Be Good To Your Gut

Tame your tummy troubles — and maybe uncover a tight midsection — with probiotics.

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You’ve undoubtedly seen the word “probiotics” splashed across yogurt labels. Maybe you’ve caught a chipper Jamie Lee Curtis, Activia’s celebrity spokes-person, on TV touting these “friendly bugs” for helping regulate her digestive system. True lies, you think? Turns out, having more probiotics in your system can benefit your health. And when coupled with Oxygen-style training, probiotics can help you build and maintain a rockin’ set of abs. Here’s how.

Underneath It All

Your abs are like the hood of a car. Underneath the hood, you’ll find the engine and other nuts and bolts that keep the car revving and in top shape. Now, imagine the working parts of your intestines (small and large) as your gut. Your gut is a powerhouse of metabolic activity that keeps everything in your body functioning in good order.

The intestine is an active organ teeming with trillions of microscopic bacteria, some of which are probiotics, which serve as a strong fortress of immune defense; others are disease-promoting pathogens (a.k.a. germs) — and both types of bugs are waging a bacterial war inside you every day. “Probiotics keep the peace inside your gut by maintaining an optimal microbial balance and enabling the normal bacteria to function well. Not having enough of the friendly bugs living in the lining of your gut can lead to poor immunity and overall health,” explains Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a physician and registered dietitian in Florida.

Eating gut-friendly fare, such as fermented foods packed with probiotics, like yogurt, kefir and kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), plays a role in fortifying the friendly bugs, like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, in your tummy. There’s another group of friendly bugs you should be aware of, too, called prebiotics, which are found in foods like garlic, wheat, onions and Jerusalem artichokes. Eating prebiotic-rich foods fortifies your army of beneficial bugs and ensures that your immune defenses stay up. It’s a well-established scientific fact, according to the British Journal of Nutrition, that prebiotics benefit the microflora in our guts, as they are gastrointestinal superstars that work to change the composition of your gut’s “ecosystem” by enabling the good bacteria to outnumber the harmful kind.

On the flip side, consuming certain fermentable carbohydrates can further the progression of heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colitis, as well as autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s and celiac disease in predisposed individuals, making it harder for their bodies to digest and metabolize food, and potentially leading to belly bloat.

Some carbohydrates are also poorly absorbed in the intestines of people with sensitive guts, resulting in symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. These fermentable carbs, referred to as “FODMAPs” because they contain fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, include various dairy products, certain fruits and vegetables, beans, and products sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and natural sugar substitutes, such as sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol (found in many protein bars).

The Belly Fat Connection

Can the living landscape of your gut really contribute to a trimmer torso? A recent article in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology has shown that it can — and does. The study found that gut microorganisms help fend off fat accumulation around your waistline because, when indigestible fiber is fermented in your large intestine by masses of these microorganisms, they release energy, as well as fatty acids called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). This microscopic munching has been shown to potentially help enhance energy release and metabolism — all good for promoting efficient use of your food for fuel, which can mean a leaner tummy for you. Along those lines, a study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of fermented milk on the weight and excess abdominal fat of 87 overweight subjects who drank about three-quarters of a cup of milk daily, with or without a strain of lactobacillus. After 12 weeks, the group that drank the probiotic-filled milk had much less belly fat than the other group.

The Brain Link

What’s more, that intuitive “gut feeling” you get when making decisions isn’t hogwash. Research shows that there is a close link between your gut and the emotional centers of your brain, meaning that your stomach is also directly connected to your mental well-being. So, what you eat can either make for a happy you plus a smoothly functioning, sexy stomach, or just the opposite: a cranky you with a noisy, bloated tummy. Be good to your gut!

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