There are trillions of microorganisms living in your gut.
Those various colonies are carrying out important duties like protecting the body from pathogens and helping the digestive process.
But they’re also looking to grow.1
The problem is there’s only so much space to go around.
If one of those colonies gets a little too big for its britches, it’ll overtake and damage one or more of the other colonies.
Left unchecked, the gut microbiota will fall into a state of imbalance… and the rest of your body will take notice.
If one (or more) of those beneficial colonies is diminished to the point it can no longer carry out its intended function, there are serious consequences.
Chronic heart disease, cancer, insomnia, kidney disease, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis, gout and fibromyalgia have all been linked to an unhealthy, imbalanced gut.2
So much in our environment and diets work against a healthy gut.
For instance, antibiotics don’t limit their attack to just bad bacteria. They also have a penchant for wiping out the beneficial bacteria found in the gut microbiota.3
Then there’s stress. Thanks to the two-way communication line known as the gut-brain axis, when the brain gets stressed out, it shares these feelings with the gut and disrupts the harmonious equilibrium.4
Artificial sweeteners are also known to stimulate unhealthy bacteria and disrupt gut health.5
And people who don’t eat a wide range of foods have a less diverse microbiota.6
This might sound like a lot to overcome, but it is 100% worth the effort… and easy to do.
A One-Step Solution
If you’ve spent upward of 30 seconds looking into gut health, you’ve read or heard that you should consume fermented veggies like kimchi and sauerkraut or drinks like kombucha and kefir.
(And let’s not forget Jamie Lee Curtis’ favorite: yogurt.)
These natural sources of healthy bacteria are known to support a healthy gut microbiota.7
They can also treat and prevent inflammation in the gut while stabilizing the permeability of the intestinal walls, which is important for a strong immune system.8
But when it comes to fermented foods, I know plenty of people who just don’t have the stomach for them.
And that’s okay.
There’s an easy way to keep your gut healthy. And no doubt you’ve heard of it…
Because over the past couple years, just about every grocery store, health food shop and vitamin store has started hawking them.
I’m talking about probiotic supplements. And they can do wonders… if you know what to look for.
All the Rage
No question probiotics are all the rage. But with that popularity comes a lot of unreliable information as people (and companies) jump on the bandwagon to get a piece of the action.
In fact, a recent study in the journal Frontiers in Medicine found that the majority of top-ranking websites are dishing out information on probiotics without any scientific evidence to back it up.9
That can cause a lot of confusion – not to mention overwhelming options – when it comes to figuring out what will work for you and your body.
So here are some important things to look for when choosing a probiotic supplement.
- Make sure it contains live and active bacteria cultures. If it does, it’ll say so on the label. If it doesn’t, you might as well be taking a sugar pill.
- Find the measurement of colony-forming units (CFUs). This is how probiotics are measured, and the higher the level, the better… up to a point. Effective doses start around the 2 billion CFU mark. And they grow increasingly beneficial up to around 20 billion CFUs. After that, the price tag of the supplement will continue to rise, but the effects will not. Extremely high doses haven’t been shown to cause any harm, but in a study consisting of doses of 1.8 trillion CFUs, no additional benefits were found.10
- Look for the most effective strains, which are Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. These strains in particular are effective at balancing the negative effects of antibiotics.11 And a recent study showed those benefits take effect in just a matter of weeks. Older adults who take a probiotic supplement containing the strains Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum have lower levels of inflammation and a gut bacteria balance akin to that of young and heathy folks.12
If you’ve never taken probiotic supplements before, a word to the wise… There have been rare cases in which some folks have developed occasional stomach pains when first taking them. But this has been found only in those taking yeast-based supplements.
And the occasional stomach aches subside once the body gets used to the probiotics.13
I also suggest avoiding any supplements that contain soy.
One Piece of the Puzzle
We’re just beginning to appreciate how important it is to maintain a healthy gut.
While we know some of the benefits probiotics can have on our health, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
There is still a lot of important research being conducted in this relatively new field of study.
Probiotics are only one important piece of a much larger puzzle.
Next week, I’ll share some ways you can boost the effects of probiotics even further.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about gut health and probiotics, send an email here.