During the past few weeks, I have done a little self-experimenting and a lot of reading- mostly about ways to improve our gut. My conclusion? We need to repopulate the healthy bacteria in our gut. Yup. A large dose of healthy bacteria can do the body wonders!
What are probiotics and why are they so important?
Our large intestines are inhabited by trillions of beneficial bacteria or gut flora often referred to as probiotics, literally meaning “encouraging life.” When these are administered in adequate amounts they provide a benefit to the host (i.e. us!). Probiotics are introduced in our system after birth and are available both in the gut and in certain foods. These bacteria are primarily composed of Lactobacillus (L.) and bifidobacterium (B.). Probi’s are essential because they:
- aid digestion and absorption of key nutrients and vitamins
- treat severeal digestive problems including infectious diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
- are “priming” or training our immune system for contact with harmful bacteria, and learning how to respond to bacteria without having to suffer an infection. It is important to note that approximately 25% of our immune cells and 60-70% of our immune response is located in the gut, therefore this healthy bacteria acts somewhat as a first defense
- lower our vulnerability to food borne illnesses and prevent spread of opportunistic or bad bacteria such as Enterobacteria, Staphylococcus and Clostridium
- strengthen our immune system and the bacteria already present in our gut, therefore preventing sickness
- aid with certain allergies or allergy symptoms such as atopic dermatitis
How much should you consume a day?
There is no set guideline for probiotic intake, however consuming a diet high in probiotics as well as prebiotics (more below) can provide amazing health benefits, as mentioned above. Recommendations can range anywhere from 1 Billion to 30 Billion CFU’s (Colony Forming Units) per day, depending on age and symptoms. CFU’s are the number of dormant bacteria cells.
A gut flora- stimulating diet would include:
- Yogurt, brands such as Wallaby Organic, Good Belly, Horizon Organic, DanActive, Trader Joes, Stonyfield Farm, and Brown Cow have shown to have at least 5 Billion CFU’s per serving.
- Fermented foods: yogurts, kimchi (Korean pickled vegetables), sauerkraut, kefir (fermented milk), some cottage cheese, aged cheese, and soy products like miso and tempeh
- A diet rich in prebiotics, which help probiotics grow. Sources include: kefir, whole grains, barley, flax, oatmeal, onions, green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens), legumes, berries and bananas
- A high quality probiotic supplement. A few I like are: Good Belly probiotic powder, Jarrow Formula Ideal Bowel Support, Metagenics, Culturelle, and Nature’s Bounty. Unfortunately, if you are looking for better results, the content of protiotic i.e. CFUs is more important than how it is consumed (food or supplement). The supplement should be “clinically proven” and include: strain, CFUs, expiration date, suggested serving size, health benefits, proper storage conditions, and corporate contact information
- Homemade cultured foods using acidophilus and bifidobacterium as the starter bacteria or homemade fermented foods. See below for quick recipe!
Certain factors can influence the intestinal flora and increase the levels of harmful bacteria, among those are:
- an unbalanced diet- diet high in sugar, fat and processed foods prevents them from growing and thriving
- ***antibiotic therapy- kills both good and bad bacteria
- bacteria-contaminated food
Pictured Cucumber Pickles Recipe from the book by Chernila A. “The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making."
- Especially if you are taking medication or other dietary supplements, talk to your doctor before taking protiotic supplements.
- Not all probiotics are created equal. Different strains of even the same species can be different and may not produce the same effects.
Pic from Chiot’s Run on Flickr
The Intestine/Immune Connection. VitaBase.