How do probiotics help us?
Let's look a little closer at these microorganisms that we now know live on and in us. They need us and we need them. So exactly WHY do we need them, and how can they work for or against us? Well...
Seeing as how there are over 400 strains that can reside with us, obviously I cannot possibly describe the benefits or adverse effects of every type. But I do want to highlight a few and help you to be able to determine what is the best way to improve, balance, and diversify your microbiome. Let's start by delving further into just how they can be beneficial.
We already know they play a large function in our immune system. Good bacteria (apathogens) are necessary for a healthy immune response. When our gut is made up primarily of good bacteria we enjoy a strong resistance against colds, flus, and even cancer. They improve symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea or constipation (sound a little like IBS?). When there is a strong presence of good bacteria they will crowd out and not allow bad bacteria (including salmonella), yeast, or viruses to take root in our gut. One strain, Lactobacillus bulgaricus actually fights the harmful bacteria that invades your digestive system, neutralizes toxins, and naturally produces its own antibiotics. There are multiple other strains involved in strengthening our immunity, including lactobacillus plantarum that deserves a highlight reel as well. Its list of achievements includes improving digestive health, strengthening immune function, lowering inflammation (thereby reducing auto-immunity), improving nutrient extraction from food, helping develop healthy brains and preventing ADHD, Autism and other sensory disorders, along with improving mental health and mood.(1) All that from a single-strain of probiotic!
Fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics, including Kimchi which contains probiotics that help to detox your body by breaking down pesticides and other harmful substances including BPA and heavy metals.(2) Probiotics are also responsible for helping you to absorb fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals and more. As well as synthesizing vitamin K2 (works with Vit D), enzymes needed for digestion, and B vitamins. Are you beginning to see why I am preaching on the microbiome? Eating foods that are fresh and particularly right out of the garden (your own or at a famers market) are a great source of soil based probiotics, just be sure not to scrub them too clean. This is hardly a fully inclusive list, I would encourage you to follow the links below if you would like to learn more on the full spectrum of benefits.
Let's follow the lead into the association with the brain. The vagus nerve connects your gut to your brain, and your gut has such an impact on how you function that it is often called the "second brain." The vagus nerve allows your brain and microbes to communicate with each other. Here is where things can go wrong real quick if you have pathogenic microbes ruling your gut.
Here your microbiota can be implicated in depression, schizophrenia, moodiness, autism, ADHD, etc. 95% of the body's serotonin is produced by nerve cells in the gut. When bad pathogens are given the opportunity, for example through perpetual stress, in turn giving to constant high cortisol levels, which leads to a decrease in the ability to properly digest, plus trouble sleeping which increases inflammation by taxing our immune system, causing us to turn to eating junk food,...the cycle perpetuates itself into a total disaster, directly resulting in the affective neurological behavior.
The microbes in our gut want to self-sustain and can directly influence our food cravings. Yep, your constant desire to indulge in a certain type of food, whether fatty or sugary, is most likely the direct result of a bacteria or yeast manipulating your feelings and cravings by changing neural signals along the vagus, literally altering your taste receptors and releasing toxins to make you feel bad or chemicals to make us feel good, all to service their own survival. Take a moment and read that again. You may have heard about candida, well that is an example of a yeast overgrowth that can have severely detrimental effects on your health.(3)
Our goal is to have the correct microbes that instead of destroying our health for their own benefit, work with us to create a mutually beneficially healthy cycle contributing to a strong immune system, balanced emotions, and overall health. Not all probiotics are made alike and tomorrow we will delve into how to know what microbes are ruling our guts and how to determine what is the best way to beneficially repopulate.
1. Jockers, D. The Health Benefits of Lactobacillus Plantarum https://drjockers.com/health-benefits-lactobacillus-plantarum/
Ji, S. 7 Ways Probiotics DETOXIFY Your Body 2018, Mar 30. GreenMedInfo http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/7-ways-probiotics-help-you-detoxify-your-health
2. Ji, S. Kimchi Packs Proven Health Benefits 2018, Apr 8 GreenMedInfo http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/kimchi-packs-proven-health-benefits
3. Axe, Dr. J. Eat Dirt 2016 p. 136-137