Biologists have long known that the bacteria, protozoa, fungi, yeast, and other microbes that inhabit the guts of all animals can play a key role in their ability to survive.
- Termites cannot digest cellulose and so they depend on gut microbes to break wood down into a form they can utilize.
- Ruminant animals like cattle, deer, and elephants largely depend on the actions of the microbes in their rumens to break down cellulose and other material into short chain fatty acids that they can then use as an energy source.
- Even feeding monogastric animals like chickens and pigs low levels of antibiotics can make them grow faster and get fatter.
- Sadly, recent studies are finding correlations between childhood obesity and the use of antibiotics early in life…. this is why you will see on packages of poultry or beef: “Never Ever Been Given Antibiotics”.
Recent research also shows that mice fed a high-fat diet had 100X less of a specific gut bacteria (A. mucinphilia) responsible for stimulating the production of mucous. As a result, the gut is more permeable and more susceptible to microbial toxins associated with weight gain, inflammation, insulin resistance, and even diabetes in these mice. (1) Likewise, feeding these obese mice live bacteria (A. mucinphilia) and a “prebiotic” (fiber), research was able to show a marked increase in A. mucinphilia that led to a reduction in body fat and reduction in inflammation and insulin resistance (2).
Until recently, medical research has not paid much attention to how our gut flora promotes health and prevents disease. New studies show growing evidence suggesting that our gut microbes plays a far more important role in keeping us healthy than we ever imagined! We are beginning to learn the following:
- What we eat not only nourishes us directly but also serves as food for our gut microbes.
- While some microbes produce substances that appear to keep us healthy, other microbes in our gut can make us sick, some can even promote food cravings and weight gain!
- Different microbes thrive on different components of food, like fiber, which can effect our health.
- Drugs (particularly antibiotics) can drastically alter our gut microbes and other microbes that inhabit other parts of our bodies.
Some highly notable research findings include how probiotics help reduce the following conditions and chronic diseases:
- Diabetes, Gestational Diabetes
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) Probiotics – Adults and Children
- Ulcerative colitis
- Pouchitis and Diverticulitis
- Lactose Intolerance (Tolerating small portions of dairy)
- Colic in Babies
- Diarrhea due to Antibiotics
- Chemotherapy induced Diarrhea
- Traveler’s Diarrhea
- Common Colds and Sore Throat
- Upper Respiratory Infections
- Periodontal disease (Chewable probiotics)
- Prostatitis and Mastitis
- Yeast Infections
- Weight Loss in Adults
- High Cholesterol
- Depression, Anxiety, and Anger
- Reduced Cortisol and Stress
- Grass-pollen allergies
- Dermatitis and Eczema
Although probiotics are available as dietary supplements, they are also natural ingredients in the following foods:
- Yogurt: This probiotic food can be made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep.
- Kefir: Similar to yogurt. Kefir is fermented from a combination of milk and kefir grains and can contain anywhere from 10 to 34 strains of probiotics.
- Sauerkraut and Kimchi: These are both fermented cabbage, although kimchi will often include other vegetables. Even though sauerkraut does not provide a large diversity of probiotics, it is high in organic acids, which provides that sour taste which helps support the growth of good bacteria. Sauerkraut is often used in German dishes, while Kimchi is often found in Asian, specifically Korean dishes. Avoid preservatives and salt when buying Sauerkraut and Kimchi.
- Kombucha: A fermented black tea. The fermentation is started using a “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”, SCOBY for short.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Recent research shows ACV can be used to help control blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. You can drink a small amount in water or use it as a salad dressing.
- Tempeh: A popular dish from Indonesia, is a fermented soybean product. Tempeh is created by adding a tempeh starter to soybeans. The product is then left to sit for a day or two. Tempeh can be consumed raw or by boiling it with miso. It can be used as a substitute for meat in a stir fry meal. Not a fan of deep frying Tempeh because it can lose some of its nutritional value.
- Miso: A traditional Japanese spice. It is often found in soup, Miso Soup.
- Natto: Also a dish from Japan consisting of fermented soybeans full of the bacillus subtilis, which has much research showing how it can bolster the immune system, support cardiovascular health, and enhance digestion of vitamin K2. Natto also contains am anti-inflammatory enzyme called nattokinase which has been proven to prevent blood clotting.
- Kvass: Popular in Eastern Europe, kvass was historically made by fermenting rye or barley. Recently, it has been created using beets, along with other root vegetables like carrots. Kvass uses lactobacilli probiotics, which are known for their blood and liver-cleansing properties.
There are also several different probiotic supplements on the market. To help you decipher which one is best for you, consider the following when purchasing a probiotic supplement:
- What is the viability of organisms in the product? This means, how many organisms are alive or can “come alive” from an inactive or freeze dried state after consuming?
- Can the micro-organisms in the product survive the stomach acid? L. bulgaricus and S thermophilus are commonly used in yogurt for this reason.
