There are more bacteria in your gut than there are cells in your body…
Your stomach is your “second brain”…
If you take an antibiotic, be sure to take a probiotic too…
We’ve all heard these things before… But are they true?? Let’s explore the wondrous functions of the human gut and the major benefits of probiotics.
Our Microbiome: A Symbiotic Relationship
There really are trillions of friendly bacteria that reside in the human digestive system – from our mouth, down through our stomach and intestines, out through our colon. They’re also in our nose, eyes, and all over our skin. The “good” or probiotic bacteria in our gut aid digestion, help with acid-base balance, and keep the “bad” or pathogenic bacteria in check – like C. diff and some strains of E. coli. Specific bacteria have different functions within our body – some help digest food while others produce vitamins and hormones.
For example… there are multiple types of bacteria that break down lactose in milk, but some bacteria, like Lactobacillus acidophilus, break it down better than others. People who are lactose intolerant are probably lacking adequate Lactobacillus acidophilus, so the byproduct from other lactose-feeding bacteria is gas, which leads to cramping and bloating.
Bacteroides is a genus that breaks down veggies and fiber, while E. coli synthesizes vitamin K, helping our blood clot. Vitamin D, B12, and other necessary vitamins are also synthesized by our gut flora. We are completely dependent on these little organisms, and they are dependent on us.
From the Beginning
We weren’t born with these good and bad gut bacteria. Newborns acquire them during delivery via the birth canal and from breast milk. Babies who are born via cesarean section and are not breast fed miss out on these beneficial bacteria from their mom. This can lead to a weakened immune system throughout childhood and developing obesity later on in life. (More on this in a minute).
Better late than never
Many of my health complaints throughout my life have originated in my gut. The only exception is my endometriosis (however, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are nutritional remedies for managing this disease – holla if you know of any!). It’s too bad I didn’t recognize this at a younger age because I could have saved myself from years of acne, stomach issues, and headaches. Since I discovered the benefits of a probiotics and a balanced gut, I have felt happier, healthier, and my skin looks better than ever.
How an imbalanced gut manifests
If our gut flora is out of balance, then we can start feeling symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue. Some people may even get headaches or migraines. Imbalance also puts us at risk for getting an opportunistic infection, which happens when too many good bacteria are wiped out by antibiotics or other toxins. An example of this is a yeast infection, tongue thrush, or diarrhea from C. diff. To maintain a balanced and healthy gut, it is important to replenish our good bacteria. I choose to do this on a daily basis.
I used to think that probiotics were only necessary if I had just taken antibiotics. However, stress, diet, lack of sleep, hormones, medications, and toxins in our food and water can be detrimental to our gut bacteria. The amount of soaps and hand sanitizers we use kill off many beneficial bacteria that are essential to homeostasis as well. The long-term result can be inflammation, a weakened immune system, leaky gut, and a higher risk of developing chronic diseases (some autoimmune disorders, obesity, IBS, and depression have all been linked to imbalanced gut flora). Even if I don’t take a probiotic supplement each day, I try to eat yogurt or some source of probiotic to replenish my system.
(Keep in mind – more CFU’s per probiotic pill is not always better… Some people can only tolerate a lower CFU count, while others need the supplement to be packed full of 30 billion+. This is highly individualized!)
Probiotics and skin health
I used to be on a continuous prescription of doxycycline for my acne. Turns out the exact OPPOSITE remedy is what actually worked for me. Since incorporating probiotics into my every day diet, I have the clearest skin of my entire life. I must add, however, that my skin is also clearest when I cut dairy and cheese out. (I am a HUGE proponent of yogurt though. Remember those bacteria that break down lactose in our gut? Well that’s how yogurt is fermented – by those same bacteria. By the time we eat yogurt, the lactose sugars have already been broken down by little friends like Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Hence why it’s such a great source of probiotics:)
Good bacteria help regulate our hormone function, our hormone function can affect our stress levels and our skin health. A healthy gut = healthy skin.
Weight and the microbiome
There are specific bacteria that are associated with weight regulation. Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes are two anaerobes that reside in our gut and help regulate fat absorption. Studies have shown that when people lose weight, there are more Bacteroidetes in their gut than Firmicutes. And on the opposite spectrum, obese people have higher levels of Firmicutes.
…To come full circle, breast fed babies have higher levels of the beneficial Bacteroidetes than bottle-fed babies, which may explain why breast-fed babies are at lower risk for developing obesity later in life.
Serotonin and the gut
Over 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is synthesized in the gut, which influences mood and gut function. True story! That may be one of the coolest things I learned in microbiology. In fact, bacteria in the gut produce hundreds of neurochemicals that are utilized by the brain to regulate memory and mood. Imbalances in our microbiome have been linked to stress, depression, and overall brain function. It’s no wonder then why much of how we feel relies on how we eat. When we eat bad, we feel bad. And when we eat clean and good, we feel damn good.
Our mood, energy level, and overall wellness relies heavily on our gut health. It’s simply a fact!
Other potential benefits of a balanced gut:
Probiotics that I eat, drink, or take daily:
Other great sources of probiotics:
Anything fermented really!
All information is my opinion and is in no way medical or health advice. Probiotics may be harmful to individuals with a weak immune system and those on immunosuppressants. Please consult your doctor before changing your diet or taking any supplements.