Many seemingly unrelated diseases, conditions and symptoms are now being related to the health of the gut and its microbiome. Hippocrates said it best: ‘All disease begins in the gut’. If you truly desire to optimize your health, you can’t ignore your microbiome. While research is still in its infancy and many questions have yet to be answered, the information below will help ensure you are on the path to not just a healthy gut, but a healthy body too.
First of all let’s start with the definitions:
Diversity – this term refers to having many different types of microbiota, bacteria, fungi and yeast, and is often referred to as microbiome richness. It is generally accepted that a diverse microbiome is better than a non-diverse one.
Dysbiosis – an imbalance of healthy vs. pathogenic bacteria that promotes symptoms and negative health effects.
Family, Genus and Species – a hierarchy classification system of microbes (and all living things). The taxonomic classification is as follows: Domain > Kingdom > Phylum> Class > Order > Family > Genus > Species. In the case of the bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus refers to the genus, and L. acidophilus refers to the species.
Microbiome – the genetic material present in a community of microbiota in a certain part of the body such as the gut or skin.
Microbiota – this is the new term used to refer to gut or intestinal flora and includes both beneficial and pathogenic microbes.
Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – byproducts that form when gut flora digests fiber material in the colon. These SCFAs have been shown to exert powerful and beneficial effects in the body including fuel for colonocytes, promoting mucus production in the intestinal lining and regulating inflammation.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are actual live microbes that impart beneficial effects to you when consumed and help to repopulate your digestive tract’s microbiota. During digestion, fibrous material makes its way to the colon where the gut flora ferments it, and which then produces SCFAs. These beneficial fatty acids include butyrate, acetate, and propionate, all of which exert anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.
Probiotics can be both healthy bacteria and fungi and are found in a variety of fermented foods and supplements that contain live cultures.
Common probiotic-rich foods include:
- Some cheeses (that are fermented).
- Fermented vegetables (not just pickled).
Probiotic strains and benefits
While research is ongoing, there are an incredible number of strains within each genus and we only know a little bit about their effects thus far. This is not an exhaustive list but as you’ll read, benefits are often seen when strains are combined in multistrain preparations, as one strain cannot do it all. This speaks to the importance of microbiome diversity.
I’m highlighting here only a few of the most well-known beneficial microbes and the health effects seen in randomized controlled trials:
Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii) – a yeast (a type of fungi) that has been shown to reduce onset of diarrhea with antibiotic use, increase production of short-chain fatty acids, degrade harmful toxins, help protect the gut lining, reduce inflammation and more.
Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus) – a common starter in yogurt and is one of the first bacterial colonizers of the intestinal tract after birth. Probiotic supplementation containing this strain has been shown to improve brain activity, reduce inflammation, improve glycemic control, reduced complications after colorectal surgery and more.
Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus) – this species (when in combination with B. lactis) has been shown to reduce abdominal pain severity, and bloating common in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other bowel disorders. One small study also found that ingestion of yogurt containing these same two species improved uric acid levels, insulin sensitivity and oxidative stress in those with metabolic syndrome.
Lactobacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus) – this species has been found to be important in improving immune function as we age, and reducing bacterial infections. A multistrain probiotic drink containing this species was found to reduce the incidence of infections from the pathogen C. dificil, and antibiotic-induced diarrhea.
Bifidobacterium bifidum (B. bifidum) – this species as part of a multi-strain probiotic supplement was found to improve IBS-dominant symptoms and treatment outcomes in those with ulcerative colitis. B. bifidum may also help reduce stress-related GI symptoms when administered alone.
Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum) – this species has been shown to reduce depression and improve quality of life in those with IBS, as well as promote cognition and reduce feelings of stress in older adults.
What are prebiotics?
While probiotics are the actual microbes, prebiotics are different. Prebiotics refer to the fuel required to help keep beneficial microbiota inside our bodies thriving.
If an abundance of healthy bacteria and yeasts in the colon are deprived of prebiotic material, their populations will die off and dysbiosis is more likely to develop over time.
Prebiotics are rich in:
- Jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke).
- Green banana.
- Dandelion greens.
- Chicory root.
- Bulb onions.
- Wheat bran.
Prebiotic supplements include:
Probiotics are actual live microbes that impart beneficial effects to the host (human) when consumed and help to repopulate the digestive tract’s microbiota.
Prebiotics refer to the fuel required to help keep beneficial microbiota inside our bodies thriving.
The combination of prebiotics and multistrain probiotics in both foods and some supplements has shown to help reduce symptoms, treat disease, and improve overall health.
Most people appear to benefit from a diverse diet rich in fermented and fibrous foods.
However, some with digestive disorders may experience increased symptoms such as bloating and gas upon ingestion.
Work with your doctor and dietitian to know which foods, supplements and strains are right for you.
Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. (2015). Clinical trial: Probiotic Bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 Versus Placebo for the Symptoms of Bloating in Patients with Functional Bowel Disorders - a Double-Blind Study
The National Center for Biotechnology Information
Clinical trial: Probiotic Bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 Versus Placebo for the Symptoms of Bloating in Patients with Functional Bowel Disorders - a Double-Blind Study
The Effectiveness of Synbiotic Preparation Containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium Probiotic Strains and Short Chain Fructooligosaccharides in Patients with Diarrhea Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome-A Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study