What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines. There are over 500 types of probiotics, but their general function is to aid in digestion, boost your immune system, and prevent toxins and harmful bacteria from proliferating. Increased species diversity increases the efficiency and productivity of your digestive system, making you less susceptible to external stressors. Think about it simply, when probiotics are abundant in your colon, there is less room for harmful bacteria.
Increasing your gut biodiversity results in easier digestion, reducing those less glamorous symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. Probiotics are also essential for making some B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and short-chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids are a source of energy and may help prevent health complications including gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease by reducing synthesis of cholesterol in the liver, and colon cancer by preventing abnormal cells from growing. There is new research surrounding the gut-brain connection that suggests a healthy gut could possibly alleviate mood swings and anxiety. Have we won you over yet?
In the nutrition world, the relationship between probiotics and obesity is a hot topic. There are two categories of probiotics. The firmicute category is very efficient at extracting energy from food, while the bacteroidetes are not. Researchers are focused on figuring out if an imbalance of the two categories is a cause or consequence of obesity. One study found that after just 10 days on a "Western diet" of processed, high sugar, high fat foods, participants had significantly decreased their intestinal probiotic diversity.
Aside from consuming a diet with highly processed foods, frequently taking antibiotics kills off your good bacteria along with the bad. It can take up to two years to replace the beneficial bacteria killed from just one round of antibiotics. You might want to think more carefully before you take your next Z-pack… or at least be sure to take a probiotic supplement with it.
Probiotics are "fed" by prebiotics, a special form of dietary fiber found in many fruits and vegetables. Your body is unable to digest these fibers so they instead act as a “fertilizer” for probiotics in the gut. Sources of prebiotics include the skin of apples, bananas, onions and garlic, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root and beans.
Where to find probiotics?
Yogurt and Kefir: the probiotics in yogurt or kefir are easier to digest for those of you who are lactose intolerant, versus probiotics found in cheese or milk. Yes, these are all sources of dairy, however, yogurt and kefir naturally contain bacteria that help you digest lactose. Make sure to look for yogurts that have "live and active cultures" on the label because many yogurts are pasteurized and have lost much of their probiotic count. Non-dairy yogurts made of coconuts, rice, almonds, or soy may have added probiotics for those who have trouble digesting dairy.
Fermented foods: kimchi, miso, tempeh, tamari, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) and cucumbers (pickles) are an amazing source of probiotics. The fermentation process transforms sugar and carbohydrates into probiotics.
Kombucha: this fizzy fermented tea combines over 50 kinds of microorganisms, digestive enzymes, amino acids and vitamins which, ease digestion and help the liver detox
If the foods listed above seem a little funky for you, you may want to try a supplement. Many probiotic supplements are killed by stomach acids before they reach the intestines, so look for one that has "controlled-release technology" or "beadlet technology" which can survive stomach acid and do not need to be refrigerated. Many doctors recommend a VSL#3 probiotic supplement, which is a cocktail of several strands of probiotics. If you have a specific GI issue, talk to your gastroenterologist before investing in supplements.
Take daily for at least 2 weeks and let us know if you feel a difference!