Trillions of bacteria live in our digestive system and help keep us healthy. Here’s how to treat them right
Eat more plant-based foods
A varied gut microbiota is associated with better health. To keep the bacteria thriving, you need to feed them well, with as many different plant foods as possible.
Prebiotics are fibres often found in plant foods that we can’t digest, but the bacteria in our gut can. In fact, gut bacteria feed on prebiotics and digest them for us. This can reduce inflammation in the gut and have a protective anti-cancer effect, as well as aiding the absorption of nutrients.
Polyphenols are compounds found in fruit and vegetables, cocoa and drinks such as red wine and tea. As well as being thought to have a general antioxidant function, they may also help your gut by encouraging the growth of ‘good’ bacteria and inhibiting the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria.
Stress — physical or psychological — triggers a chain reaction in the body, including production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can inhibit the growth of some helpful bacteria. It can also affect the movement of food through the gut and result in either constipation or diarrhoea.
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
Antibiotics kill infection-causing bacteria, but they also kill all the other bacteria in your body, including the beneficial ones in your gut. This can increase susceptibility to infections.