One of my favorite health trends that’s been popping up over the last few years has got to be probiotics. The things these micro-organisms can do for us is absolutely astounding. I’ve even heard that some scientists think that in the future we’ll think of our gut bacteria the same way we think about germ theory now (hard to believe there was a time we didn’t know to wash our hands!). So let’s get into it.
What are probiotics, and why are they so great?
Probiotics are a combination of live good bacteria and yeasts. They are part of your microbiome, which is made up of trillions of microbes (bacteria, yeast, viruses, protozoa) that help keep you healthy. Good bacteria:
- Support immune function
- Control inflammation
- Keep bad bacteria in check
- Create vitamins
- Support the cells lining your gut
- Help to break down and absorb medication
When you start to get too many bad bacteria, this can cause an infection and throw your body out of balance. This can lead to all sorts of health problems, from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to mental disorders (there are scientists currently researching the connection between your gut bacteria and conditions like dementia and autism).
This was particularly a problem when doctors were throwing antibiotics at every sneeze. Antibiotics don’t just wipe out the bad bacteria, they take the good with it. And when your gut is wiped of all bacteria, it becomes something of a micro-arms race to see which strains can repopulate the fastest.
Side note; science has recently discovered that your appendix actually serves as a reservoir for good gut bacteria. When an illness or antibiotic wipes out all your gut flora, some stays protected in your appendix and is then able to repopulate.
Who are these “good” microbes?
I’m so glad you asked! There are three that you should really shoot to get into your gut, asap:
- Lactobacillus – This bacteria is the most common probiotic around. It’s commonly found in yogurt and other fermented food and can help with diarrhea and lessening the severity of lactose intolerance.
- Bifidobacterium – These guys are found in some dairy products and can help with the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other bowel conditions.
- Saccharomyces boulardii – This is actually a yeast commonly found in probiotics, and it helps to fight diarrhea and other digestive problems.
Great, how can I get more good bacteria?
I’m glad you asked. There are food sources for good bacteria – like yogurt, buttermilk, sour dough bread, cottage cheese, kombucha, and tempeh. Fermented foods are a great place to start, and something that many of us in the western world don’t get a lot of.
If that list is leaving you uninspired, you can also get probiotics as supplements. Now, like everything else, not all probiotic supplements are created equal. When choosing a probiotic, you want to look for something with at least 1 billion colony forming units, the three strains of probiotics listed above, and prebiotics.
Now what are prebiotics, you ask? Prebiotics are compounds that support the growth and proliferation of good bacteria in our guts. Some examples are dried beans/legumes, garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, artichokes, green bananas, and wheat. A good probiotic will include prebiotics as well to ensure that your gut is hospitable to the microbes it’s introducing.
Personally, I use ProBio probiotics, and I recommend you do as well. It provides 6 billion Colony Forming Units of beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14, Lactobacillus paracasei Lpc-37, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG-AF, Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001, and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactic Bi-07). It also includes Beta-1,3/1,6-Glucans from Baker’s Yeast (to help support your body’s natural immune response), and they come in delay-release capsules to ensure the probiotics get to your small and large intestine.
For kids, I recommend Garden of Life Organic Kids + Probiotics. They include 5 Billion CFU, with 14 different probiotic strains. They also have prebiotic fiber, as well as Vitamins C & D to help your kids stay healthy and growing. The best part? They’re chewable and come in Berry Cherry, Banana, Strawberry Banana, and Watermelon flavors! In fact, if you choose to take the kids probiotics instead of the adult ones, you will find no judgement from this corner.