Lauren Brown MS, RD
Gut health , what exactly do you mean? Well for starters its a lot more than your belly. The gut microbiome is comprised of our entire GI system but when we talk gut health were predominately focused on our stomach, small/large intestine, and lastly the colon. Within the GI, there are trillions of gut microbiota that help modulate our immune health In-fact about 70% of our immune health is regulated via the gut. So , as you can safely assume, its pretty dang important.
The gut microbiome is similar to a finger print, no two are the same. We begin to develop diversified gut microbiota from the moment we make our entrance onto this planet, seriously, how mothers give birth (cesarean section vs natural birth) has been shown to affect the gut microbiome. Everything we do can affect our microbiomes from the foods we eat to where we live (rural vs city) to whether or not we have a pet (DOGS RULE) ! So there are plenty of uncontrollable factors that diversify/individualize the gut microbiota but there are a handful of factors in which we CAN make an impact on.
Factors such as; diet, hydration, and exercise. A nutrient dense and diverse diet (both macro and micronutrient content) , adequate hydration, and regular exercise are all ways to maintain a happy healthy little ecosystem in your gut!
Diet - What I mean when I say diet is simply the foods you fuel your body with on a daily basis like God intended ! How do I diversify my gut microbiome so I can have a healthy digestive tract, improved immune system, reduced risk of obesity, and type 2 diabetes? Well happy you asked friend.
Lets start with a HOT topic that is crazing in the media (besides the Kardashion drama) and that topic is probiotics. Probiotics are live active cultures of specific strains that when consumed in appropriate amounts have been shown to provide health benefits for the host. They are clinically proven to help reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea, improve irritable bowl syndrome, manage symptoms related to poor digestion of lactose, and decrease common infections, including those of the respiratory tract, gut, and vaginal tract.
Funny enough, the word Probiotics has NOT been legally defined by the FDA. Making the advertisements to sell "probiotics" as dietary supplements make the credibility of their claims to be very weak and accuracy of the contents to highly questionable. But we can save dietary supplement talk and its lack of regulation for another lengthy blog post. Point being, dietary supplement labels may make claims about how the product affects the structure or function of the body without FDA approval.
The approved scientific definition is as follows, " Live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host ". Probiotics are developed in foods through a process called fermentation (and no just because your beer is fermented does not mean you're drinking probiotics). In order to keep as many probiotics alive from shelf to intestines adding them to fermented foods such as certain dairy products can ensure for a better chance of vitality once reaching the gut and bypassing the acidic stomach environment that can otherwise cause the probiotics to be destroyed.
When looking for foods that contain probiotics we look for a couple of things: does the the food label contain the phrase "contains live and active cultures" yes? ok great, but this does not mean that these active cultures are probiotics. However, additional live and active cultures are beneficial either way because they make good fermenters which allow for utilization of Short chain fatty acids, Vitamin K, and B vitamins within our bodies. So lets take it a step further and look at the ingredient line for which strain of active and live cultures. We are looking for Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium. These strains are the most well researched and are known to be beneficial to the host making them probiotics. Lastly, if the product has a CFU count even BETTER. Currently, an effective dose of probiotics is
1- 10 billion colony forming units (CFU)/dose, more is not necessarily better. This dose is based on a specific strain that has been tested in humans and shown to provide positive outcomes.
A few commonly asked questions about probiotics
If I am on antibiotics should I stop eating probiotics? - No, but spacing out the consumption of the two of at least 2 hours is a good general rule of thumb to abide by but as always refer to the prescribing medical profession when it comes to specific medication questions
Are probiotics safe for me? Probiotic foods are safe to consume. Pregnant women, infants, people with compromised immune systems, or people with short bowel syndrome should talk to a healthcare professional before consuming supplements.
Is the sugar content of my yogurt/kefir/drink bad? - No, most research on probiotics have been conducted on sweetened food products and sugar has not been shown to negatively impact probiotics.
Are all fermented foods probiotics? - No, the process of pasteurization, baking, smoking can all kill off the live active cultures. Fermented foods may also be a source of SOME KIND of live microbes but that does not necessarily mean they contain probiotics which are strains proven to provide health benefits.
Take aways so far- Probiotics are not FDA regulated, dietary supplements are not always an ideal/reliable sources of probiotics, and live active cultures does NOT always mean probiotics.
If youve stuck with me this far congrats, but really I could go all day there is so much to unpack with the Gut microbiome I'm really just giving the quick and dirty nutritional aspect. But, I'm not done - lets talk Prebiotics now.
If prebiotics are a whole new concept for you - totally cool - a recent survey conducted by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) found that only 34% of their participants had heard of Prebiotics.
Just like probiotics, prebiotics are NOT FDA regulated nor do I think that is coming any time soon. Prebiotics is scientifically defined as
" a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit". Essentially, prebiotics are certain soluble fibers that remain undigested in the stomach and ferment in the gut into small chain fatty acids(SCFA) which feed probiotics. Now not all fibers are the same - check out my previous post for more info on soluble vs insoluble fibers.
Why do we need to feed probiotics? Well they are LIVING and they need food (SCFA) to survive which are produced by prebiotics! Foods commonly containing prebiotics are classified under fructooligosaccharides (FOS) an galactooligosaccharides (GOS) - two forms of carbohydrates. Now, lets jump into foods that contain prebiotics
Psyllium fiber (Benefiber* a fiber supplement but I have see beneficial results with my oncology patients who struggle with chemo induced diarrhea)
Additional benefits that have been found when consuming adequate amounts of prebiotic foods include , "increased calcium absorption, improved blood glycemic index and reduces gut transit time". These improved metabolic mechanisms reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, colorectal cancer, and type two diabetes.
All in all, the gut microbiome is a complex place that is home to trillions of bacteria - the more diverse the better, increasing probiotic and prebiotics in the diet have proven health benefits, and including daily exercise along with staying hydrated are the main course of action to take when working towards improved gut health.
Check out my Spicy Avocado toast! It contains both probiotics and prebiotics as well as healthy fats and a great source of protein!
1. Isapp - international scientific association for probiotics and prebiotics. International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). Accessed February 9, 2022. https://isappscience.org/isapp-science/
2. Probiotics: what you need to know. NCCIH. Accessed February 10, 2022. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know CloseDeleteEdit