Gut Health – Confused? Danielle, registered dietitian, explains!
Probiotics for Gut Health
Many of my clients and friends often ask me what supplements I take. The Media is always introducing the newest “superfood” or supplement that will “change your life.” If I followed everything that the media said, I’d be buying and throwing out products left and right! I know that for my clients, the mixed messages can be extremely frustrating and confusing. I do believe that we can get many essential nutrients from whole food sources, provided we are eating the recommended 5-7 servings of veggies/fruits as well as grass-fed animal protein sources or balanced plant based protein sources. The problem is that most of us DON’T eat well most of the time.
We all know that poor eating habits can wreak havoc on our waistline and I’ve mentioned countless times the importance of getting phyto-nutrients from fruits and vegetables. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that poor eating habits can disrupt our gut flora (aka microflora or microbiota). For this reason, Probiotics are at the top of my supplement list.
Microbiota/Microflora are the community of microorganisms that live in and on the human body.
The dictionary definition for probiotics is: a dietary supplement containing live bacteria that replace or add to the beneficial bacteria normally present in the gastrointestinal tract.
What is the function of Microbiota/Microflora?
- Gut bacteria aid digestion by breaking down otherwise indigestible plant fibers into short chain fatty acids that intestinal cells can access.
- Recent research suggests it influences many other metabolic functions.
- Experts regard it as a “hidden organ system” capable of interacting with its host down to DNA expression (when out of whack it can lead to IBS, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, Depression, Autoimmue Disorders and Parkinsons).
There are many factors that impact our microflora (all of the moms or future moms pay attention!):
- The integrity of a mother’s gut flora while pregnant impacts that of her baby’s! Research suggests that the bacteria that our body recognizes as “normal” and will prevail in our gut for the rest of our lives is established by our first exposure to our mother’s microbiota mix. This is all the more reason to fuel your body well.
- The method of birth also impacts the microbiota that babies are exposed to. Babies born vaginally are exposed to strains of Lactobacillus present in the birth canal, while babies born via C-Section contain more strains of Staphylococcus.
- Breast milk has its own microbiota that differ depending on vaginal birth or c-section (due to antibiotics administered) à Breast milk has pre-biotics that help develop an infant’s intestinal bacteria.
- Studies show that by age 2, a child’s intestinal bacteria have been established and resemble an adult’s. Once the microbiome is established, it remains relatively stable throughout a person’s life (though some short and long-term changes can occur).
- Antiobiotic exposure can lead to an imbalance of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria and other microbes. While antibiotics are beneficial for eliminating bacterial infections, they cause damage to the beneficial bacteria that inhabit our guts as well. Up to one-third of antibiotic users may experience antibiotic-associated diarrhea of impaired bacterial functioning With elimination of “good” bacteria, comes increased risk of “bad” bacteria, called Clostridium difficile (“C. diff”) to gain a foothold in the intestines and cause a severe – even life-threatening – diarrheal infection. Experts believe that even when noticeable GI symptoms aren’t experienced, the ecological changes they cause in the gut can have adverse effects on longer-term health. This is why it is essential to take a probiotic during rounds of antibiotics to maintain a healthy balance of the “good” bacteria.
- Remember earlier I stated that food choices impact gut health? Well—Dietary changes can alter healthy gut flora in as little as 3 days. Yes, just three days of processed, sugar-laden foods can cause your gut flora to take a turn for the worse.
Ohh….it gets better….
- We know that what we eat alters our gut flora but did you know, as microbes compete for space and nutrients… microbiota appear to influence what we chose to eat! Research suggests that dominant gut microbes trigger cravings for foods that either benefit themselves or suppress their bacterial competitors! YIKES! Microbes may even create dysphoria in the host until the person succumbs to the craving (demanding, right?!)
How could they possibly impact food cravings?
- Research suggests the following mechanisms:
- They may influence our taste receptors making certain foods taste better.
- They may spark the release of hunger-triggering hormones (ghrelin).
- They may hijack the vagus nerve that connects the brain to the gut, thus influencing eating habits.
Unhealthy gut flora can have long-term implications to your health.
- It creates inflammation.
- Too much “bad” bacteria can lead to endotoxemia (build up of internal toxins in our bloodstream and cells).
- Altered microflora can also lead to negative changes in immune function
All of the above make us more susceptible to obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, depression, and other gut disorders. NORMAL gut flora prevent pathogenic bacteria from gaining a foothold on our intestinal lining but when the healthy balance is disrupted bacteria associated with IBS symptoms thrive and trigger more inflammation by activating our immune system.
Now that you know the impact of microflora, let me tell you some benefits of taking probiotics to help repair your gut health!
- PROBIOTICS have been shown to benefit conditions such as Chron’s disease, ulcerative cholitis, IBS/IBD by:
- Improving the integrity of the intestine
- Reducing inflammation
- Strengthening the intestinal barrier (thus protecting the body from toxin exposure)
- Research has shown that Type 2 Diabetics have higher levels of Clostridium species (harmful gut bacteria)
- When healthy gut bacteria are transferred into patients with Type 2 Diabetes, insulin sensitivity improves!!
- Stress disrupts our healthy balance of gut bacteria leading to bacterial overgrowth and “leaky gut” à this triggers inflammation and impacts the brain and central nervous system through neurotransmitter disruption.
What is the take-home message?
- Take Probiotics!!!
- You can consume them in the form of Keifer, Saurkraut, KimChi, Yogurt, Komucha etc BUT taking a probiotic supplement ensures that you get a variety of strains. Each strain of bacteria provides a different benefit to your body.
- I personally like Renew Life Probiotics but if you don’t like taking a capsules, Inner Eco offers drinkable forms (that taste good!). Both can be found online, in Sprouts, Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage or other healthy food stores.
If you REALLY want to know more about specific strains, there is a comprehensive explanation given by David Perlmutter, MD at http://www.drperlmutter.com/learn/resources/probiotics-five-core-species.
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