We have billions of bacteria in our large intestine. Science is now showing they are fundamental in our health and wellbeing. 

Firm evidence now exists for the many health benefits of our gut bacteria. Also known as our ‘microbiome’ and with a pool of genes far greater than all our own body cells, their numbers are affected by age, illness, medicines, lifestyle and most importantly, our diet.  

But GOOD NEWS! We can alter them with the food we choose!


The first bacteria to colonise our gut come from our mothers during natural birth. Once colonised, a type of carbohydrate in breast milk, oligosaccharide, promotes their multiplication in our gut.


They digest the fibre we eat, by fermentation (a type of carbohydrate which can’t be digested like other carbohydrates in the small intestine), to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) for energy. These and other bacterial products have many health benefits as follows…

 Immune System –  80% of our immune system exists in the wall of our gut. Our gut bacteria provide constant stimulation for it, optimising our immune response to disease.

 Cholesterol – proprionate, a type of SCFA produced by our gut bacteria, reduces cholesterol absorption.

 Food allergy and other autoimmune conditions – gut bacteria promote proteins which maintain the barrier function of the gut, therefore help to limit the absorption of potential allergens.

 Anti-inlammatory – butyrate, another type of SCFA, has anti-inflammatory properties, reducing the risk of bowel disease.

 The ‘Gut-Brain Axis’ – hard to believe perhaps, but of proven existence and very exciting! Our gut bacteria are an essential source of Tryptophan, a protein building -block that we can’t make ourselves but is required to form our ‘happiness hormone’ Serotonin, in the brain. So follow your Gut Feeling – it’s scientifically proven to exist!

 Our gut bacteria have many other health benefits too including weight control, enhanced performance in sport and are also a rich source of anti-oxidants.


It’s important to have as varied a population of bacteria as possible (This tends to decrease in older age as diet becomes less varied). Looking after our gut bacteria is especially important after illness when longer-term antibiotics may have reduced them greatly. The best researched to-date, are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, the latter being especially important in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, or IBS. (look out for them in live yoghurt cultures) Follow these simple steps to boost your bacteria every day!


As our gut bacteria feed off the fibre in our diet, eating a fibre-rich diet full of unprocessed carbohydrates is key – fruit and vegetables, pulses, beans, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. You can read more about fibre here.


These contain large numbers of favourable bacteria and so help to ensure a wide variety present in your gut. Foods like sauerkraut, long ripened cheese, sourdough, olives, live yoghurt, kimchi, probiotics* and kefir (see below) are excellent.


 Just half an hour’s heart-pumping exercise, such as brisk walking, five times weekly is the current recommended amount in adults to promote your future health and  also promotes your gut bacteria.

KEFIR is a fermented yogurt-like drink brimming with good bacteria. Currently the subject of much research due to it’s health-giving properties. Click on the link below to read more about it and enjoy it as an alternative to yogurt!
Kefir is an ancient fermented milk drink originating in Turkey and made by fermenting kefir grain (not a cereal grain, actually a natural collection of bacteria, yeast and enzymes) with cow, sheep or goat milk. It contains billions of favourable bacteria of several different types and its highly fermented state means the lactose in it is already digested to lactate, so even those with dairy intolerance should be fine with small doses.

A good way to boost your gut bacteria if required, especially after illness. The science around these bacteria cultures and their health benefits is convincing. Some are more effective than others at surviving the acid enironment in the stomach and arriving in the large intestine alive and able to multipy. Always choose a liquid based one and take on it’s own before breakfast.


Take 3 cups of oats and soak with 3 cups of water (you can use coconut water if you have for added sweetness). Add 3 tbsps live yogurt (or Kefir). Give it all a good stir and leave out of the fridge overnight for the bacteria to start fermenting the oats. This process allows the good bacteria to proliferate and enhances the absorption of minerals like iron, calcium and zinc as the soaking breaks down phytates in the grain. In the morning either heat up with milk and enjoy as porridge or simply stir in more yogurt and top with fruit and seeds. The Vutamin C in the fruit also ensures good iron absorption.

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Dr Lucy Williamson Msc

I am a freelance registered Nutritionist working in greater London, to inform and inspire better health for all, through Nutrition. I would be delighted to hear from you! You can contact me here.

07966 298 899
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