For the health conscious, probiotics should factor high on the list of essential supplements and crucial foods. Most know that probiotics, friendly bacteria that live in the gut, play important roles in digestive function. These living companions help us absorb nutrients from foods and supplements, and assimilate those nutrients into each cell in our entire body. Sounds pretty important, right?
But that’s not all — the beneficial functions of probiotics do not stop at a happy gut. They also support a healthy immune response. How do they do it? Probiotics inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria by producing organic acids, hydrogen peroxide, and unique natural antibiotic substances. They also process and neutralize toxic compounds.
Scandinavian studies have shown that those who supplement with probiotics before surgery as less likely to have postoperative infections. In fact, the use of antibiotics to treat all hospital-based infections deceased in those taking probiotic supplements.
A healthy gut, with robust probiotic populations helps prevent colds and flus. A study in China showed a 34% decrease in incidence of upper respiratory infections in school aged children who supplemented with probiotics.
But, simply adding daily probiotics may not be enough to foster a healthy gut.
Supplementing is Not Enough
If you have low levels of probiotic species or imbalances of friendly to potentially harmful bacteria, you’ll find it’s not as easy as adding a probiotic supplement. Normalizing probiotic populations requires time and the right ingredients.
Here’s my step-by-step suggestions to achieving a healthy microbiome:
- First, you need a product that contains active, live probiotic species. If you haven’t had a stool test, where you can find out which species you need to supplement, a broad spectrum of probiotic species is best.
- Second you need enough of them. On average, 5 billion active organisms are sufficient. However, if you have low levels (by stool testing), you need more – at least 25 billion twice daily.
- Thirdly, they have to get past stomach acid and the upper intestinal digestive enzymes, which can destroy bacteria on contact. No one has tested the absolute best time to take probiotics, but my clinical experience suggests that taking them immediately before meals helps move them past the stomach and through the small intestine faster. Others say between meals, but after years of clinically observing that approach, I question whether is makes good sense to have live bacteria sitting in the stomach for hours, exposed to a bath of gastric acid. For practical purposes, taking them with food makes sense, too.
To help build strong probiotic colonies, you also need the right substrate of fiber and prebiotics, a category of nutrients that support the growth of healthy microbiome. The most commonly recommended prebiotics are inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). They can be taken as supplements, but are also found in foods including chicory root, garlic, onion, and other fruits and vegetables.
Getting enough soluble fiber is also important. You need at least 20-25 grams daily, and more if you have digestive concerns. Naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and dairy drinks like kefir, are good sources of prebiotics.
The Sugar Problem
Malabsorption (or over absorption) of sugar causes the wrong type of fermentation in the gut. This causes symptoms of gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, or constipation. It also disrupts colonization of probiotics, and favors potentially pathogenic microorganisms like yeast and fungi. It is well known that lactose can cause this effect, but other sugars including sucrose and fructose cause similar problems. When attempting to recolonize the gut, cut back on the simple sugars, or better yet, eliminate them entirely for a few months.
KEY POINTS FOR PROBIOTIC REPLACEMENT THERAPY
- Probiotic product containing live species.
- Take enough: 5 billion for general health, up to 50 billion for replacement.
- Take just before or with meals.
- Provide enough fiber and prebiotics.
- Cut back on all sugars.
- Consume diverse probiotic foods or supplements daily for at least one year.
The probiotic product you take needs to guarantee precise identification of species and number of units. Advanced probiotic manufacturers use DNA-based technology and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to identify bacteria types. The combination of viable bacteria that adhere to and colonize the gut with a low sugar, high fiber, plant-based diet is necessary in repairing the gut.
Getting the right bacteria to recolonize your gut is not easy. It takes time, up to a year or longer to make progress. However, your health depends on it, and it will be worth the time and effort for improved immunity and digestive health.