Dealing with digestive issues can be difficult! Not just in the daily discomfort, but also in trying to figure out exactly what the problem is. Even after eliminating foods, changing your diet, and switching up your daily habits, you might still experience the same issues with your digestion.
That’s where probiotics come in. You’ve probably heard the word “probiotics” used lately now that our understanding of the importance of gut health has grown. But you might not understand exactly what they are, be scared away by the terminology (what do “strains” have to do with it?), or not be sure how to use them for your benefit. So let’s dive in!
Understanding What Probiotics Are
If you’re somewhat unfamiliar with the concept of probiotics, then you’ll be happy to know that they could be a step towards some relief for a variety of issues in your gut. To get started, it would be beneficial to see where the belief in these tiny organisms began.
To put it simply, probiotics are live microorganisms that are thought to have a positive effect on the body.
The use of probiotics can be traced back to the early days of humanity, when fermentation processes were used to help preserve foods that were considered to be valuable—primarily dairy products.
When the field of microbiology was developed, scientists discovered probiotic strains in the stool of breastfed infants. Subsequently, they discovered that diarrhea could be helped by introducing bacteria into the intestines infants. The exploration of their health benefits exploded from there! (Source)
Today there are ongoing studies showing the benefits of probiotics on conditions such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, necrotizing enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, acute pancreatitis, and obesity and insulin resistance.
There are several terms that you may need to define in order to understand how probiotics work.
- Probiotic – “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.”
- Prebiotic – “Dietary substances that nurture specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota (favoring beneficial bacteria), thus conferring benefit(s) upon host health
- Synbiotics – “Products that contain both probiotics and prebiotics”
- Strain – is the simplest level of identification. A strain can be unique in some of its properties while remaining recognizable as a member of the family. Since strains have different characteristics, different strains are more or less beneficial for different conditions. (Source)
Benefits of Specific Species
The two main probiotic groups are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. (Source)
- Lactobacillus: This species lives in the digestive, urinary, and genital tracts of humans. Since they reside in these specific areas, strains in the Lactobacillus species are especially beneficial for digestive, bladder, and women’s health—treating and preventing things like IBS, urinary tract infections, and yeast infections. (Source)
- Bifidobacterium: This species inhabits the gastrointestinal tract, the vagina, and the mouth. It covers the walls of the colon to help ward off invasively harmful bacteria and produces lactic acid, vitamin B-complex and Vitamin K. (Source)
Since probiotics are bacterial and fungal species, it makes sense that ingesting them would have an effect upon your gut flora!
They Can Stop Constipation & Diarrhea
You might be wondering how probiotics can be able to stop diarrhea, and ALSO keep you from being stopped up. This is possible because conditions like constipation and diarrhea can stem from a variety of factors. Hydration issues coupled with the overpopulation of some bacterial populations in your gut can have a massive influence on the way your body handles different foods. Probiotics rebalance the flora in your gut—and therefore help rebalance your digestive system, whether the imbalance has resulted in constipation or diarrhea.
You’re probably aware that bacteria help the human body to do all sorts of tasks. One of the most important tasks that the body performs is the breakdown of the food you eat into energy. Probiotics that contain bacteria that produce acids help your body work quickly to break down food and absorb the released nutrients from an easily convertible source.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Even though the mechanisms that control the reaction that your body has to stimuli isn’t fully understood, positive results have been discovered in connection with probiotics and IBS. The introductions of helpful bacteria to the gut during testing have shown that it’s possible to slow down or arrest a lot of the inflammatory response that takes place in the gut for most IBS sufferers.
Tips for Getting More Probiotics
Introduce these probiotic rich foods into your diet:
This popular drink is known for its unusual flavor and its probiotic content. Kombucha contains the bacterium Saccharomyces, which is known for its ability to directly help with gastrointestinal issues. Kombucha is easy to make at home from a live “scoby” culture. As a matter of fact, I have a big, happy scoby that lives in a glass jar on my counter top. You can get your own scoby at the health food store or if you are local, let me know and I’ll share a piece of mine so you can make your own yummy kombucha
This type of bread is not only great tasting, but also healthy for you. It also helps you to avoid some of the processing associated with modern bread production today. Sourdough makes a great use of the powerhouse probiotic species, Lactobacillus and tends to be easier to digest than other breads.
This cabbage mixture is a primarily European food that also contains Lactobacillus. You may also find Kim Chi which is a cabbage based, live food. Having a little sauerkraut or Kim Chi with your meals can really help you to have a stronger digestive system.
Peas contain a very powerful bacteria called Leuconostoc mesenteroides. This bacteria has the ability to stimulate your immune system. This can help you to defend yourself from a wide variety of illnesses that you might be vulnerable to if you had passed on the peas!
This is a fermented milk drink. It contains important bacteria that helps break down complex nutrients into their simple parts for use in the body. These bacteria are called Propionibacterium. Kefir and yogurts are very easy to make at home. In fact, we make a big batch in our Instant Pot every couple of weeks and feed it to our spoiled dogs. They LOVE it and it keeps their digestive systems healthy.
Not all probiotic supplements are equal. Since negative side effects are rare, and there are no known interactions with medications, if a condition can be helped by probiotics there is a very high reward for little to no risk! (Source)
- Strain Count: The best probiotic supplements will carry at least 10 strains.
- Dosage: Common dosages are 5 to 10 billion colony-forming units (CFU) per day for children, and from 10 to 20 billion CFUs per day for adults.
- Alive: Look for live and active cultures in your supplements. These will contain cultures that are NOT heat-treated, which can kill off the bacteria.
- Prebiotics: In order for your body to use probiotics, it needs a good supply of prebiotics—which some supplements also contain.
One of my favorite probiotic based products to help recondition the gut is called Mega Sporebiotic. The spores take up resident in the lining of the gut and help to regulate the overgrowth of non-beneficial bacteria which can lead to bacterial overgrowth and digestive issues. My family and many of my clients find huge benefits from adding in Mega Sporebiotic to their routine and for those with SIBO, it won’t create more digestive distress. If you are interested in trying it, you can find Mega Sporebiotic in my Fullscript Dispensary
As always, if you are struggling with your health and need some guidance, please feel free to reach out and we can set up a few minutes to chat.