Probiotics: Beneficial To Your Gut
Your gut is tremendously important to how healthy you feel!
The human intestine, part of your gut, actually contains 10 times more bacterial cells than all the other cells that make up a person’s body. There are about 500 different strains of bacteria colonized in your intestines, helping your gut to be responsible for 70-80% of your immunity. The entirety of the bacteria and fungal species in an intestine is also known as “mircoflora” or “gut flora." All the bacteria in your gut flora might actually keep you healthy, but it all depends on the type of bacteria. In this case, we’re talking about beneficial bacteria - probiotics.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics can be thought of as live microorganisms. They are “good bacteria” that line your digestive tract and support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients when consumed in adequate amounts. Probiotics also compete with the “bad bacteria” (that live in the gut as well), fighting to rid the body of pathogens and increasing the host’s immune system. What does all of this mean? That probiotics are like a little army, always fighting off the bad guys and working hard to keep you healthy. Many people are familiar with the idea of taking a probiotic when they are prescribed antibiotics. This is because the antibiotics not only kill off the offending bacteria in the body, but also the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Just a side note; it's a good idea to protect yourself even for a few weeks after the antibiotic prescription is over by putting the beneficial bacteria back into your gut.
What else can compromise the good bacteria in our gut?
More than we probably realize is compromising the good bacteria in our gut. Consumption of antibiotics in foods such as meat and poultry, environmental pollutants, smoking, too much alcohol, coffee, junk food, refined sugars, the overuse of over the counter medications (particularly NSAIDS), and other prescription drugs like proton pump inhibitors, excessive stress, and more. Due to the above dietary and lifestyle habits being fairly common in our society, you begin to see how a compromised gut can be a real thing and why probiotics may be instrumental in the treatment and prevention of many health conditions.
What are the signs that your gut might be compromised?
When the microflora in the intestines are not balanced in the way that they should be, certain health problems arise: recurrent gastroenteritis infections, chronic diarrhea or constipation, gas/bloating, indigestion or maldigestion, flatulence, anxiety or depression, fatigue, candida, eczema, allergies, or even bad breath. This friends, leads us to the many great benefits of probiotics…
Benefits of probiotics.
Probiotic benefits are one of the most widely researched natural solutions to gut health. For years, there has been research on the many benefits of probiotics not just for the gut, but for the entire body. Several researchers believe that probiotics (remember – good gut bacteria) are able to: aid in supporting immune function by destroying harmful bacteria, reduce chronic inflammation, promote healthy digestion while improving gut imbalances, help manufacture certain nutrients such as vitamin B12 and vitamin K, as well as maintain beautiful skin, especially when combined with prebiotics (prebiotics will be another topic covered later).
Where do you find probiotics?
Probiotics are present in fermented foods or supplements. Getting more probiotic-rich foods in your diet is essential to boosting your gut bacteria. Foods that increase beneficial bacteria include:
- dill pickles
- miso soup
- green olives
- sourdough bread
Next time you make a smoothie, you might try to incorporate kefir in this beverage or mixing some sauerkraut to your salad for a little more punch of flavor. By adding more probiotic into your diet on a regular basis, you could see all of the following health benefits:
- Stronger immune system
- Improved digestion
- Increased energy from production of vitamin B12
- Better breath because probiotics destroy candida
- Healthier skin, since probiotics improve eczema and psoriasis
- Reduced cold and flu
- Healing from leaky gut and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
When do you need probiotic supplements?
Day-to-day intake of fermented foods is excellent, however when one is taking an antibiotic or has problematic dietary or lifestyle habits that negatively affect one’s gut flora, a supplement may be needed. Know that combining a probiotic supplement with beneficial bacteria- promoting food is a great idea!
How to pick the best probiotic supplements.
Probiotic supplements come in pill, powder, and chewable form. Some have particular strains of probiotics that address a specific health concern while other probiotic supplements have several strains in one supplement. And some need to be refrigerated and others are shelf-stable. Different types of probiotic supplements may be more appropriate for different people, depending on specific physiology and medical history. It is always best to discuss with your doctor or a registered dietitian before starting any probiotic supplement. When reading a probiotic label, it should reveal the genus, species and strain of the probiotic. The product (usually in capsules) should also give you the colony forming units (CFUs) at the time of manufacturing. Also, the majority of probiotics can die under heat, so knowing if the company had proper storing and cooling of the facility is important too.Below are additional things you want to consider when buying a probiotic supplement: (information below is adapted from Dr. Axe)
- Brand quality — Look for reputable, established supplement brands. Third party verification like Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) by NSF International audits supplements and set high quality standards.
- High CFU count — Purchase a probiotic brand that has a higher number of probiotics, from 15 billion to 100 billion.
- Strain diversity — Search for a probiotic supplement that has 10–30 different strains, unless you are looking for a specific strain on its own for a particular reason.
- Research — Do your homework and look for brands that have strains that support your specific needs.
- Stability — Some probiotic strains need to be kept cold in order to preserve their potency. This applies to their production, transport, storage and sales. Others are shelf-stable, and don’t require refrigeration.
- Date — The fresher, the better, when you’re talking about living organisms.
- Living vs. dead — “Live and active cultures” is a better choice than “made with active cultures.” After fermentation, the product may be heat-treated, which kills off both good and bad bacteria (extending shelf life).
Beneficial Probiotic Strains
These are some of the beneficial bacteria you can expect to see on a high-quality probiotic supplement label:
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bacillus coagulans
- Saccharomyces boulardii
So whether from food, drink, or supplement, the benefits of probiotics are promising! Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions on choosing a quality probiotic or want to know more about probiotics. Also, please email your Health Advisor or me if you are interested in getting a handout that provides a number of probiotic species, their health benefits, and foods sources of that specie. This handout will be available in April.
A few helpful tips:
- Don’t buy yogurt that is excessively sweetened with corn syrup and sugar. The sugars promote the growth of bad bacteria and undo all your good work
- Don’t give up after a few weeks if nothing has changed. Changing the balance of your gut flora is a slow process that can take months
- Certain supplements that have large probiotic combinations at high doses may result in some GI distress like, gas, bloating, or constipation. Should this happen, it is suggested to cut dose in half or take every other day until the body builds up its healthy gut flora.
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– Kari Martinez, MS, RD, LDN
Health Advisor | Email Kari