20 Apr love your guts
Let’s dig in because probiotics are a hot topic. Hands down, this is my most frequently asked question. Knowing what to take is just one small piece. Let’s start from the beginning to understand what they are, how it all works, and what you can expect from adding probiotics to your routine.
what are probiotics?
Chances are that by now you’ve heard the term “microbiome.” It is the focus of lots of research and we are learning more every day about how important our digestive tract and microbiome are in many health functions. Our microbiome is like a thriving neighborhood of bacteria living mostly in our large intestine. The types of “neighbors” that live in your microbiome depend on many things: your mother’s microbiome, the delivery method when you were born, the foods you eat, antibiotic usage, etc. If you grew up in the United States and have consumed a typical diet (and I’m not just talking about fast food & donuts), it’s likely you have a neighborhood in need of repair. This usually means dysbiosis (more bad neighbors than good), intestinal permeability a.k.a. leaky gut (damaged neighborhood), or both. This can impact everything from digestion, absorbing nutrients, immune function, detoxification, food sensitivities, and more.
This is where probiotics come in. Probiotics are friendly bacteria to help recreate or maintain a thriving neighborhood. When you bring the good neighbors in, you can force the bad neighbors out. Probiotics are available in foods, not just supplements. Natural sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as:
- Pickled foods
- Unsweetened yogurt or kefir (organic is always best)
As I am sure you’ve guessed, it’s not always as simple as bringing in good neighbors and everything will change. You need to have the right environment for them to flourish.
Prebiotics are the food for your friendly bacteria love. If you’re taking probiotics and not giving them what they need to thrive, they won’t stick around. Therefore, eating a diet rich in prebiotics is important for keeping up the neighborhood. Prebiotics are naturally found in fiber-rich foods such as:
- Raw allium vegetables such as onions, garlic, leeks, scallions and chives
- Green bananas
- Potato skins
- Apple cider vinegar
- Chicory root
The bad neighbors love animal protein, sugars, refined carbohydrates (think processed foods), and saturated fats. This is just one of the many reasons why a diet packed with real foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds is so beneficial.
will it really make a difference?
The research is showing we are actually more bacteria than human cells, so yes it can make a big difference! With that said, adding probiotics and prebiotics is just one piece to restoring the neighborhood. For some people, it’s the only missing piece. For many others, it’s just part of a larger puzzle. This is a perfect example of why the same thing doesn’t work for everyone, but I digress…
Once balance is achieved, it is a game changer for most people. Some of the many benefits include:
- Improved immune function – Lots of research to support this and a big plus for both adults and kiddos.
- Improved ability to digest and absorb nutrients – Really important for your systems to have what they need to work properly.
- Regulates digestion (and elimination!)
- Improve mood & resilience to stress
- Improved food sensitivities – although this is typically related to leaky gut which requires additional healing.
There is one caveat. Some individuals, especially if you experience extreme bloating after meals, may have trouble with adding probiotics. First start with just 1 tbsp per day of one of the probiotic foods mentioned above, and see how it goes. If it’s fine, try adding 2 per day. However, if you feel discomfort and increased bloating, there are a few things you will need to try first before adding probiotics to your routine.
wait, there’s more
There is so much on this topic I couldn’t fit it all in to just one post! In my next blog, I will cover more about probiotic supplements. It will include details about what to look for in a probiotic, what to take and when, plus the brands I recommend for both adults and kids.