Probiotics have taken the health industry by storm, but many people still do not understand how probiotics can affect their general health.
Those who take probiotics may be following doctor’s orders, a friend’s recommendation, or the trend of being “healthy”, but it’s important to understand the true power of probiotics when it comes to achieving optimal health.
What are probiotics?
The term probiotic refers to a class of “friendly” bacteria (often located in the gut) that actually protects your gut from harmful and opportunistic bacteria.
With all the possible bacterial infections in this world, it’s easy to think that all bacteria are harmful and capable of causing disease, but that’s not the case.
Bacteria can be helpful, opportunistic (harmful in the right conditions), or just flat out harmful.
A healthy human gut contains a favorable balance of bacteria, containing more “friendly” bacteria than harmful bacteria, but lifestyle and diet factors can quickly upset this balance and lead to a variety of health issues.
What can cause a bacterial imbalance?
Antibiotics can be life-saving drugs for many conditions, but they do not simply target the pathogenic (harmful) bacteria. They wipe out all bacterial life, including the “friendly” bacteria.
If patients are not careful to replace those friendly little guys after a round of antibiotics, then they are more likely to experience digestive issues, worsened allergies, food sensitivities, and other gut infections.
Heavily processed and sugary foods can also tip the scales by feeding the harmful bacteria and allowing them to grow out of control.
Additionally, a study in 2013 from the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that c-sections appear to alter the gut bacteria in healthy infants, leaving them at higher risk for asthma, obesity, and type 1 diabetes.
The infants who were delivered by cesarean section and fed formula showed the greatest imbalance in gut bacteria, while those who were delivered vaginally and exclusively breast-fed for at least 4 months showed the healthiest balance.
Note: There are many instances where c-sections are required and recommended by your doctor for safety reasons. In these instances, you can breastfeed exclusively for as long as possible and talk to your doctor about the use of infant probiotics to reinoculate your child’s gut with healthy bacteria.
Who should take probiotics?
Probiotics can be beneficial for many different people. They can help normalize gut bacteria after a round of antibiotics, resolve digestive symptoms from gut infections, and they help strengthen the immune system.
So, consult your doctor about taking a probiotic supplement if you’re:
- Traveling or planning to travel (especially out of the country)
- Experiencing digestive issues (cramping, diarrhea, gas, constipation, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, etc)
- Experiencing any kind of adverse food reactions (allergy, intolerance, sensitivity)
- Taking antibiotics
- Taking birth control pills (these encourage growth of yeast, another form of gut infection)
- Struggling with intense cravings (some gut bacteria can control appetite)
- Living with an autoimmune disease
How should I choose my probiotics?
Unfortunately, most probiotics on the market contain strains of lactobacillus and/or bifidobacter, both of which are aerobic bacteria – meaning they require oxygen in order to survive.
These are the probiotics that usually require refrigeration and are commonly found in yogurt, kombucha, and kefir. While these strains are beneficial, they often die as they pass through the harsh, acidic conditions of your digestive tract.
For this reason, you may not notice any changes in symptoms or overall health when taking an aerobic probiotic, like lactobacillus or bifidobacter.
I know that I personally could not tell a difference when I took an adult dose (15 billion organisms per day) of these aerobic probiotics every day for months.
Aren’t dead probiotics worthless?
Dead probiotics are still beneficial, providing some anti-inflammatory assistance and immune stimulation, but live bacteria have the ability to influence the microbial life and immune responses in the gut.
Fortunately, some supplement companies are solving this problem with the use of anaerobic bacteria, like strains of bacillus. Anaerobic strains of bacteria can actually survive digestion, making them an ideal choice of oral probiotics.
If you have any gut imbalances (like I did), then you may notice mild abdominal cramping the first few days that you take an anaerobic probiotic, but this is actually an indication that the probiotic is working.
As the environment in your gastrointestinal tract changes, you can actually feel it (which I find really cool, but I’m also very weird).
I currently use PeakBiotics because it only contains 3 strains of Bacillus that have been studied extensively for efficacy, and it’s pretty affordable ($25 a bottle).
Their website looks a bit gimmicky, but the product is amazing (I promise), and definitely worth trying at least once. If you’d prefer to buy them from me, you can find it here – whatever tickles your fancy.
So, in regards to probiotics and gut health, here are the key take away points:
- Bacteria in your gut can directly affect your health, mood and appetite
- Certain people will need probiotics more than others (see above for list)
- Live probiotics have the greatest impact on bacterial balance in the gut
- Talk to a health professional before starting any new supplements