Are Probiotics The Answer For Everything?

You'd have to be hiding under a rock not to hear the hype about probiotics and fermented foods! What is it that makes them so good for you though, and should you start including them in your routine? HEAL Community Manager, Tal Bragagnolo, has you covered with a comprehensive 4 part series on probiotics, bacteria and fermented foods. Stay tuned for next week's posts where we're sharing the low down on fermented foods and recipes for some of our favourite fermented foods.

Now, get ready for some science!

It's All About The Bacteria

Bacteria are everywhere. We coexist in harmony with them as they make up a diverse ecosystem in and on our bodies. In fact, bacteria, fungi and other tiny microbes make up anywhere from 2 to 5 lbs of our body weight! The bacteria in our gut (also referred to as the ‘gut flora’ or ‘microbiome’) alone consists of thousands of species that are intimately connected with our body’s basic functions.

The problem (from a holistic practitioner's standpoint anyway) is that we've become a culture that's obsessed with sanitization and in the process, we've been killing off many of our best allies. When we lack these bacteria, which is now very common here in North America, it can have dramatic and often overlooked implications. For example, scientists have linked a loss of microbiome diversity to mental health issues, skin and acne conditions, diabetes, osteoarthritis, autoimmune diseases and heart health, to name a few. And it’s not enough to have a large number of bacteria, the diversity of these microbes is just as important.

When there’s too much bad bacteria and not enough of the good guys, it’s called dysbiosis.

Here are some common signs and symptoms of dysbiosis (these vary depending on the individual):

  • Constipation, diarrhea, bloating or abdominal pain (IBS!)
  • Constant cravings for sugars and sweets - and you're eating a balanced diet already
  • Fatigue
  • Having itchy skin or skin rashes (includes acne, eczema, psoriasis or just general rashes)
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Recurrent vaginal, prostate or urinary tract infections
  • ‘Brain fog’ or difficulty with memory or concentration
  • Hormonal disturbances like PMS (not just a normal part of being a female), irregular periods or even sexual dysfunction
  • Feeling generally unwell despite the absence of other health conditions

So, how did we get here?

There are two answers. Firstly, we’ve developed habits and conditions that contribute to the death of the ‘friendly bacteria’ as well as ones that favour the overgrowth of the ‘bad guys’. 

Here are some of the things that can kill off beneficial bacteria:

  • Oral antibiotics, taken either as medication or in our food supply, can alter your flora for years
  • Too much junk and processed food and not enough whole foods (i.e. fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamins & minerals)
  • Toxins like alcohol, drugs, pollutants, tobacco, even X-rays
  • Prescription drugs like steroids, oral contraceptives
  • Chlorine in water, which is an antimicrobial
  • Bouts of diarrhea that flushes them out

Usually an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria is due to an imbalance between the food eaten and the food that actually gets digested. This can stem from:

  • Overeating or eating one large meal a day - if you don't break it down, bacteria will!
  • A reduced capacity to digest a normal volume of food due a lack of digestive enzymes or pancreatic exhaustion
  • Stress, which shuts down digestion and leaves food in the gut for microbes to digest. Sources of stress can range anywhere from a stressful lifestyle, to caffeine or a lack of sleep.
  • Some drugs, like steroids, can actually promote the growth of pathogenic organisms

What can you do to restore balance?

Replenish and rebalance your gut flora with fermented foods (recipes are coming in part 3 and 4 of this series) and probiotics. Whether you have a specific health condition or not, experts agree that everyone benefits from probiotics.

Here are just some of the known benefits of probiotics from a strictly maintenance perspective:

  • They competitively inhibit bad bacteria by fighting for space and nutrients
  • They provide lactase for lactose (dairy) breakdown
  • They prevent the reabsorption of cholesterol and thereby lower blood cholesterol levels
  • They manufacture vitamins B3, B5, B6, B12, biotin, folic acid, vitamin K (important for detox, absorption of nutrients, energy and so much more)
  • They have anticancer effects because they inhibit bacteria that convert nitrates to nitrites, which produce carcinogenic nitrosamines
  • They break down toxins and therefore aid in detoxification
  • They prevent and decrease inflammation
  • They maintain a mildly acidic environment in your gut which prevents pathogenic microbes like salmonella and e.coli from growing
  • They help with bad breath
  • They decrease acne and other skin problems

The thing is, there are TON of options out there, how do you know if you’re choosing the right one? As you might know by now, I recommend the Genuine Health Fermented Advanced Gut Health Probiotic.

Here’s why their probiotics are unique:

  • They have a diverse mix of 15 strains (30% bifido & 70% lacto bacteria) chosen to mimic the human gut flora (they’re actually found in humans), that work together in synergy and that you won’t find with any other company
  • They contain resident (permanent gut dwellers) AND transient (just passing through) strains that are both necessary and have a positive influence on the sustainability of other health-promoting bacteria
  • They are completely pure, toxin, GMO and allergen-free
  • They have a vegan, plastic-free delayed release capsule with fermented prebiotic that ensures that the strains pass through the stomach acid and actually reach the gut
  • They come in a room temperature-stable blister pack with guaranteed potency. Many probiotics lack humidity control (if it’s in a bottle it’s exposed to air every time the bottle opens) and some of the best ones need to be refrigerated which is kind of a pain if you travel a lot or if you’re forgetful. :)

Their probiotics come in two options - 15 billion CFU (colony forming units) or 50 billion CFU. If you’re using for daily maintenance 15 billion should be enough. If you were or are currently on antibiotics or are in a period of ill-health (i.e. sick, digestive issues, stressful time) then 50 billion may be more beneficial for you.

(4) Dr. Brenda Lessard-Rhead, BSc, ND. July 2015. Nutritional Pathology. 3rd Edition. Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada: CSNN Publishing.

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