Remember going to the school nurse with a stomach ache and her first question would be, "Have you pooped yet today?"? As a kid, that question may have seemed painfully intrusive but health care providers understand the importance of good gut health because so many aspects of our physical and mental health are linked to our bellies. Probiotics have been lauded in the media as the key component to a balanced belly. But are they as miraculous as marketed?
The gut is composed of organs whose functions are to convert food into energy. It is an ecosystem that hosts trillions of good and bad bacteria. Probiotics are the good bacteria which help us adequately absorb nutrients, flush out the bad stuff we ingest, and keep our entire digestive tract working at full capacity. Irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and even depression and anxiety have all been linked to having the digestive system working poorly. It would only seem logical, then, taking supplemental probiotics as part of your daily routine would be 100% beneficial, right?
A new study was published by Cell magazine. Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and his team studied how supplemental probiotics dispersed and populated in the digestive microbiome via two different studies. They discovered two unnerving facts about the bacteria:
Currently, no supplemental probiotics have any FDA regulation. Because of that, Elinav and his team set out to make sure the 11 good bacteria strains were present and working positively in people's systems. To do so, they divided 25 volunteers into groups who would take either probiotics or placebos. They discovered their volunteers to either be "persisters" or "resisters". The former group's microbiome was able to absorb and populate synthetic probiotics. Conversely, the "resisters" were incapable of doing so.
After further research as to why different people reacted polarly to probiotics, they concluded: "it's probably a combination of the indigenous microbiome and the human immune system profile that team up to determine a person's specific state of resistance or colonization to probiotics," Elinav said to Smithsonian Magazine.
Even more eye-opening is that, even if you are a "persister", the amount of probiotics found in supplements is very small to the amount we naturally produce. Remember, there are trillions of microbes living in us. Supplements only provide are a mere couple of billion.
The second study, which concluded that supplemental probiotics may prevent natural probiotics from forming, proves that, in some instances, the non-regulated pills can actually do you harm. This study consisted of 21 volunteers who were given antibiotics (which kill probiotics) that treat common gastrointestinal ailments for 7 days. They were separated into three groups that introduced probiotics into their systems three different ways.
The microbiome is full of various strains of bacteria. When trying to recolonize them using probiotics, only the synthetic strains flourished - about 7 or 8. This is problematic because the natural state of the gut is a cornucopia of bacteria. The supplemental probiotics limits our microbiome's diversification which key is in maintaining a healthy gut. Despite recognizing a depletion in variety, the scientists cannot conclude what the long-term adverse effects may be. What they do know, is that supplemental probiotics aren't cookie cutter remedies for all people and have potential negative side effects that can be harmful if they deplete our bodies from producing our natural bacteria.
So here are some ways to introduce probiotics naturally into your system through diet. First and foremost, you need to consume LIVE microorganisms to get any benefit. Also, a simple way to determine whether or not certain foods contain probiotics, if it's fermented, it does.
This treat is one of the easiest way to get your probiotics! It is fermented milk that is suitable for children seniors, and everyone in between. Again, make sure it has LIVE bacteria and be wary of the amount of sugar in them. A lot of those containing fruit are high in sugar which isn't good for you.
Like yogurt, kefir is fermented milk but in a drink form. And it is actually better for you than yogurt because it contains more strains of bacteria.
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage and usually accompanied with some sort of sausage. It is very sour and may be an acquired taste for Americans.
Tempeh is part of Eastern diets and is becoming more popular as a meat substitute. The fermented soybeans are rich in vitamin b12 and have an earthy flavor.
A traditional Korean dish, Kimchi's main ingredient is fermented cabbage but can contain other vegetables. It has a distinctive brine made of red chili pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, and salt.
This Japanese seasoning is also created by fermented soybeans and is most commonly digested in soup - Miso soup. It has many varieties (red, brown, yellow, and white) because the soybeans are mixed with other ingredients such as barley and rye.
Kombucha is gaining popularity in western cultures. This fermented black or green tea drink can be bought or homemade with a wide array of tastes when mixed with fruits and vegetables.
These aren't just for pregnant women to eat with their ice cream! Pickles are fermented cucumbers that are low in calories and high in vitamin K. They are typically either sweet or sour (made with dill) and can be eaten whole or chopped to use as an ingredient for any number of dishes.
This drink is mainly consumed in Nepal, Pakistan and India. It is the leftover liquid from making butter and is the only version that contains probiotics. Don't confuse this with the more common cultured buttermilk found in American stores because this variety does not contain probiotics.
Natto is another fermented soybean common in Eastern diets. It is typically mixed with ride and is pungent, has a slimy texture and and a strong flavor. Definitely an acquired taste!
In conclusion, scientists are just now understanding the complexity of supplemental probiotics which aren't amazing for everyone as they have been marketed. However, natural probiotics are crucial in promoting our overall health. Therefore, the best way to ensure your body has its own super microbiome is to have a healthy diet rich in these delicious bacteria.