Since their advent in the 1980s, probiotics have been portrayed in practically every light possible by both natural health advocates and the medical professions alike.
Logically, regular maintenance of the gut’s microbiome is both practical and necessary – in light of increasing amounts of antibiotics and genetically engineered pesticides which are inescapably present in our food supply.
But, for many years, the practice of intentionally ingesting billions of encapsulated bacteria seemed a bridge too far for many. However, with time and testing, an increasing number of wellness lifestyles include some form of strategy for reinforcing and maintaining this critical aspect of immune health
“When deciding on a probiotic supplement for yourself, a good rule of thumb is; “The more strains contained in it, the better it is for you.”
Recent studies have now shown that healthy gut function comprises a large percentage of our overall immune system. In light of this, probiotic supplements are seeing a marked resurgence as health issues such as ‘irritable bowel’ and ‘leaky gut’ continually increase alongside seemingly random digestive issues which plague a large cross-section of western society. In light of these and other related issues, the general acceptance of probiotic supplementation among wellness-minded consumers continues to increase dramatically.
“A number somewhere north of four to six BILLION CFU is appropriate for most probiotic regimens.”
While the benefits of healthy gut flora are undeniable – in both digestive and immune wellness, there are more than a few pitfalls when both choosing and incorporating probiotics as part of your wellness lifestyle. The following guidelines will help you to understand the pitfalls of probiotic supplementation. And, guide you to get the most out of your biome ‘restoration’ regimen.
Shall we Begin?
1) Dump the processed foods
First of all, there are individual factors which much be taken into account. And, for any program to increase the health of the gut, we must first make sure to eliminate the things which cause the dysfunction in the first place.
If you don’t clean up the diet, there will be little chance for probiotic bacteria to gain a foothold and, do the job they are supposed to do. As each successive generation of bacteria are destined to fall victim to the same destructive forces as those that came before.
Therefore, for any probiotic regimen to be effective, you must start by making sure you nourish your ‘microbiome’ with real foods – as natural as possible.
If you desire to enhance the health of your bacterial flora but, routinely eat processed foods with added sugars, genetically engineered ingredients, or antibiotics, you will accomplish exactly the opposite of the desired effect.
Many have turned to naturally fermented foods to support the microbiome
First; Sugars are the perfect nutrient for potentially pathogenic bacteria in the gut. And, we don’t want that.
Second; Genetically engineered grains and additives often come complete with their own pesticides which the source plant has been ‘instructed’ to make through modifications in their DNA.
Third; Antibiotics are non-selective serial killers. And, they directly kill the bacteria in the gut just as they kill the bacteria in any infection they are intended to combat.
The end result of these ‘poisons’ are that they decrease the population of the ‘good’ bacteria and allow pathogenic ‘bad’ bacteria to flourish.
Healthy fats, complex carbs, fiber, and healthy proteins actually inhibit these pathogenic bacteria as they are largely unable to derive their nutritional requirements from these foods.
Regarding sugar; Any pathology absolutely LOVES sugar. Sugar is the food that disease feeds on. This applies to cancer, digestive problems, neurological maladies, and simple musculoskeletal issues alike.
In every case, sugar feeds the pathological condition. Successfully ‘starving out’ disease simply means eliminating processed sugars.
Eating ‘real’ food that is not processed, and does not contain extra sugars – supports the gut function by nourishing your individual beneficial microbiome.
“…there is no chance of live cultures in the milk used to make commercial yogurts.”
2) Choose the best real food sources possible
One of the most common responses to the question; “What probiotic foods do you consume?”, is “Oh! I eat yogurt every day.”
Please don’t be discouraged when I tell you that the vast majority of yogurt sold at your local grocery store is nearly worthless, as it is made from pasteurized milk. The process of pasteurization sterilizes the milk at high temperatures and, not only modifies many of the beneficial milk proteins but destroys ALL of the bacteria in the milk. Even, the beneficial strains.
Suffice it to say, there is no chance of live cultures in the milk used to make commercial yogurts. Only if the manufacturer adds probiotics AFTER the heating process, are you likely to receive any beneficial, live cultures. Additionally, most manufacturers who engage in this practice, use a very limited number of common strains, which does little to provide any balance in the dozens of strains typically found in various locations of the human gut.
You see; Each organism in the gut biome is dependent, to varying degrees, upon other organisms in the ecosystem. Simply put, if you are ‘deficient’ in strain-A, it is likely that Strain-D will not be able to thrive at all. This problem cascades down the chain because now strain-F cannot survive because strain-C is in distress.
This type of biological feedback system is common in nature. And, as anyone who has ever tried to establish a stable eco-system in a home aquarium, knows – It is a very delicate balance of conditions. If one condition becomes unstable, it negatively affects the entire system.
