“Probiotic” is the new buzzword in health food marketing, along with probiotic supplements. But what exactly are probiotics and why do we need them?
Probiotics are basically the good bacteria that live inside our gut. All of the bacteria that live within our body is called the “microbiome”.
The microbiome is an ecosystem within us. It’s made of communities of both good and bad bacteria which call our bodies home. In fact, we have more bacteria than we do our own cells! Our gut bacteria is strongly tied to our immune system, and serves other functions as well:
* Protects against pathogens, toxins, infections
* Helps absorb vitamin B12, iron and magnesium, glucose and fatty acids
* Supports healthy bowel movements
* Works in concert with our immune system
When our bad bacteria outnumber our beneficial bacteria, our “microbiome” becomes out of balance and we become vulnerable to illnesses such as arthritis, thyroid imbalance, chronic fatigue, autism, depression, IBS, and cancer. In fact, more than 40 diseases have been linked to bacterial imbalance. Seventy percent of our immune system is in the gut. Isn’t it interesting that gut health and immune health are so closely related?
WHAT CREATES IMBALANCE?
Modern life affects our microbiome in a negative way. The invention of the refrigerator eliminated the need for fermented foods, which are high in beneficial bacteria. “Antibacterial” soaps and hand sanitizer, as well as antibiotics, kill both bad and good bacteria.
Our American diet of sugar, processed foods, commercial meats, and unhealthy fats (from crackers, chips, etc.), as well as medications, can reduce the number of good bacteria in the gut and allow the bad bacteria to take over. Genetically modified foods and stress also kill good bacteria. As you can see, almost everyone can benefit by adding probiotics to your daily routine.
Foods rich in probiotics include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, miso, and kefir. It’s important that the bacteria is “live”, so canned sauerkraut and processed yogurt with “fruit on the bottom” are not good sources. If purchasing in the store, sauerkraut and other fermented foods need to be in the refrigerated section. Or you can make your own at home, which is more economical, and you control the ingredients!
Probiotic supplements are an effective way to balance the gut when food sources are not enough. They’re an effective way to colonize the gut with good bacteria more quickly.
What to look for in a quality supplement:
* What are the number of strains and the right strains for the health issue? Strains are different types of bacteria that have different functions.
* How many probiotics are in the supplement?
* How the supplement is created and bacteria kept alive? If the bacteria is dead, it won’t do you any good. A good quality probiotic will be refrigerated. There are some freeze-dried probiotics
which are effective, but my probiotic of choice is Innate Response Brand. All of their products are high quality and food based, and can be purchased at Jade Star Acupuncture.
What do the numbers mean?
* 5-14 means there are 5 billion active cells from 14 different strains
* 20-14 = 20 billion active cells from 14 strains
* 50-14 = 50 billion active cells from 14 strains
Someone with a weak digestion or chronic illness may not be able to handle a high dose of probiotic foods or supplements. Starting slow (1 TBSP of food or a lower dose of probiotic) and increasing the amount slowly will help your body adjust to your new friends!
What are your thoughts on probiotics? Integral to our health, or just another health fad?