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Another Reason to Keep Gut Bacteria Happy

By Amy Height

We carry a colony of more than 100 trillion gut bacteria with us at all times. Combined, these organisms weigh roughly five pounds and represent 75 percent of our immune system. They are on our side, fending off pathogens and regulating internal processes from digestion to mood to metabolism. In a well-balanced body, the bacteria happily co-exist without a problem.

But factors like diet, stress and even antibiotics can take a toll on our good bacteria’s ability to defend us, allowing other strains to grow out of control. The results? Skin rashes, genital yeast infections, compromised digestion, nutrient malabsorption, mood disorders and even the development of diabetes and obesity.

Candidiasis, the overgrowth of the bacteria Candida albicans, is one of the most common offenders, signaling that the body could be chemically or nutritionally out of balance. During pregnancy—as fluctuations in hormones alter the pH of the body, particularly in the vaginal canal, and create an ideal environment for yeast growth—there is an increased risk of Candida proliferating.

Yeast that develops in one area of the body can easily migrate elsewhere, showing up in the gut, around or in the mouth and on the skin and nails. When left unchecked, systemic yeast overgrowth can be transferred from mom to baby in utero or during birth. Candida in particular can wreak havoc on the body and has been linked to leaky gut syndrome, hyperactivity, autism and weak digestion in children. In infants, it appears most commonly in its oral form called thrush, a condition characterized by white lesions in the mouth, cracked lips and sores that can be painful enough to impede feeding. Thrush can re-infect a mom, as it is easily transferred during breastfeeding and leads to painful cracking, bleeding and discomfort of the nipples.

Here’s where it gets tricky for expecting women: Common symptoms of Candida in adults—including intense cravings for sweets and carbs (both are Candida’s favorite foods; the yeast can send chemical signals to the brain to ask for more), mood swings, chronic fatigue, indigestion, food reactions, rash-like breakouts and frequent yeast infections—are also commonly found in a normal pregnancies.

Before you panic and assume you have an issue, visit your ob-gyn or primary healthcare provider and request a test for yeast. If the results are positive, there are a number of things you can do to ensure that your own colony of good bacteria thrives and yeast is held at bay. These steps will also strengthen your baby’s internal flora, which provides the cornerstone for his or her immune defenses after birth.

Eat Probiotic Foods

Fermented foods like unsweetened yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi are bacteria-boosting superfoods. They increase our internal population of beneficial bacteria and help break down the other foods we consume.

Eat Prebiotic Foods

Our good bacteria love to fuel up on undigestible (or partially undigestible) foods, such as fibrous veggies and legumes. You should, too.

Limit Foods That Feed Candida

Candida loves sugar, high-fructose tropical fruits, refined grains and simple starches (like pasta and bread). Swap these for more temperate low-sugar, high-fiber fruits (apples, pears, berries, citrus) and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat. It may also be helpful to limit yeast intake—experiment with yeast-free breads and crackers when a carb craving hits.

Take a Probiotic

Look for brands that are triple-encased (so the bacteria survives stomach acid) and have at least 1 billion CFU (colony forming units) of B. longum, B. bifidum, B. breve and B. infantis (or similar) per capsule.

Choose Organic, Whole Foods

Pesticides and synthetic products like artificial sweeteners can interfere with beneficial bacteria’s normal functions. Removing these from your diet will keep your internal ecosystem thriving.

Limit Antibiotics and Antifungals (Unless Prescribed by Your Doctor)

Antibiotics can wipe out good bacteria, offsetting your intestinal balance and leaving you open to yeast overgrowth. Keep them to a minimum if possible.

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition practice aimed at helping women to rebuild a nourishing relationship with food, from pre-pregnancy to pregnancy and beyond. She is an avid home cook and triathlete with a passion for getting messy in the kitchen. When she’s not scouring the farmers market for obscure veggies or incessantly photographing new dishes for her blog, she can be found running in Central Park and taking in as many yoga and HIIT classes as she can. She is also co-founder of the Vive Detox, a whole-life food-based reset to kick-start weight loss and boost immune function. For recipes and more ideas on living vibrantly, visit
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