Gut health is the one of the fastest and most exciting topics of natural health news and research today. Probiotics and the bacteria in our gut are leading the way in new research and treatment options for patients. However, it wasn't that long ago that traditional medicine denied the link between diet and both general health and specific health conditions. Nothing could be further from the truth!
What you eat and how you eat it is one of the biggest determinants of your health and the future genetic health of your offspring.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are specific strains of bacteria that have been shown to have a beneficial effect on human health. The human intestinal tract contains trillions of bacteria cells that have been shown to have an effect on everything from digestion and nutritional absorption to mental health, heart health, and cancers. Some strains seem to be beneficial while others seem to have negative effects. With everything, the balance and ratios between the types are important.
The benefits vary between strains of bacteria. For example, L. Plantarum 299v has been shown to be beneficial for acute GI (gastrointestinal) distress, S. Boulardii helps avoid digestive issues while taking antibiotics, and lactobaccilus rhamnosus HN001 plays a role in brain/mental health. We are just now starting to learn how specific strains relate to specific conditions.
Why is gut bacteria balance important?
A recent study revealed that one course of simple antibiotics for 5 –days has been shown to kill up to 1/3 of the gut microflora with negative side-effects including diarrhea, cramping, bloating, etc. felt up to 2-years! Another study examined C-section vs. vaginal births and infant health and found that infants delivered vaginally had stronger gut microbiomes (gut bacteria balances) and lower incidence of infections and autoimmune conditions.
Were you delivered vaginally or via C-section? Just think, how many times have you been exposed to antibiotics in your lifetime? With high usage of antibiotics and C-section births in our society, many people have poorly balanced digestive tracts and many suffer from a wide-array of health problems as a result.
How can I promote a healthy gut balance?
Kill bad bacteria. Plant good bacteria. Keep good bacteria alive. That's the general idea.
Kill: There are a number of ways to kill-off bacteria in the gut before we "plant" good bacteria. This should ALWAYS be done under the supervision of a qualified health professional.
Plant: Eat fermented foods and take a probiotic. Historically, fermentation was an important means of preserving food absent refrigeration and sanitation. In some ways, fermentation is the opposite of sanitation. With sanitation, the goal is to kill all the bacteria while in fermentation, specific strains of bacteria are encouraged to grow. Fermented foods contain good bacteria which, when eaten, help regulate gut microflora. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, pickles, and kimchii.
Grow: Once the good bacteria are established, we have to keep them healthy. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics, eat plenty of fiber...mostly vegetables (these are called prebiotics),and limit sugar (including alcohol).
Should I Take a Probiotic?
Virtually everyone can benefit from a quality, broad-spectrum probiotic (meaning it contains 5 or more different strains, is from a reputable company, and has a minimum of 10 billion live bacteria). I recommend one to all my patients as a part of their foundational nutrition program. It's also beneficial to rotate between different broad-spectrum probiotics to encourage increased flora diversity. I recommend consulting with a qualified health practitioner with advanced training in nutrition before starting any supplement. Probiotics are considered very safe and most common side-effects include a feeling of bloating and loose stool, generally limited to immediately after starting a probiotic.