- Either the company should use only bacteria that can survive the stomach acid, or the product should have an enteric coat, or be microencapsulated to help the bacteria in the product survive the stomach acid. The problem with enteric coatings is if the product contains yeast or mold, it is also protected from your stomach acid.
- Does the product contain only what it states it claims on the label? Are there any contaminating organisms? Is the product is free of mold or disease-causing bacteria?
- Are they claiming to be Gluten Free? Products claiming to be Gluten Free need to meet the FDA requirement to ensure they contain less than 20ppm of gluten.
- How many organisms are in the product? Typically 1 – 10 billion cells, (Colony Forming Units or CFU’s) of live organisms is found in each dose of probiotic. Medical grade probiotics contain much more.
- Is there a recommended serving size? This needs to be addressed in consideration of CFU per dose, and especially followed for children.
- Do they need to be refrigerated? Most probiotics need to be stored at the very least: A) Out of light and B) Away from heat.
Prebiotics are plant-based, non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of probiotic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics are not fully digested so when they get to the colon, bacteria consider them food. These non-digestible ingredients contain plant fiber that occurs naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Here are some of the top prebiotic foods:
- Artichokes and Artichoke Hearts
- Raw Garlic, Cooked or raw Onions and Leeks
- Asparagus, Jicama, Yams, Seaweed
- Apples, Blueberries, Bananas (more if a little under-ripe)
- Wheat, Barley, Rye, Oats
- Flax seeds, and flax meal
Some probiotic supplements will have added prebiotics – like chicory root – because they contain inulin, a type of fiber (fructo-oligosacharide) that supports the growth of healthy bacteria. Typically 2,000-4,000 milligrams (mg) of inulin is shown to support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. This is much lower than what is found in a probiotic supplement. Not to worry though – a small banana (about 3.5 ounces) contains 500 mg of inulin, about 3.5 ounce of asparagus contains 1700 mg of inulin, and about 3.5 ounces of artichokes contain 18,000 mg of inulin. Notice the trend – these foods are all high fiber foods.
Fiber is invaluable – it is needed to aid in digestion, helps to lower cholesterol, helps in regulating blood sugar (especially helpful for those with Type-2 diabetes), and is part of a heart healthy diet. You need about 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. Unfortunately, you might only be getting half of that amount if you eat a standard “Western or American diet” that is high in animal products, sugar, and fat. Research shows that a typical Western diet high in fat, salt and meat, and low in fiber will increase Bacteroids, which is a bacteria that is associated with disease. By contrast, a diet composed largely of fiber-rich plant foods can create a healthier and more diverse gut microbiome.
An unhealthy digestive system results in an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria and yeast because food cannot be broken down properly; essential nutrients are not absorbed; and the immune system is compromised leaving us fatigued and rundown. This overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria can also increase the risk of infections, allergies, and inflammation, which can lead to symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, acid reflux disease, dermatitis, eczema, poor sleep, depression, anxiety, mood swings, poor sleep, weight gain, allergies, chronic disease, and certain autoimmune disorders.
Although more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that a diet rich in fibrous plant foods – and less fatty animal products, salt, and refined carbohydrates – can positively influence our gut flora, and in turn, many aspects of our health. This research shows how probiotics and fiber rich prebiotics can alter the gut’s microbiota and lower our risk for chronic diseases like Cardiovascular Disease, Type-2 Diabetes, certain Cancers and Auto-immune Diseases, as well as Alzheimers Disease. It is a known fact that the most healthy people have the most stable and diverse gut microbiome.
The best way to sustain a significant change in the gut’s microbiota, and maximize your health, is to eat a diet rich in fibrous, prebiotic foods, balance your plate at every meal, exercise regularly, and take a daily probiotic supplement.
To discuss your nutrition or supplement needs, learn how to establish positive, new habits to eat a diet rich in fibrous, prebiotic foods, balance your plate at every meal, and exercise regularly to heal, nurture, and maintain a healthy mind, body, and soul, Contact me at B3yond Nutrition LLC 973.852.3335.
- Cani P, et al. Diabetes 2008;57:147-81
- Everard, A.; Belzer, C.; Geurts, L.; Ouwerkerk, J. P.; Druart, C.; Bindels, L. B.; Guiot, Y.; Derrien, M.; Muccioli, G. G.; Delzenne, N. M.; de Vos, W. M.; Cani, P. D. (2013). “Cross-talk between Akkermansia muciniphila and intestinal epithelium controls diet-induced obesity”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (22): 9066–9071
- Mary Ellen Sanders. How Do We Know When Something Called “Probiotic”Is Really a Probiotic? A Guideline for Consumers and Health Care Professionals. Functional Food Reviews 2009:1;3–12
- Wu GD, et al. Linking long-term dietary patterns with gut microbial enterotypes. Science 2011;334:105-8