There has been a real buzz about probiotics over the past two decades as people have recognised their importance when it comes to gut health. When we consider that humans are made up of 90% microbes and 10% human cells, it’s clear that we should try to support these microbes as best we can to prevent and treat disease – and probiotics are a good way to do this.
How Probiotics Work to Benefit Your Gut
The term ‘probiotics’ derives from the Greek language and translates to ‘for life’. (Interestingly, the term ‘antibiotics’ in fact means ‘against life’). Probiotics have been shown to benefit those with allergies, lactose intolerance, diarrhoea (infectious and antibiotic associated), autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and also conditions like anxiety, depression, and much more.
So, how do probiotics help? Your gut contains hundreds (if not thousands) of different types of bacteria. Probiotics will help feed bacteria in the gut and give you more good bacteria.
It’s best to find a probiotic that contains a wide variety of bacterial strains as each probiotic strain holds its own individual benefit to human health, depending on what is required within your body at any given time.
For example, the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis makes tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin, 90% of which is made in your gut. Serotonin is the ‘feel good hormone’ that encourages the feeling of calm and happiness. This is just one example of how our gut microbes can influence how we think, feel and act (predominantly by communicating via our vagus nerve via neurotransmitters).
As well as serotonin, our gut microbes manufacture other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, melatonin, GABA, glutamate, adrenaline and noradrenaline which all drastically influence how we feel. Low levels of GABA, for example, can lead to nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, overthinking, and low levels of beneficial microbes like lactobacili and bifido bacteria show increases in cortisol, and therefore heightened stress responses.
Beneficial microbes also manufacture nutrients like vitamin K, B12 and other beneficial metabolites, enhance nutrient absorption and make up between 70-80% of our immune system by assisting in fighting against pathogenic microbes.
5 Top Tips for Supporting the Growth of Beneficial Gut Bugs
So, good gut bacteria are important. But how do we help support them? Here are 5 top tips:
- Fibre – and lots of it! Fibre is what feeds our beneficial probiotic strains, creates microbial diversity, and balances the pH in our gut, which is essential for fighting off pathogens and breaking down our food. The Hadza are one of the last communities of full-time hunter gatherers located in Tanzania and, according to the Human Genome Project by Jeff Leach, consume much higher levels of fibre than their western counterparts and have one of the most diverse microbiomes discovered. It is said that westerners consume roughly 20-30g of fiber daily and rural Africans consume between 60-140g. An increase in fiber could help westerners to increase their beneficial microbes.
- Fermented foods. These have been around for as long as we have and contribute to our probiotic intake. During the fermentation process, nutrients within the food are enhanced and are more bioavailable. Be careful which fermented foods you choose, as some may contribute to your undesirable symptoms. I recommend Kultured Wellness for your ferments as they guarantee a controlled environment with only beneficial probiotic strains and are low in histamines.
- A probiotic supplement that comes from real food. Try and choose a dehydrated form of fermented foods which contain a source of natural pre- and probiotics.
- Investigate the presence of parasites, yeast or bacterial overgrowths that may need to be treated. When there are large overgrowths, beneficial microbes have trouble surviving. This kind of investigation only needs to be done if a real food, anti-inflammatory diet does not improve your symptoms.
- The outside environment. The soil, trees, grass, sand and more is home to many beneficial probiotics. Find out more about why it is important to get outside by reading my blog here.
If your practitioner does not consider your gut health when assessing your health concerns, then it is probably time to consider finding someone that does. While it is important to consider other factors such as external stressors, environmental toxins (eg mould and surrounding chemicals), nutrient deficiencies, inflammatory foods and the lack of connection with the Earth and sun, the health of your gut is key to your overall health.
Have you been trying to increase your beneficial bacteria? What have you noticed?