Probiotics 101: What are Probiotics?
“All disease begins in the gut.” -Hippocrates
Just as Hippocrates stated over 2,000 years ago and we continue to learn today, healthy gut flora is the key to good health. Out of the many supplements that are commonly taken these days, probiotics top the list, and for good reason. However, many people are still unsure what probiotics actually are. This post will explore and answer your probiotics 101 questions.
Our body is home to trillions of bacteria, and the vast majority of them reside in our gut. Some are “friendly” bacteria that are actually essential for health (like probiotics), while others are pathogenic (ones that can cause disease).
Healing your gut with both probiotics and a nutrient dense diet is essential for proper detox pathways and overall health and disease prevention.
The Gut-immune Connection
A little-known fact is that a huge amount of our immune system tissue is located in our gut (many health experts say up to 80%).
Our gut is the first line of defense against bad bacteria and pathogens that enter the body, and the immune tissue that lines our intestines is meant to fight and protect us against microbes (secretory immunoglobulin A, also known as sIgA).
With time, if this tissue becomes increasingly damaged, we can develop what is called intestinal permeability (more commonly known as leaky gut syndrome), which exposes us to a laundry list of illnesses, such as increased food allergies, eczema, arthritis, autoimmune conditions and more. It also simply decreases our body’s’ natural defenses, making us more susceptible to viruses like the common cold.
Having enough good gut bacteria is linked to weight loss, healthy skin, and reduced risk of multiple diseases. In fact, many ancient forms of medicine have agreed that a healthy gut is the key to disease treatment and prevention.
So, What are Probiotics?
Probiotics come in both whole food and supplement form. They are mixtures of good gut bacteria.
The official consensus of the definition of probiotics is that they are “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.”
Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.
We can get probiotics from supplements and fermented foods, which have been prepared and included for centuries in diets from cultures around the world. There are dozens of probiotic strains that have varying health benefits, so by including them in food form, you will ensure proper maintenance of good gut flora, as fermented foods are a natural mix of many important strains.
Since most of us don’t eat fermented foods every day, supplementation is almost always beneficial.
Best Food Sources of Probiotics
- Raw sauerkraut
- Kombucha tea
- Kefir (dairy or non-dairy)
- Yogurt (no sugar added)
Including fermented foods in your diet on a daily basis can work wonders in maintaining a healthy gut.
Different strains of probiotics have been shown to help with different health conditions, so choosing the right supplement is important. For the average person simply wanting to support overall gut health, a broad-spectrum product is best.
Specific strains are helpful for certain conditions, such as acidophilus being particularly used for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Bifidobacterium Lactis is better for improving lactose sensitivity. But, using certain strains to treat conditions should be discussed with your doctor.
Giving a child-friendly probiotic to your kids (especially if they have just undergone a round of antibiotics) is also important.
Other Ways to Support Your Gut
Probiotics are great, but be sure you take them alongside a few other important measures for gut health.
The top ways to support your gut are through stress management (the body can’t properly digest food when in a state of stress), limiting NSAIDs (ibuprofen, Bayer, Advil, Motrin and Aleve all fit into this category and lead to damage of the gut if taken in excess), decreasing inflammatory foods in the diet, and avoiding foods you are sensitive or allergic to.
By following these tips to support your gut, including fermented foods daily, and taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, you will be well on your way to healthy digestion, which might just be the key to good health.
You have officially graduated from Probiotics 101.
Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel focuses on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes.