by Pamela Thiessen

Did you know that probiotics outnumber our human cells 10:1? The term “probiotic” refers to living microorganisms (i.e. beneficial bacteria) that reside along our digestive tract and provide a health benefit when taken at sufficient doses. That makes us more bacteria than human!

Registered Holistic, Nutritionist Caroline Farquhar, explains the importance of regular probiotic consumption. “You take a daily multivitamin but are you also taking a daily probiotic? You should be! There are over 500 types of bacteria in the digestive system and they weigh around 4 pounds (the weight of a brick!).” We have an interconnected relationship with these bacteria and as a result, when our gut microbe populations are imbalanced and bad bacteria takes over, disease can occur. This is termed “dysbiosis” and is associated with a wide number of conditions including: digestive problems, food sensitivities and auto-immune conditions, inflammation, low immune system & infections, skin issues, candida overgrowth, behavioral problems, insulin resistance and obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension.

What Do They Do?

Caroline describes the multiple roles played by these friendly bacteria, which include “improving gastrointestinal functions, enhancing immunity, helping to regulate hormone balance, protecting us from food-borne illnesses such as food poisoning, controlling overgrowth of bad bacteria and fungus, protecting us from developing allergies, assisting in vitamin production & nutrient absorption. Probiotics are like an army in your gut that works hard to protect your health.”

Immune System: “70% of our immune system is found in our bodies’ digestive tract which means that if your gut is imbalanced, so is your immune system. When you have an abundance of probiotic bacteria in your gut it makes it much harder for the pathogenic bacteria to take hold. While the virus is still in your intestinal tract, good bacteria surround and neutralize it. The good bacteria also form a barrier along your intestinal lining to prevent the virus from passing though the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream. If the virus gets past, the friendly bacteria actually communicate with your body to produce substances that neutralize the virus.”

Digestive Health: probiotics provide optimal break down, absorption and elimination of nutrients while strengthening intestinal lining. They are also needed to synthesize B & K Vitamins.

Mood Regulation: 95% of the body’s serotonin (happy hormone) is produced in the gut, making a healthy digestive system an important component in mental health processes!

What Depletes Our Friendly Bacteria?

Factors that deplete good bacteria and cause an imbalance in the gut include medications (antacids, broad spectrum antibiotics, birth control pills, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs), stress, age, hormonal changes, poor diet (high in refined foods and sugars, low in fibre), nutrient deficiencies, toxic exposure (from food, environment and cleaning products) as well as chlorinated/fluoridated water.

Who Can Use Probiotics?

While it is encouraged that everyone takes a daily dosage of probiotics to maintain good health, there are certain situations where they are highly recommended, such as:

Pregnancy & Newborns – Bacteria is the first thing babies come into contact with, even before breathing fresh air! Children pick up their mom’s bacteria in natural birth so it is essential that she has proper balance as this is their first “inoculation” against harmful pathogens. Once born, establishing normal gut flora within the first 20 days or so of life plays a crucial role in appropriate maturation of the baby’s immune system. Bacteria continues to multiply and diversify throughout the first few years of life. Note: Babies born by Caesarean section are more susceptible to immune deficiencies as they don’t get bacteria from the vaginal canal.

During & After Antibiotics – While antibiotics are designed to kill bad bacteria, they also kill all of our good bacteria! This means it is essential to replenish bacteria, not only after finishing a prescription, but during the course as well.

Struggling with a Health Condition or Low Immunity – Probiotics are the key to good health and an important first step in any treatment is regulating gut flora.

How Do I Replenish Them?

In addition to eliminating risk factors that deplete bacteria (poor diet, stress, chemical exposure, etc.), probiotics can be replenished in three ways. First, eating foods that provide probiotics can help to introduce good bacteria. Foods that contain natural probiotics include fermented goods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, miso, cider, kimchi, pickled veggies, aged cheese and yogurt. Second, consuming soluble fibre, which acts as food for probiotics (known as a pre-biotic), helps good gut bugs grow! Third, consider taking a probiotic supplement on a consistent basis to ensure adequate supply of friendly bacteria.

Which Probiotic Do I Choose?

Caroline explains what to look for in a probiotic supplement. “Probiotics are vulnerable to the harsh environment of the stomach. Always look for a probiotic supplement that is protected from the stomach acid with enteric coating. Also make sure that the potency advertised is per capsule NOT per serving. You want to find a probiotic that delivers multiple strains with lots of “L” bacteria (Lactobacillus strains) and lots of “B” bacteria (Bifidobacterium bacteria).” Ideal number and types of strains and dosage can vary based on health concerns, gender, or life stage. It should be noted that probiotics are safe and highly recommended for adults, children and pregnant women. Remember: While strength is important, consistency is key.

Your gut is your engine. Ask a certified natural health product advisor for more information on how to keep it running smoothly!