The human body contains trillions of bacteria. Although we consider bacteria to be the cause of disease, our bodies contain what we refer to as “good bacteria” or flora in what is known as the microbiome.
While pathogens cause disease, good bacteria in the gut assist with numerous functions in the body, from the digestion and absorption of nutrients to immune system support and skin health. The good bacteria also produce various vitamins, including vitamin K. In addition, these beneficial bacteria produce acids that inhibit the growth of pathogens and stimulate the immune system.
Problems arise when the number of bad bacteria overtakes good bacteria.
Why Bad Bacteria Take Over
One of the main causes of the imbalance between good and bad bacteria is the use of antibiotics, whether to fight an infection or in the food supply. When you take antibiotics for a strep throat or UTI, the antibiotics don’t discriminate. They kill good bacteria along with the bad bacteria. That’s why you may experience diarrhea, stomach problems, or even a yeast infection when you take antibiotics.
Diet & Gut Bacteria
In addition to antibiotic use, what you eat may has been shown to cause an imbalance of gut bacteria. Research shows that a diet high in saturated and trans fat, both of which are associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and gastrointestinal disease, can lead to this imbalance.
At Oregon State University, researchers studied the impact of fat and sugar on cognitive function and behavior on mice. What they found was that the problems experienced by mice may be associated with the changes in the microbiome. Good bacteria release certain compounds that are neurotransmitters, boosting sensory nerves and the immune system.
Balancing Gut Flora
Since a balanced micronome is essential to health, what can you do to ensure good bacteria outweigh pathogens? One way is to change your diet to include healthy fats, low in sugar, and with sufficient fruit, vegetables, and fiber, which feed good gut bacteria. Fiber acts as a prebiotic and is crucial to derive benefits from probiotics.
Another tool is through probiotics, which can be found in fermented foods like active yogurt, kefir, kimchi, miso, and tempeh or in a quality probiotic supplement.
Probiotics are microorganisms introduced into the body for health benefits. There are numerous strains of probiotics and each one has a different effect. For example, certain probiotics may not survive the acidic environment of the digestive tract but might help to prevent cavities.
Much research has been conducted to determine the benefits of probiotics. Conditions that have been shown to benefit from probiotics include digestive issues like diarrhea, IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, H. pylori (associated with ulcers), as well as vaginal and urinary tract infections.
Examples of probiotic strains include Lactobacillus, found in yogurt and fermented dairy, which has been shown to be effective to address diarrhea and lactose intolerance; Bifiobacterium, also found in dairy, that may help with IBS and other digestive issues; and Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast that may also help with digestive issues.
Additional Benefits of Probiotics
While research indicates that probiotics can be effective to promote digestive health, including probiotic foods and a probiotic supplement in the diet can provide additional benefits. The gut is the first line of defense against pathogens or unhealthy bacteria so making sure you have enough good bacteria to fight these bad bacteria may be important to the immune system. These good bacteria also send messages to the immune system, boosting the immune response.
Certain strains of probiotics may also influence weight loss, in particular, abdominal fat. In a 2013 study, people with excess belly fat who took Lactobacillus gasseri for 12 weeks lost 8.5 percent of their belly fat. However, when they discontinued the probiotic, they gained the fat back within 4 weeks.
According to research, probiotics are useful in addressing chronic inflammation, depression and anxiety, blood cholesterol, hypertension, and certain skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema.
What to Look for in a Quality Probiotic
Not all probiotics are the same. Here are some characteristics you want to look for in an effective probiotic supplement.
- High CFU Count: Look for a formula with at least 40 billion CFUs.
- Multiple Strains: Diverse strains will help to balance the microbiome. Different strains target different results.
- Contains Prebiotics: This is indigestible fiber in the gut that good bacteria need in order to thrive.
Bottom Line: The gut micronome contains billions of good gut bacteria, as well as pathogens. Maintaining a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria is essential to health. Pollution, antibiotic usage, high fat and high sugar diets all compromise good bacteria. Restoring and replenishing good bacteria with a quality probiotic supplement can help with inflammation, immunity, and numerous health conditions.