The Importance of Probiotics
Before getting familiar with the probiotics, lets go through some facts about our body to have better understanding of it.
- Did you know you carry up to 6 lbs of bacteria around everyday?
- Our own cells are actually outnumbered by bacteria, yeast and virus cells 10 to 1.
- Integrative medicine sees this symbiotic relationship between these microbes and our body as essential to health. Science is only starting to discover the importance of our microbiome.
Let’s explore more about this fascinating relationship.
What are Probiotics?
Our intestines or gastrointestinal system contain billions of bacteria, viruses, yeast and other microbes. This community of microbes is called our microbiome. These tiny organisms live symbiotically in our bodies- as a host we provide a warm environment and nutrients and they help maintain our health in many ways. A probiotic is a food or supplement that contains live strains of these good microbes. When ingested it should beneficially impact our health by supporting and balancing our gastrointestinal microbiota.
Why are they important?
Probiotics are key in helping to keep our gastrointestinal system or gut healthy and happy. The health of our gut plays a major role in our overall health. Most of our immune system activity occurs in our gut and the lymphoid tissue that lives here is highly influenced by the bacteria surrounding it. Not only it is the seat of our immune system, which modulates inflammation, it is also where 80% of our neurotransmitters or brain hormones are made. Our gut is literally our second brain and the health of the bacteria here impacts how well we feel mentally and emotionally. We also convert 20% of our thyroid hormone into active form in our gut- thus influencing the metabolism of every tissue in our body. As you can see, our gut and its relationship with the microbiome touches all aspects of health and well being.
How do you know if your gut bacteria are healthy?
The best way to assess the health of your microbiome and your gut is a comprehensive stool study. This test, performed by several specialty lab companies, provides detailed information on the diversity, abundance and composition of your gut microflora. It also assesses how well you are digesting fats and proteins, if you have any inflammation or food allergies present, if you are getting enough fiber in your diet and if there is any overgrowth of bad or unhealthy bacteria, yeast or parasite. So much information can be obtained from this small sample!
What conditions can benefit from probiotics?
The simple answer is almost all health conditions. The most researched diseases that may benefit from probiotic supplementation and food consumption are digestive disorders such as Irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea and constipation, asthma, chronic sinusitis, atopic dermatitis, acne, depression, anxiety and weight loss. This is certainly not an exhaustive list!
What are food sources?
Food is the best medicine. Incorporating probiotic rich foods in our diet is always preferred over supplementation. Good sources include fermented foods such as raw apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kimchi, beet kvass, organic plain yogurt and kefir. Here is a Probiotic Recipes handout.
How to find a good probiotic supplement?
Despite incorporating probiotic foods in our diet, often we need additional support with a probiotic supplement. I usually recommend refrigerated supplements that contain at least 20 billion per capsule of bacteria or beneficial yeast. The strains most recommended are lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and saccharomyces boulardii. Make sure to include plenty of fiber in your diet which acts as a food source for the healthy bacteria in your gut.