Post on: June 3, 2016.
Posted in: Read.
In and on your body there are over 500 species of microbes. Together these microbes make up your microbiome. Breakthroughs in science has shown us that the health of this microbiome affects your health – from bloating to happiness, from IBS to cancer! The health of your microbiome may be the most important factor in your health and well-being.
The Microbiome: A War Zone for Your Health
Like all epic battles, your microbiome is a constant struggle between good and evil. Probiotics, the good microbes that live in your microbiome, help keep your body healthy. Pathogenic microbes, such as E. coli or Salmonella, are damaging microbes that can cause harm to your body. Sadly, you don’t eat many probiotics – how many fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut) do you see being served at restaurants? Nor do we go to our gardens, pull carrots from the ground and eat them. We live in a world where we pasteurize, sterilize and microwave. Contrary, we eat lots of pathogenic microbes – they live in the air and are on our foods. In fact, pathogenic microbes get a free ride into your digestive system where they get to flourish and spew out toxins that cause trouble in our gut. This can lead to many digestive problems. But, our microbiome has more to do that our gut! Our gut is also host to our GALT – the largest part of our immune system. Yes! Your microbiome influences how your immune system functions. Plus, your gut is connected to you brain. The gut-brain-axis is fascinating. You already know it is powerful too…recall the last time you were ‘hangry’ (hungry+angry)! Recent studies also point to the microbiome in the guy having the potential to affect anxiety, depression and other brain-related health. In addition, studies suggest that a healthy microbiome may be linked to lower risks of some forms of cancer, healthy body weight, better skin health (eczema, psoriasis, acne). Having a healthy microbiome influences your health in many ways. Probiotics are a vital part of a healthy microbiome.
Some Ways Probiotics Promote Health
- Promote health in the mouth (cavities, gingivitis are linked with an unhealthy microbiome)
- Help convert nutrients in the gut to useable/absorbable forms
- Promote healthy digestive tract lining
- Enhance nutrient absorption
- Inhibit pathogenic microbes from growing in your body
- Keep visits to the porcelain throne pleasant
- Promote health of the vaginal tract (vaginosis/yeast infections are links with an unhealthy microbiome
Factors that Cause Probiotic Levels to Drop in the Microbiome
- Stress (physical and emotional)
- Poor diet or change in diet
- Medications (e.g. antibiotics)
How to Keep Your Microbiome Healthy
To keep your microbiome healthy, you’ll need to support the good guys, the probiotics. They flourish when you eat a healthy diet, rich in whole foods that contain indigestible fibres (prebiotics). You can also put more healthy microbes into your body. Fermented foods are a good source of many nutrients as well as probiotics. However, there are not as many probiotics in fermented foods as may be needed for optimal health. The Gastroenterologist’s Guide to Probiotics is a guide created by probiotic experts to help those who work with patients better understand the world of our microbiome – this world is not fully understood yet. This science is in it’s infancy! In this guide, there were a few key points:
- “…expected clinical endpoints may not be achieved by generically recommending yogurt.” In other words, eating yogurt alone is not likely to help maintain a healthy microbiome.
- ‘…if sustained benefit from a probiotic is desired, continued consumption is likely required.” In other words, probiotics are most likely a daily supplement, not something taken once and then never needed again. This is because our daily lives put stress on our microbiome, causing it to ever be changing.
What Probiotic Supplement Is Best?
Similar to how we each have our own unique fingerprint, we each have our own unique microflora. As such, there is no easy way to know what probiotic species (or more specifically strain of probiotic) is best for you. Maybe one day we will be able to test a person’s microbiome and identify species that would help promote more overall wellness. This may be possible thanks to the Human Microbiome Project which is trying to map out the probiotics that live in humans. But, until science can tell us more, we are left with a few less specific ways to promote a healthy microbiome. We can nourish your current probiotics with prebiotics (indigestible fibres found in many whole plant foods, which are conveniently part of a healthy diet for weight management, disease prevention and healthy aging too). We can recognize that different parts of our body are host to different types of probiotics. For example, the colon/lower intestine is dominated by the family of probiotics called Bifidobacteria, while in the vaginal tract and small intestine are host to mostly Lactobacilli. It is also important to recognize that each strain of probiotic is unique. As such, if you read a clinical journal that suggests a strain of probiotic (commonly noted as a number-letter combination such as L. acidophilus HA-112) may alleviate a particular health condition – you’ll need to find that strain if you want that result. Not all probiotics are the same: some families of probiotics live in different locations; each species has common health benefits; each strain is unique.
For more on probiotics, read Allison’s book, Probiotic Rescue.
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