 30 minutes each day. Exercise improves digestion and can boost metabolism.
By Alberto Molás, M.D. and Member of Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board
About the Author
Mario Alberto Molás Ramírez is a member of The Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board (NAB). Alberto Molás has worked as Head of Sports Nutrition at the Mexican soccer team, Club Atlas, F.C.; Head for Weight Control of active military in the Regional Military Hospital of Guadalajara; and doctor at the Health Secretariat of Jalisco. He has taught courses about “The Importance of Nutritional Supplements During Pregnancy”, “Myths and Realities Of Nutritional Supplements”, and “Healthy Diet And Sports Activity”, among others.