What Are Probiotics?

The term probiotic is used to cover the ingested microorganisms beneficial to humans. However, probiotics are everywhere lately; in the press, on the news, and on store shelves. Open a mailer, Costco flier, and even walk through Bed Bath and Beyond, which I would have never thought carried dietary supplements, and you’ll run into probiotics. What are probiotics? Well, did you know that probiotics are nothing more than bacteria? The same little creatures that support all life on the planet. Unlike our previous experience with bacteria, the latest coverage holds the bacteria in probiotics in a very positive light. As in, the bacteria in your gut is a very important factor in leading and maintaining a healthy life. Here’s why.

Happy tummy

The Gut, “Forgotten Organ”

Our gut does much more than digest and eliminate food. Dr. Eamonn M. M. Quigley (MD, FRCP, FACP, FACG, FRCPI) called the gut microbiota the “forgotten organ” in an article in the National Institute of Health. The human gastrointestinal microbiota contains a complex ecosystem of approximately 300 to 500 bacterial species, comprising nearly 2 million genes (the microbiome). The number of bacteria within the gut is approximately 10-times that of all of the cells in the human body, and the collective bacterial genome is vastly greater than the human genome.

Having imbalances in gut bacteria may lead to many issues:

  • Antibiotic
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea and it’s more serious condition, colitis.
  • Inflammation which may eventually lead to IBD.
  • IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
  • Evidence points to increased obesity.
  • Ulcers
  • Allergies and Asthma (Clinical and Translational Immunology)
  • Depletion in many areas of the immune system

And if those weren’t bad enough the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and U.S. National Library of Medicine also state dysbiosis of the gut bacteria can cause cancers, diabetes, chronic heart diseases, and may even be a factor in autism and Parkinsons.

What Kills My Good Bacteria?

There are a lot of factors that can throw off your gut microbiome. Some of the offenders are:

  • Antibiotics
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Pollution
  • Antibiotics in our foods
  • Pesticides in our foods
  • Travel and ingesting unfamiliar bacteria (Ouch!)
  • Poor diet with highly refined (think white flour and sugar), low fiber, and poor nutrition foods
  • Aging
  • Stress
  • Aspirin, antacids, painkillers, laxatives, and NSAIDs.
  • Highly chlorinated drinking water
  • Sugar or High Fructose anything

How Can I Fix This?

Besides living a healthier lifestyle and eating better, you can look at regularly supplementing your diet with prebiotics and probiotics. However, before you begin with a dietary supplement, let’s start with identifying foods that are rich in prebiotics and probiotics.

What Are Prebiotics?

Probiotics are the good bacteria and microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal system. Think of prebiotics as health food for your probiotic bacteria. Prebiotics consists of carbohydrates that we can’t digest, but the bacteria in probiotics can. This helps the probiotic bacteria do their job better, and makes our guts happy. By making food containing prebiotics a part of your diet, you can strengthen the numbers and encourage the beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome. Eating fiber-rich foods is the best way to increase your prebiotics. See the list of prebiotic-rich foods below.

If fiber-rich foods are not a part of your diet, and you’re not planning to increase your intake of fiber-rich foods, then you can supplement your prebiotic levels with a dietary supplement. East 270 Nutrition will be releasing a prebiotic supplement along with our probiotic supplements very soon.

How Can I Get More Probiotics?

Kefir

Now that your gut has the prebiotics needed to feed the beneficial bacteria in probiotics, let’s get the probiotic organisms flourishing! When looking for more probiotics, one needs to look at the most common bacteria groups, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within these two groups, there are many species and strains. As with prebiotics, one of the best ways to increase the healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut is through a healthy diet.

Many people know about acidophilus found in yogurt. Acidophilus is actually from the Lactobacillus group of bacteria and is rich in probiotics. If your probiotic choice is yogurt, look for yogurt that’s labeled “contains live active cultures” or “contains probiotics”. As we know from the list of bacteria killers above, heavily processed and sugar-rich yogurts are not likely to contain any probiotics. In fact, they don’t. This holds true for frozen yogurt too. It’s not a probiotic food source.

However, don’t miss these on your list of goodies. Sauerkraut and other fermented foods contain probiotics. I personally love the probiotic-rich kimchi. The recently popular drink, Kombucha, found in most grocery stores also contains healthy probiotics, but brew with care. There are a few things to take into consideration if you’re home brewing.

Other great foods containing probiotics:

  • Kefir
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Brine-cured olives
  • Raw cheese
  • Salted pickles
  • Apple cider vinegar is also on the menu.

Apple cider vinegar

Should I Take A Supplement?

If you don’t get enough of these foods in your diet and/or want more healthy probiotics for your gut, then you may want to consider taking a supplement.

While there are many supplements on the market, here are some of the things to look for:

  • The number of live organisms. Most have between 1 Billion and 60 Billion CFUs (Colony Forming Units). More is usually better, but pay close attention to surviving counts too. These little guys don’t live forever.
  • The genus, species, and strain of the probiotic. As discussed above, the two most studied and popular are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
  • How many different strains do I need? Some have one and some more than a dozen. It depends on what you’re looking for. Single strains are often targeted for antibiotic recovery while varied strains are often intended for general digestive health.
  • Company name and contact info. Check their website for more info.
  • Capsule designed to resist stomach acid. Again, the bacteria in probiotics won’t survive through everything.

As with any supplement, it is a good idea to check with your doctor, particularly if you have any health issues. Whether you are looking for support for a specific issue or to improve your general health, probiotic supplements may be right for you!  For a Gastroenterologist’s Guide to Probiotics check out this article on the National Institute of Health’s website.

Bacteria are everywhere. Nurturing and increasing the bacteria in your gut has recently received the attention it deserves. Whether through a healthy diet or by supplementing your diet, prebiotics and probiotics can provide many health benefits when consumed properly.