In spite of the many articles about gut health and how hugely it impacts our body and brain function, lots of people are still confused about probiotics. I keep receiving questions about probiotics, prebiotics, fermented food and so on.
Let’s try to address this confusion right now to better understand what probiotics actually mean for us and what the best way to obtain them is.
Are probiotics new, trendy supplements that can help with any health condition? Are they a new panacea for all diseases? Are they the result of new technology and scientific breakthrough? Let’s explore.
Probiotic means “for life”. Probiotics are live bacteria that can be found in our digestive tract and which support our health. Remember that our body has 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. WE ARE ACTUALLY MORE MICROBE THAN HUMAN!
Research clearly shows the link between our gut health, the state of our microbiome, the combination, number and type of bacteria inside of us, and the function of our body and brain. 80% of our entire immune system is based in our digestive tract! Our gut is home to the “second brain” since a big part of our neurological system called enteric nervous system is located there. Therefore, it is obvious that A HEALTHY GUT MEANS A HEALTHY BODY!
However, the way we live and eat today doesn’t provide good support for our gut flora. Antibiotics, medications, chemicals in body care products and cleaning products, a diet high in carbohydrates, processed foods, lots of sugar, stress; all of these factors are constantly damaging our gut flora. We are facing so many different toxic factors causing a huge imbalance in the microbiome where pathogenic bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses can overgrow and trigger many health conditions. In the healthy gut we can see about 85% of good microorganisms and 15% of bad microorganisms. If this ratio is compromised, we start to experience its negative effect.
Nowadays, the majority of people have digestive problems and, as result, develop chronic inflammation in the body which cause many chronic conditions like chronic fatigue, thyroid imbalance, joint pains, migraines, depression and so on. That is why when people start to address their gut health issues, they can actually improve a variety of their clinical symptoms and help normalise the function of various systems in the body. And probiotics are doing exactly this, they can help to restore the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria.
New research keeps proving the numerous benefits of probiotics. We now have strong evidence that probiotics help to:
- Improve the function of the immune system
- Boost the digestive system
- Enhance brain function and positively affect different neurological conditions
- Help reduce the level of chronic inflammation and therefore heal conditions like IBS (inflammatory bowel disease)
- Improve many skin conditions including eczema
- Overcome allergies and food intolerances
Hence, PROBIOTICS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR OUR HEALTH!
But where can we find these “little life savers”? Probiotics come to us either as supplements or in the fermented foods. Probiotic supplements need to be carefully chosen if you want to take an effective product. It is wise to see what type of bacterial strains a probiotic contains and if they are alive, active cultures. Also, it is useful to know if a product is stable, well characterised, clinically effective and highly potent. Different strains of probiotics support different systems in the human body. Therefore, diversity is crucial. It is recommended to choose supplements that have more than 10 different strains and rotate the intake of products in order to obtain a better variety. This means you need to take different types of probiotics over a few months rather than only one type over a long period of time. Based on the extensive research published in this area, in his book “Brain Maker” Dr David Perlmutter suggests to focus on supplements that contain at least the following stains:
- Lactobacillus plantarum, which is crucial for a gut health and integrity
- Lactobacillus acidophilus, which plays an important role in the microbial balance and controls cholesterol levels
- Lactobacillus brevis, which improves immune function and increases levels of the brain-growth hormone BDNF
- Bifidobacterium lactis, which boosts immunity and prevents digestive illnesses
- Bifidobacterium longum, which has antioxidant properties and helps prevent colorectal cancer by effectively lowering the intestinal pH
I think that supplements are very useful and of course can be very effective when you travel or take some antibiotics or want to help your baby establish a better digestion process. However, as any other supplements, probiotics in capsules are a temporary solution. The best way to obtain the balanced set of “little life savers” is from real food!
It is important to understand that PROBIOTICS ARE NOT A NEW INNITIATIVE AT ALL! Throughout our human history, probiotics have been traditionally used in many different cultures as a way to save and preserve food. Fermentation is simply a metabolic process of converting carbohydrates, like sugars, into lactic acid through bacteria. During this process the bacteria multiply and lactic acid protects the fermented food. By fermenting milk, meat, fish, vegetables and grains, our ancestors were consuming probiotics for centuries. And of course, probiotic foods have a much broader variety of bacterial strains in natural concentrations and combinations which suit our gut much better than supplements. Furthermore, fermentation also makes the nutrients in the food more bio-available. For example, fermented cabbage contains 20 times more vitamin C than fresh cabbage.
Which fermented foods do you know? From my childhood, I know milk kefir, kvass, kambuch and sauerkraut. These are typical foods in Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, in India people drink lassi – a local yogurt-based drink. In Africa people produce amasi – another fermented milk product. What about kimchi or miso? These are very popular fermented foods in Asia. Therefore, we are not reinventing the wheel at all. We are just reintroducing these great foods back into our diet! Nowadays we call them SUPERFOODS. However, if you buy these foods as ready-made, you will not be able benefit from the probiotics very much! Commercially available foods are processed, pasteurised and practically don’t contain any bacteria. The best way to benefit from fermented food is to prepare it by yourself!!! HOME MADE PROBIOTIC FOODS ARE THE BEST DOCTORS! Let’s get back to the kitchen and prepare some probiotic-rich foods. You can buy, or get from somebody, different cultures/starters to produce milk kefir, cottage cheese, water kefir, yogurt, kombucha, kvass. But even without any special cultures and starters, using just good quality salt and other spices, we can easily make sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented vegetables. It is so simple to make, yet you get so much from it! Please, do your research and remind yourself how to ferment foods at home! Talk to your parents and grandparents about it and you will be surprised by how much knowledge they have in this area. And of course, you can always ask me!
What about prebiotics? What are they? Prebiotics are actually foods that feed “good” bacteria in our gut and by consuming them together with probiotics we achieve much better results. Usually prebiotics are products that contain non-digestive fiber. When we eat such foods, fiber passes through our digestive tract intact and it is only in colon that it can be fermented by the gut microflora. Therefore, prebiotics play a very important role in the health of our microbiome and hence, of our whole body. Unfortunately, the modern western diet is very low in prebiotics and we need to make sure we consume enough foods like raw garlic, raw or cooked onions, raw leeks, raw asparagus, raw dandelion greens, raw chicory root and under-ripe bananas. Now that you know how important prebiotic foods are, I hope you will find a way to bring them to your diet!
To conclude, I want to say that A LITTLE BIT OF FERMENTED FOODS EVERY DAY CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE AND THE LIFE OF YOUR LOVED ONES! Is it not fantastic to have such “magic” in your hands!?
As usual, I look forward to receiving your ever valuable questions, comments and feedback: email@example.com