“The Importance of Probiotics” is a series of three articles on why probiotics support a healthy gut, how to incorporate them into your diet, and a no-nonsense shopping guide. Part I (the following article) explains the basics behind the bacteria.
Pop question: What are probiotics and why are they good for you?
In health and nutrition world, we hear all about the “importance of probiotics.” Yogurt commercials claim their brand is a “good source of probiotics.” Your trainer or blogger tells you to start taking a probiotic for overall health. And Dr. Oz has recorded multiple episodes on the power of probiotics. But very few claims really ever explain why probiotics are good for us beyond “good gut health” and a “healthy gut micro biome.”
Probiotics are live organisms (i.e. bacteria) found in foods and supplements similar to a variety of healthy live organisms (bacteria) that you naturally have in your gut.
Your gut is home to about 100-trillion bacteria (10 times the amount of cells in your body). In addition, about 7 pounds of “you” is composed of bacteria that live in your intestines.
Enter: The NEED for probiotics—an extra dose of healthy bacteria (found in foods and supplements) that help balance out any fermenting, rotting, unhealthy bacteria that is also found in your gut.
The gut “microbiome” is the term that refers to the overall ecosystem in your gut. Essentially, your gut microbiome is the “house” consisting of all your gut bacteria organisms in your body.
Common signs of an “imbalanced gut flora” include: digestive symptoms (IBS, constipation, bloating, GERD, loose stools, stomach cramps), allergies, skin breakouts and acne, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, ADD/ADHD, brain fog, chronic anxiety, low mood, insomnia, chronic fatigue, blood sugar imbalances, crazy PMS and hormonal imbalances, heart disease, cancer, gout, and other inflammatory diseases—just to name a few.
Your gut is the gateway to health. Think about it: Your digestive system is the one system in your entire body that is responsible for delivering nutrients, eradicating bacteria, and supplying every other system’s energy and health needs throughout your lifetime. If your gut is unhealthy or imbalanced—full of rotting, fermenting, unhealthy bacteria from undigested food particles, medications, environmental toxins, GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics—then you can bet your bottom dollar that your health will take a hit.
In short: The healthier and more balanced our gut bacteria in our gut microbiome, the better for our overall health!
This is where probiotics come into play. Also known as the “steel armor” for a healthy gut, probiotics supply your body with a super-punch boost of healthy gut bacteria to help balance your gut flora.
Positives associated with probiotics include: lessened anxiety and low mood, better focus and concentration, regular bowel habits (daily), improved digestion and absorption of nutrients, healthier and clearer skin, lessened gut damage when taking antibiotics, improved immune system and decreased allergies.
The biggest “side” effects from probiotics include healing or die-off reactions typically experienced when introducing probiotics (or a new formula) to your gut. Since probiotics “disrupt” your gut microbiome with healthy bacteria, if you have lots of unhealthy bacteria, there may be a re-shift of these bacteria to welcome in more “good guys.” Increased transit time, loose stools, stomach upset or skin breakouts may be experienced for a short term.
The best sources of probiotics include a variety of probiotics—both in food and supplement forms. I recommend 1-2 capsules of a soil-based organism per day, along with 1 to 2 servings of fermented foods, and a pre-biotic supplement or foods as well.
Prebiotics are starches and fiber (found in foods like green-tipped bananas, plantains, cooked and cooled sweet potatoes and squashes, onions, leeks and powders)—that serve as food for your probiotics.
In fact, pre-biotics are arguably MORE important and necessary because they help your probiotics stick around and increase probiotic counts in your gut. (i.e. Pre-biotics feed your probiotics).
For a long time, we thought that taking probiotics is like putting gas into your car tank—you fill it up and there’s more gas. But it doesn't work that way. Instead, probiotics only serve as “maintainers” or gatekeepers of the “good” gut bacteria that you already have in your body—but they don’t produce more. Prebiotics, on the other hand, do increase the beneficial bacteria because they provide food for those beneficial species in the first place. When you consume prebiotics, you help multiply your probiotics, so you can increase beneficial bacteria over time.