I am sure by now you have herd the ultra-trendy word “probiotics” being thrown around by the health and wellness community and the internet in general…But what exactly ARE probiotics? How do they work? Are they actually worth purchasing? Should you be incorporating them into your diet? Often we can be overwhelmed with all the information out there. Not to worry! I am here to help. Today I am going to let you in on the many benefits of probiotics and how they have the ability to influence both your physical and mental health. First, we will go over just HOW probiotics work. Then, how through incorporating them into your diet you can improve your mood, your immune system, your ability to break down food/eliminate waste, and absorb nutrients
WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?
Within our bodies (depending on your size) there are about 2-6 lbs of bacteria – with concentrated amounts in our small intestine and colon. Our digestive system is full of living microorganisms in place to help us break down food and absorb the nutrients within them! Keeping us healthy and balanced. When things are working well here, there is a balance of good and bad bacteria – things are moving through our system well, we feel energized after we eat and our immune system is strong. When this balance gets thrown off by say, antibiotics, dysbiosis, IBS, IBD, leaky gut syndrome, or really any digestive disturbance…the bad bacteria are the ones flourishing. Antibiotics for example work to wipe out ALL bacteria in our body both good and bad. Once the microbiome is wiped out, the bad guys are the ones to grow back most quickly and can easily run the show (the “show” being your overall digestion. Not fun). We want the “good guys” to be the ones primarily digesting our food – this way we get the most out of it.
To sum up, probiotics are: Living microorganisms that replenish our gut with GOOD bacteria to help reset the balance
MOOD & DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Our digestive tract has been dubbed “our second brain” because any changes there have serious effects on the rest of our bodies, especially our mental state. 95% of our serotonin which is our neurotransmitter that allows us to feel feelings of happiness and bliss is created inside of our gut. When bad bacteria (which include things such as yeast and parasites) are the ones primarily running our digestion, we damage the membrane of our GI tract making it more permeable. This can lead to undigested food particles travelling through our bodies, creating inflammation, food sensitivities and many other issues. Inflammation is an imbalance that we definitely feel in our minds. It presents as feelings of fogginess, fatigue, anxiousness… the list goes on and on. Yeast overgrowth (referred to as candidiasis) can actually manifest as ADHD like symptoms as well as depression, fatigue again and many others. These are just a few examples as to how improper digestion affects our mental state.
When the gut is happy, the brain is happy. Scientists have found that certain microbes that live in our GI tract communicate with our brains through our vagus nerve and can help heal and maintain long-term brain health. This demonstrates an actual anatomical connection between our guts and our brains!
HOW PROBIOTICS HELP: YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Good bacteria essentially keep your gut “primed” for any illness that might come your way – ensuring that if an infection or virus comes your way, you are ready to knock it out. Probiotics help keep unhealthy organisms under control by altering the acidity of their environment. Lactic acid bacteria in our guts lower the pH – this produces antibacterial/ antifungal/ antiviral properties in your GI tract! They protect against radiation and pollutants because they crowd out the “bad guys” filling our bodies with beneficial bacteria. They also protect against parasites which can cause a whole slew of digestion and health problems. Finally, they are considered to be “anti-tumor” which really just means anti-growth potential
HOW PROBIOTICS HELP: YOUR BODY BREAK DOWN AND ELIMINATE FOODS
Since our whole digestive system must work together in harmony to break down food and eliminate waste properly, it is important to ensure our GI tract has all the help it needs. If you are suffering with IBS, IBD or any kind of digestive disruption, probiotics help you clear out toxins faster and more efficiently due to helping to better bowel function. Probiotics also help produce digestive enzymes which means the “good guys” are breaking down our food as opposed to bad bacteria fermenting it – which can cause uncomfortable gas and bloating. They also help to detoxify bile and deactivate many toxic chemicals or pollutants we might have ingested. If your stomach acid isn’t killing these bacteria, the probiotics will help to. Further, good bacteria help to control cholesterol levels and obesity because they help digest fat properly and create healthy fatty acids.
HOW PROBIOTICS HELP: YOUR BODY ABSORB MORE
Probiotics help to heal the lining of the intestines, which is where we do almost all of our absorption of nutrients. Good bacteria specifically help you to absorb calcium, magnesium and iron! Bad bacteria can often feed off of iron and instead of helping you absorb it, they use it to grow uncontrollably. Ensuring that iron gets into the right hands in our intestines is crucial for overall health.
As we discussed before, because probiotics help keep an optimal pH in your GI, foods are broken down properly in a slightly acidic environment and the most is absorbed. Lastly, probiotics help you to manufacture B vitamins! This means that we are getting the most out of our food as B vitamins help with energy metabolism. If you’ve ever taken a B complex, you know that feeling of clean-burning energy as opposed to that caffeine jittery high – this clean energy is what probiotics help to stimulate.
SOME GREAT FOOD SOURCES OF PROBIOTICS
Fermented foods contain live microorganisms and billions of strains of good bacteria. Some of my favorite sources of probiotic rich foods are:
o Natto – fermented soybeans
o Apple cider vinegar
HOW TO CHOOSE SUPPLEMENTS
Personally, I never travel without a shelf-stable form of probiotics. When we travel, we are far more susceptible to picking up viruses, bacteria or a number of parasites. Seeing as probiotics work to fight off the bad guys and keep our gut microbiome flourishing, they are a necessary travel buddy to fight off digestive upsets!
If you decide to go with a supplement form, ensure that there are as many strains of bacteria as possible. A therapeutic dose for someone with intestinal issues (such as IBS) or someone who has just finished a round of antibiotics should be at least 80 billion strains of bacteria. For anyone else starting off, I would make sure you are getting at least 25 billion to 50 billion strains of bacteria. This way you ensure you are getting the most out of what you are paying for! Further, make sure to check the labels. We want the probiotics we take to be in a form of bacteria that can actually “Recolonize” our digestive tracts. Bifidobacterium Lactis (also called B. animalis) are strains of bacteria present in animals but are not present in humans. Therefore, while you take the probiotic supplement you will feel a difference but after you stop, the bacteria will leave your digestive tract and no real progress has been made. Some of the best strains of bacteria to look for on the supplement label are:
o Bifidobacterium longum
o Bifidobacterium Infantis
o Bifidobacterium Bifidum
o Bifidobacterium breve
o Lactobaccilus acidophilus
o Streptococcus thermophilus
o Lactobacillus brevis
o Lactobacillus rhamnosus
These strains of bacteria will help to recolonize your gut with good bacteria and ensure that you are training your body back to health – rather than becoming reliant on supplements.
I hope this article has shed some light on just how helpful probiotics can be to our bodies. Eating right is made so much more effective when you can rest assured that you are digesting and absorbing things properly! Our digestive tracts really are our second brain – when filled with good bacteria they help in so many bodily processes. Bacteria in our guts affect and control our energy levels, our happiness, our immune system and our ability to break down and absorb food. I want to be sure that the bacteria in my system are the ones on my side – not those in place to hinder my progress towards health. I hope you all understand a little bit better that these “trendy” supplements actually have value – and that incorporating some probiotic rich foods into your diet can drastically improve your life.