What are Probiotics?
Our gut is known as our second brain. It contains and requires the functioning of over 100 million neurons and also uses chemicals and neurotransmitters that are also used in the brain. Within this “second brain” also lives over 400 different bacterial species. This bacteria, known as probiotics, literally translates as “promoting life”. The concept was made popular by Elie Metchnikoff, “the father of probiotics”, in the early 20th century. It is important to realize that not all bacteria are bad bacteria. Probiotics are necessary for gut health and overall wellness.The totality of these beneficial microbes inhabiting our bodies is known as our microbiom and everyone contains different form and proportions of probiotics. An average adult carries approximately 2-5 lbs of good bacteria, mainly found in the GI tract. Some are found in the stomach and small intestine but most are found in the colon.
Where do Probiotics come from?Our own microbiom of good bacteria starts at birth. As a baby passes through its mother’s vagina, it picks up good bacteria along the way. Babies that arrive into the world via C-section do not come in contact with the good bacteria which may be one reason that these children experience more allergies, have more digestive issues and weaker immune systems. As we get older, we mainly flourish our flora through fermented food and drinks.
What do Probiotics Do?
- Help us digest our food
- Help synthesize vitamins and nutrients
- Metabolize some medications
- Fight bad bacteria
- Support development in the gut
And the Science Shows…
The main types of probiotics that have been researched are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. There are over 50 different kinds of lactobacillus species in fermented foods. The 30 species of bifidobacterium make up approximately 90% of the good bacteria in the colon and appears in the GI tract within days of birth, especially in breast fed babies. Many studies that show supplementation of probiotics can help in a number of health areas:
- 3 billion CFU (Colony Forming Units) of Lactobacillus GG given 2 times a day to children with IBS helps to decrease the frequency and severity of abdominal pain.
- Lactobacillus species given to kids and adults taking antibiotics decreased the incidence of diarrhea.
- Lactobacillus GG given to children that attended day care had fewer severe lung infections than children that didn’t take the probiotics.
- Supplements of Lactobacillus GG decreased the incidence of travelers’ diarrhea by 47%.
- Bifido infantis, given for 4 weeks to IBS sufferers, showed improvement in pain, bowel dysfunction, incomplete evacuation, straining and gas.
- Bifido lactis Bb12 helped to decrease serum LDL cholesterol in individuals with Type 2 diabetes and improve glucose tolerance and increase HDL in pregnant women.
- Probiotic supplementation has been shown to decrease the symptoms of acute gastrointestinal viral infections by a day.
- Children who drank probiotic milk twice a day had fewer colds, missed fewer school days and needed antibiotics less than children who drank regular milk. In this study there were 3 groups.
- A Control Group that drank regular milk and provided a baseline.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus milk group showed 53% fewer fevers, 41% fewer coughs and 28% fewer runny noses than the control group.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis milk group showed 72% fewer fevers, 62% fewer coughs and 59% fewer runny noses than the control group.
How do we insure our microbiom is thriving?Many things can upset the balance of good vs. bad bacteria, tipping the scales in favor of bad bacteria, including
- Diet: a diet low in fiber, veggies and essential fatty acids and high in sugar, salt and processed foods can be detrimental to your gut flora.
- Antibiotics and Medications: Antibiotics not only kill off the bad bacteria but also kill off the good stuff.
- Food as Medicine: Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, yogurt, tempeh, kefir, kmchi, kombucha and sourdough bread all contain live cultures of probiotics.
- Taking a probiotic supplement: 2-10 billion CFU a day are recommended for preventative purposes and 20 billion CFU are recommended for illness recover.
- Making sure you are eating plenty of prebiotics: prebiotics are food for probiotics. This will be discussed in greater depth in the next blog post.