How Probiotics Can Improve Your Gut Health
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria that line your digestive tract and enables your body’s to absorb important nutrients and fight infection. Dr. Axe states on his website that "80 percent of your entire immune system is located in your digestive tract." They may be microscopic in size but probiotics are heavy hitters when it comes to supporting and improving your body's overall health!
While we tend to think of probiotics as just another supplement in a bottle, the reality is they can be found in various foods, in nature, and yes even in a woman's vagina.
The name probiotic translates: "for life." I think that sums it up nicely!
What Do Probiotics Do?
Here is a brief list of some of the health benefits of probiotics:
- Strengthened immune system
- Lessen the likelihood of coming down with a cold or flu
- Improved digestion
- Prevent diarrhea caused by taking antibiotics
- Improve the balance of candida in your gut
- Weight loss
- Reduced symptoms stemming from irritable bowel syndrome
- Increased energy
- Healthier skin
- Healing from inflammatory bowel disease and leaky gut syndrome
- Replacement of bad bacteria, yeast and fungi with good bacteria
Which Symptoms Do You Suffer from?
12 Probiotic Killers
While probiotics are known to greatly improve your gut health, there are also many things that contribute to the destruction of probiotics in your gut.
When your gut flora is out of balance (not enough probiotics or good bacteria) then your body is unable to regulate the growth of bad bacteria, yeast and fungi that naturally reside in your system which can have a negative impact on your overall health.
Here is a list of things that can destroy the beneficial probiotics in your gut:
- Prescription antibiotics
- Meat and dairy products from animals given antibiotics
- GMO foods or meat and dairy products from animals fed a diet of GMO foods like corn, soy, etc.
- Tap water
- Highly processed foods, especially junk food
- Processed or refined sugars and grains
- Chemicals and medications (mouthwash, antacids, laxatives, etc)
- NSAIDS (aspirin, Advil, Motrin, etc)
- Emotional stress
- Antibacterial soaps
My Personal Experience with Bad Gut Health
I write this article from a sincere desire to help other people who suffer from a wide range of health issues as a result of not having a healthy gut. The reason is because I too suffered from various issues stemming from bad gut health and not enough probiotics in my diet.
In 1998 while driving with my sister I got hit from behind while stopped at a stop sign and as a result I suffered from severe whiplash. It was made worse because my head was turned to the side as I was talking to my sister when I got hit. While the damage was not severe the pain was. I had to wear a neck brace and was forced to take prescription muscle relaxers to stop the pain.
Despite physiotherapy I still had chronic pain and issues with my neck which led me to take NSAIDS like Advil for YEARS. To this day I still have issues with my neck, but I have other ways to relieve the pain and avoid NSAIDS as much as possible. This was the start of my health issues which ultimately stemmed from destroying much of the good bacteria in my gut.
I had constant bowel issues, suffering from bloating and gas issues. I developed severe migraines from eating dairy. I had itchy rashes on weird parts of my body (eyelids, groin, etc), recurring yeast infections, brain fog, constant fatigue, nausea, and was constantly sick with something. If I went more than 3 months without being sick it was a miracle. The sad part was, I just figured this was normal and I just had to endure it. This went on for years.
I stopped getting migraines when I stopped eating dairy. You have no idea how happy I was to be relieved of the pain and fatigue from severe migraines! It was amazing. I told my doctor and he didn't believe that the dairy was connected to my migraines. But I discovered that there was a connection between what I ate and what was going on in my body.
I was a sugar addict, I ate a ton of junk food (McDonalds, candy, chips, pop, etc) and my health suffered as a result.
When I stopped (or at least greatly reduced) my intake of processed sugars and junk food, as well as my stopping the use of NSAIDS I noticed a big improvement in my health. When I began incorporating foods that contain prebiotics and started taking probiotics I was like a whole new person! My candida issues began to disappear in just over a week.
Please do not underestimate the effect the health of our gut has on our overall health! That is the moral of my personal story and it is my hope that by reading this article you will be able to start on the road to better health with the help of probiotics as I did.
What About Prebiotics?
What are prebiotics? Are they important for our gut health?
A prebiotic is actually a nondigestible carbohydrate that acts as food for the probiotics and bacteria in your gut.
Most prebiotics are something called oligosaccharides. They are resistant to the human digestive enzymes that work on all other carbohydrates. This means that they pass through the upper GI system without being digested. They get fermented in the lower colon and produce short-chain fatty acids that nourish the beneficial microbiota that live there.
