The popularity of probiotics in the past 10 years has skyrocketed. A decade ago, most people would probably have given you a bit of a weird look if you asked them whether they were supplementing with probiotics. But now, with the scientific community increasingly proving that your gut health is critical to your overall health, probiotics are a hot topic.
Now, there’s all sorts of words like “good bacteria”, “bad bacteria”, “microbiome”, and “gut flora” bandied about. They sound important, but what the heck do they actually mean? And for that matter, why do you even need to know what they mean? Can’t you just grab any old probiotic product from your supermarket or health store shelves, knock a capsule back once a day, and move on with your life?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are plenty of probiotic products out there which will provide absolutely no benefit for your gut health, and others that may even do you harm. In order to get the most from your probiotic supplement, you first need to get inside your gut. Metaphorically, not literally – that would be pretty darn gross.
Why do I need to take a probiotic supplement?
Your gastrointestinal tract, henceforth referred to as your gut, is home to over 500 different species of microorganisms. This number of species is likely much higher, as scientists are still funding hundreds of new gut microflora strains every year. These microorganisms number in their billions. Billions, people!
Far from your gut being an incestuous infestation of disgusting microscopic bugs, we rely on these billions of microorganisms for our very existence. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition in Clinical Practice found that the bacteria in your gut form an intricate, living fabric of natural controls that affect body weight, energy, and nutrition. Another 2012 study, this time published in the Journal of Nature Reviews Neuroscience, noted that the gut microbiotia plays a pivotal role “in the regulation of anxiety, mood, cognition and pain.”
The take away from all these emerging studies is that the microorganisms that live in your gut are far more important than you think. They have the potential to influence almost every aspect of your health, so if things are unbalanced down there (and they probably are!), there’s no way you can ever be fully healthy.
Your gut is probably lacking in good bacteria
The reason I say that your gut microbiome (the “living community” of bacteria and yeast which resides in your gastrointestinal tract) is probably a bit sad is because modern society has it in for these useful little guys. For starters, evidence shows that a natural birth is critical for exposing newborn babies to certain beneficial bacterial strains which then go on to colonize their gut. As this article from Science Daily puts it:
Each individual’s community of gut microbes is unique and profoundly sensitive to environmental conditions, beginning at birth. Indeed, the mode of delivery during the birthing process has been shown to affect an infant’s microbial profile.
Communities of vaginal microbes change during pregnancy in preparation for birth, delivering beneficial microbes to the newborn. At the time of delivery, the vagina is dominated by a pair of bacterial species, Lactobacillus and Prevotella. In contrast, infants delivered by caesarean section typically show microbial communities associated with the skin, including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium. While the full implications of these distinctions are still murky, evidence suggests they may affect an infant’s subsequent development and health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to pathogens.
Essentially, if you had a cesarean birth, your gut is off to a very bad start. The next great blow to your gut health comes with antibiotics. Every time your doctor prescribed a round of antibiotics to kill of some pathogen in your body, it also killed off the good bacteria in your gut. Antibiotics are not selective, meaning they kill everything in your gut – good and bad.
Finally, there’s all sorts of other environmental toxins, prescription meds, and oral contraceptives which have been shown to take their toll on your gut health. Suffice to say that your population of beneficial bacteria is not what it should be.
Are the probiotics in fermented foods enough?
This one is a little more difficult to answer. For some people, the probiotics they receive from fermented foods may be sufficient to keep their gut happy and healthy, but only if they work hard at it. These people would need to have an already healthy gut biome, and they’d need to be eating a variety fermented foods per day. Examples of fermented foods include:
All of which need to be raw and unpasteurized. These foods can be very expensive to buy, and are time consuming (but highly rewarding!) to make. Most people don’t want that kind of commitment. If you do, check out our easy DIY sauerkraut recipe.
If you’re not prepared to eat a range of different fermented foods every day, or if you have been exposed to a cesarean birth, antibiotics, or have serious digestive issues, you NEED to get your hands on a quality probiotic supplement. Here’s how.
Finding the best quality probiotic supplement
If you find the right probiotic supplement for your needs, your gut will flourish. Quality probiotic supplements provide billions of beneficial bacteria which actually re-colonize your gut and make it a happy place once more. If you’ve been suffering from digestive issues (diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, gas, nausea, etc), you’ll likely notice the difference within a few days, if not immediately!
Cheap or poor-quality probiotics, on the other hand, use the wrong bacterial species or don’t allow those bacteria to actually take up residence in your gut. A classic example of this is acidophilus yoghurt – it might help your digestion when you eat it, but it’s effects are only temporary, simply because those bacteria aren’t designed to actually live in your gut.
Prescript-Assist Probiotic $49 on Amazon
This probiotic easily gets the thumbs-up from us, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s endorsed by Chris Kresser, a key figure in the health industry who I have a lot of respect for due to his obsession for reviewing the scientific literature and really knowing his stuff. If Chris says its good, its probably good.
Next, Prescript-Assist sources it’s beneficial bacteria from soil-based organisms – bacteria and other microorganisms which we would commonly have been exposed to before humanity developed a repulsion for getting dirt on its hands. These bacteria have been scientifically proven to live in the human gastrointestinal tract, meaning this supplement helps you to rebuild you gut population, rather than just temporarily bolstering it (as with many other probiotics).
Finally, Prescript-Assist also contains a humic/fulvic acid prebiotic which helps those good bacteria to thrive and flourish within their new home (your gut!). Essentially, it plants your seedlings, and gives them a healthy dose of organic fertilizer at the same time.
Primal Probiotics $29 through Primal Blueprint
These potent little babies pack a serious punch, and are endorsed by another of our health heroes, Mark Sisson. I like these probiotics as they’ve gone for high-potency, high-quality bacterial strains rather than just a vast number of low-return bacterial species. That’s what a lot of companies rely on to sell their probiotic product – “contains 150 billion trillion CFU’s!”, when really it’s about quality, not quantity. What’s the point in sending hundreds of billions of bacterial strains through your gut, if they don’t actually want to live there?
Primal Probiotics come with excellent reviews and plenty of information regarding their effectiveness and why they’ve selected certain strains. They’re also designed to survive the harsh environment of your stomach and make it through to your gut intact, which can’t be said for many other probiotic supplements.
Different strokes for different folks
While the above two probiotic supplements are a great start, everyone is different. With this in mind, if your body doesn’t respond well to them after the initial “adjustment” period (usually around a week), shop around and find a probiotic which is also well-respected and which suits your needs better.
Do you have a go-to probiotic supplement which you love? Tell us the difference that it’s made in your life!