“Probiotics” seems to be the buzz word these days, the thing we all lack in our gut and should supplement with in order to feel better from a whole host of ailments.
Truth or Hype? Let’s take a closer look.
Probiotics is a general term that refers to a long list of beneficial and “friendly” bacteria, literally meaning “for life”. Yes, not all bacteria need to be annihilated with disinfectant sprays and gels.
Certain vital bacteria are in fact health-enhancing, and essential for our survival!
They play a key role in ensuring we have a healthy environment inside our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, sometimes referred to as healthy intestinal flora. If our GI tract does not function well, it will affect every single cell in our body.
The GI tract is where we are able to digest and absorb the nutrients we get from our food, it is where our immune system kicks in and it is also the place where our body can regulate systemic inflammation and kill harmful pathogens.
If our GI tract is dysfunctional, our entire bodies become affected.
These healthy bacteria, of which there are many different strains, do not permanently stay in our gut, we need to regularly replenish them. We can do this by regularly eating probiotic-rich foods or by taking supplements thereby consistently re-populating our gut. This is essential to address any imbalance that may have been caused by an illness, prescription medications like anti-biotics, poor nutritional habits, age, or even stress.
In order to produce probiotic-rich food, such as yoghurt, lactic-acid producing BACTERIA are added in a process called fermentation or culturing. L.plantarum, a highly soothing strain, is responsible for the sour vegetables such as sauerkraut.
Miso paste, made from fermenting soy beans, contains a host of different strains which have been shown to counteract the food poisoning effects of E.coli bacteria. Want to make a quick miso soup? Boil some water, add 1-3 teaspoons of miso paste, and voila! The quickest and healthiest cup-a-soup around!
Tamari (wheat-free) or Shoyu, both types of soy sauce, are also a fermented product.
Quick Tip: In the US Tamari and Shoyu are often not made from fermentation but rather by adding inorganic acids that break down the soy beans, without the beneficial effect of fermentation.
Pro-biotic-rich food include
kefir, cottage cheese, kimchi, kombucha, raw apple cider vinegar, traditionally-made sourdough breads, tempeh (a type of soy bean curd), wheatgrass juice and wine
The shelves are stacked with all sizes, colors and quantities you can imagine! There are numerous probiotic supplements on the market, but they can all be vastly different in quality. So how do you know which one is a) the right one for you and b) good quality? I’ve got you covered, here are some tips:
- The two most important groups of healthy bacteria are the Lactobacilli and You want your supplement to contain both groups unless you are buying one for a very specific purpose, for example for chronic diarrhea you would want to choose one that only has Saccharomyces boulardii, which is actually a beneficial yeast.
- Know which brands to buy! Some brands may not actually have all the strains listed on the label! You want to choose a brand that bases their bacterial strains on solid research when applied in a clinical setting, meaning they have proven effective when used for certain health conditions. Even the same strains can be of differing quality depending on where they were sourced. You want to see a batch number and an expiration date. Some even have a set of letters behind the strain name, thus personalizing and at the same time guaranteeing their strain.
- How many billion organisms, or CFUs – colony forming units – are best? Firstly what is really important is that they are living and functional organisms that are able to get to the gut, past the acidic stomach and bile, to settle in the lining of the gut walls and colonize there.
- Secondly are you needing a daily maintenance (1 billion to 30 billion) dose or a therapeutic dose (up to 100 billion or more), and your practitioner or nutritionist will be able to guide you here. Sometimes you may need a condition-specific dosage or strain.
- I recommend the refrigerated kind, but you do find some viable shelf-stable ones, it depends on the manufacturer.
- If you are unfamiliar with probiotics start with a low dose and work up to a higher one (unless you are taking anti-biotics or have a serious illness such as Crohn’s, IBS or are undergoing chemotherapy). If you have a gut imbalance, also referred to as dysbiosis, you may experience excessive bloating, diarrhea or gas at first, the so-called die-off effect as unhealthy bacteria and pathogens are being killed off and need to be systemically removed by the body. If this happens, reduce the dosage for a little while.
You may be wondering if pre-biotics are the same thing – not quite.
They are sugar (saccharide) molecules that provide nourishment for probiotic bacteria thus helping them to arrive in the gut, multiply and colonize there, but they have also been shown to reduce the pH of the lower colon and making it more acidic, which is what you want there for optimal absorption and pathogen elimination. They also can influence and help regulate blood sugar levels.
The 2 most common forms pf prebiotic are FOS(fructooligosaccharide) and inulin, and they can be found in Jerusalem Artichokes and Chicory. Some people may react to the presence of FOS with bloating, Symptoms of bloating usually calm down after about 2 weeks, and if not, simply lower the dose initially.
Pre-biotic rich foods include
asparagus, honey, dandelion greens, eggplant, green tea, jicama root, onions and leeks
Digestive Wellness, 4th edition by Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, CHN
The Inside Tract – Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health by Gerard E Mullin, MD and Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, LDN