The reason why prebiotics are important when it comes to your health is because they essentially help the good bacteria in your gut work more efficiently, including any probiotic supplements you take or probitoics residing in your gut flora.
In simple terms, prebiotics are dietary fiber that enhance the growth of healthy bacteria and provide health benefits to the human body.
4 Steps to Increase the Amount of Probiotics in Your Gut and Enjoy the Benefits of Probiotics
1. Stop eating the foods that can destroy the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Eliminate if possible or greatly reduce the amount of processed junk food you eat. Take anti-biotics only when absolutely necessary (and take a probiotic supplement at the same time). Stop drinking tap water which contains fluoride. Switch to organic meat and dairy or find out which brands offer antibiotic-free varieties. Stop taking NSAIDS if possible or find more natural drug-free alternatives for pain management when possible.
Drinking alcohol, and smoking have also been shown to negatively affect the healthy microbes that make up our gut flora. Quitting either of these lifestyle choices will go a long way for your health and your wallet too.
2. Eat more Fermented Foods
Many fermented foods tend to also be sour foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi and as a result they also contain certain types of healthy acids that promote a healthy pH balance (slightly alkaline) in your body which in turn supports the growth of good bacteria in your gut. A few servings per week is ideal.
Drinking something as simple as raw apple cider vinegar in your water (1-2 tablespoons per cup) has been proven to be beneficial to your digestive system and overall health (I use Bragg's Organic raw apple cider vinegar myself). First thing in the morning is a great way to give your body a jump start to the day and get your body's pH in the alkaline zone.
3. Eat Foods Rich in Probiotics and Prebiotics
Foods that are rich in probiotics are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, pickles (fermented ones), kimchi and kombucha tea.
Be sure to choose dairy products that do not contain high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners as they have been shown to negatively affect your gut health and are not ideal for good health in general regardless. Yogurt made from goat's milk tends to be naturally higher in probiotics and can be easier to digest if dairy is an issue.
Also, kombucha tea may not be ideal for anyone suffering from candida issues, be sure to read labels and do your research before purchasing.
Foods naturally rich in prebiotics are as follows:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- chicory root
- raw dandelion greens
- whole wheat
4. Take a Probiotic Supplement
The time it takes to replenish our body's gut flora with good bacteria can take weeks or even months in most cases depending on how much damage we have inflicted on ourselves through bad diet and lifestyle choices. Taking prescription antibiotics alone can wipe out millions of these microbes. While making all the changes mentioned in the previous 3 steps is an excellent start to improving your gut health, taking a probiotic supplement can speed things up greatly.
While many probiotic supplements boast millions or more of certain strains of beneficial probiotics, you want to be sure you are also getting the maximum amount of different strains as well (CFU's). You want a minimum of 10 different strains.
12 Beneficial Probiotic Strains
Not all probiotics are created equal. While all are beneficial for your body and will improve your gut health, some strains of probiotics can do other beneficial things for your body like strengthen your immune system or enable your body to burn more fat.
Here are the 12 beneficial probiotic strains:
Relieves gas, bloating, improves lactose intolerance. Shown to help with the reduction of E. coli, lower cholesterol levels and creation of vitamin K
Fights harmful bacteria that invades your digestive system and is stable enough to withstand the acidic digestive juices of the stomach. Neutralizes toxins and naturally produces its own antibiotics.
Supports bacterial balance and supports healthy skin, helps fight urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and reduce anxiety. Can survives GI tract.
Can survive the GI tract, boost cellular immunity, enhanced natural T-killer cells and kill h. pylori bacteria.
Most popular probiotic in infants and in the large intestine, supports production of vitamins in gut, inhibits harmful bacteria, supports immune system response and prevents diarrhea.
Supports liver function, reduces inflammation, removes lead and heavy metals.
Helps to colonize healthy gut community and eliminate bad bacteria.
Can alleviate IBS symptoms, diarrhea and constipation
Supports immunity, inhibits h. pylori and helps fight infections.
Endospore probiotic that’s heat-resistant. Triggers a potent immune response and supports GALT. Suppresses growth of bad bacteria like salmonella and other pathogens.
Endospore probiotic that’s heat-resistant and improves nutrient absorption. Also reduces inflammation and symptoms of arthritis.
Yeast probiotic strain that restores natural flora in the large and small intestine and improves intestinal cell growth. Effective in treating inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease
How Probiotics Improve our Immune System
When our gut is healthy, it is easier for our body to fight off colds and infections, maintain an optimal weight and have optimal digestion . Some studies have shown that probiotics benefit overall immunity through a process of balancing B and T lymphocytes and antibodies within the body. B and T lymphocytes work together to eradicate invasive bacteria that could harm the body. B lymphocytes produce antibodies that attack harmful bacteria, toxins, and viruses, while T lymphocytes produce cells that destroy the cells which have been invaded by viruses or are cancerous.
Probiotics alleviate intestinal inflammation, normalize gut dysfunction and down-regulate hypersensitivity reactions
High Quality Probiotic Supplements
I did extensive research looking for a probiotic supplement that had varied probiotic strands and high CFU's per serving and this was the winner with 15 billion CFU per 3 capsule serving and 13 probiotic species. I like that this product is shelf stable so you don't have to worry about refrigeration (Amazon I am told does NOT ship probiotics in refrigerated packing). This brand is also one of the few recommended by Dr.Axe on his website and has amazing reviews with 4.5 stars out of 5 with 1,636 reviews.
I also like that they are whole food based, vegetarian and gluten-free.
Garden of Life is a highly recognized brand of probiotic supplements on the market because of their quality and effectiveness.
This product also comes in a version for men and for men and women 50 years and older along with many other varieties to suit your health needs if my recommended product isn't quite what you are looking for.
Vegan Probiotic Supplement Alternative
I wanted to include a vegan option for vegans and vegetarians but also for anyone who has sensitivity issues to dairy. I have sensitivities to dairy myself so I have taken vegan probiotics in the past and found them to be a great option.
Out of all the high quality probiotic supplements I could find, this one was the best with 12 probiotic strands and 20 billion CFU per serving.
They are organic, dairy free, gluten free and wheat free. You don't have to worry about GMO's because they are organic. They do not require refrigeration.
They have 4.5 stars out of 5 with 119 reviews
Making Your Own Fermented Foods
Making your own fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled beets, pickles, kimchi, etc., is actually a lot less complicated than you think and doesn't require much equipment either.
My Nana who was Hungarian used to make her own sauerkraut using those old school big crocks and it seemed to be too much work for me even though I LOVE sauerkraut.
It is just recently that I discovered a really awesome kit that can be used to ferment all kinds of foods using wide mouth mason jars, which I have plenty of in my home.
A company called Masontops makes a complete mason jar fermentation kit which includes 4 pickle pipes (silicone), 4 pickle pebbles (glass), and a pickle packer made from solid acacia wood.
All you need to have is some wide mouth mason jars, pickling salt (no iodine) and foods like beets, cabbage, shredded carrots, or cucumbers to name a few.
The health benefits to making your own fermented foods are endless. You know exactly what you are putting into your food, it's cheaper than buying good quality fermented foods and you can teach your kids or get your family involved too.
Making Sauerkraut the Simple Way with Masontops Complete Fermentation Kit
Masontops Complete Mason Jar Fermentation Kit
This is the coolest thing I have found lately. This kit makes fermenting your own foods super easy so anyone can do it (even someone with no homesteading skills like myself). The kit comes with it's own recipe book to get you started and the recipes are super simple to make with basic ingredients.
I love that the pickle pipes are silicone, that the pickle pebbles (they are more like pucks to me) are good quality glass and the packer is solid wood. This kit will last you a really long time.
This kit is ideal for anyone wanting to increase their intake of fermented foods, health enthusiasts, and preppers. It's like making homemade probiotics in a jar!
One More Way to Improve Your Gut Health
Strange as it may sound, getting outside and getting plenty of fresh air allows our bodies to breathe in more microbes and new varieties of microbes as well that are beneficial to our bodies.
Working in the garden, doing yard work, taking a walk, these are all simple things you can do to improve your health. Sitting under trees and just breathing in the air will allow your body to take in new microbes that become part of our gut flora.
Seems obvious, yet how many of us think of this? Sitting indoors all the time breathing in the same air day after day prevents us from replenishing our gut flora. It's bad enough that most of our foods these days are either over-processed or pasteurized killing off many beneficial microbes we would normally take in from our foods.
If you have any other suggestions such as this, feel free to leave them in the comment section below!
© 2017 Carolyn Dahl