Kefir is inexpensive, and once you find a source for raw milk, you can make subsequent batches by using the kefir from the original batch.
Your intestinal ecosystem is even more sensitive to even the slightest imbalance.
When deciding on a probiotic supplement for yourself, a good rule of thumb is; “The more strains contained in it, the better it is for you.” While commercial products tend to contain a very limited number of bacterial strains, a good probiotic will contain up to twelve probiotic strains. This is beneficial because each bacteria works in a different location of the gut, is comfortable within specific pH ranges, and will thrive in the absence of pathogenic strains.
Returning to the subject of Yogurt: Some yogurts also contain ‘homogenized’ milk, that is likely to contain a genetically bioengineered hormone, known as rBGH. This hormone is injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. Much of it finds its way into the milk as well – increasing human exposure to a potentially dangerous additive which is suspected of increasing the incidence of breast cancer.
Commercial yogurts also dump in the sugars, as well as artificial sweeteners. A single ‘serving’ of yogurt is likely to contain in excess of 20 grams of sugars and/or artificial sweeteners. As previously mentioned, this completely ‘undoes’ any probiotic benefit the yogurt may have had – as it only serves to feed the pathogenic bacteria, in the gut, exactly what they need to take over and maintain their dominance.
As you can see, modern, commercial yogurt is a far cry from the traditional yogurts which were made with cultured, raw milk. In fact, many commercial ‘yogurts’ are actually not real yogurt at all. Much like the ‘ice cream’ bought in supermarkets these days, there are very few natural ingredients remaining when compared to the same product twenty-five years ago.
While we are just using yogurt as an example, this information could just as easily be applied to any of the so-called ‘healthy’ dairy products in widespread distribution today.
3) Fermented foods are a win-win for everybody
Many have turned to naturally fermented foods to support the microbiome. But, what are we talking about when we say “fermented food?”
Assuming that you cannot find natural, cultured yogurt; One of the best fermented sources of probiotic bacteria is a popular cultured milk product called ‘kefir’ (Pronounced KEE-FER or KEFF-er).
Kefir is a fermented drink, similar to drinking yogurt which can be easily made at home with no special equipment required. Although it has a ‘tart’ taste, it can be used to make many tasty drinks and condiments by adding fruit, honey, or stevia.
Kefir is readily available in many health food stores as a dried powder or in granules and, is best made by mixing the granules with fresh, raw milk. Also , the product supplies an abundance of lactase (for the lactose intolerant) by merit of beneficial yeast and bacteria which provide the enzyme to break up the protein chains in the milk.
Kefir is inexpensive, and once you find a source of raw milk, you can easily make subsequent batches by using the kefir from the original batch. You can do this about eight times before it begins to taste ‘off’. At that point, a fresh run from a new culture pack should be made to start the cycle off again.
One culture pack should be sufficient to make anywhere from 30-50 gallons of kefir. So, it is very economical.
Another great source of probiotics is homemade fermented vegetables which can be made in large batches and refrigerated afterward. Although it may sound intimidating, starter packs for fermenting vegetables are readily available and, easy to use.
The main benefit to fermenting your own veggies is they are a great source of a particular strain of lactobacillus which is a beneficial and, thrives in the acidity found in the stomach.
Other fermented foods which can be found in specialty stores, particularly Asian food shops, consist of;
Natto (NAH TOH) – a pungent fermented soy bean often used as a condiment or on top of hot rice and, usually served mixed with a raw egg.Natto can also be added to cooked foods as well. Just be careful as high heat will damage the living bacterial cultures.
Miso (MEE SOH) – a paste made from soy beans and often other seasonings (such as wakame seaweed) which is used in making soups and added to dishes as a condiment. When making miso soup, a common error is allowing it to boil. Boil everything in your soup base first. Then, cut the heat before stirring the miso paste into the hot soup base. (Again, boiling will kill the culture.)
Kimchee (KEEM CHEE)- ‘Korean sauerkraut’ This cabbage is usually fermented underground and is often heavily spiced with garlic, leeks, and hot, red pepper.
Beware of commercial packages which can be quite heavy on the preservatives and, which may be “fake kimchee.” This ‘fake’ kimchee is not naturally fermented at all – instead utilizing a chemical process to mimic or artificially accelerate the fermentation process.
Your intestinal ecosystem is even more sensitive to even the slightest imbalance.
4) Choose high-quality probiotic supplements.
The measure of a good probiotic supplement involves two major factors. The first is the number of strains it contains.
Many probiotic supplements provide as few as two strains of bacteria. The highest quality ones provide ten or even twelve different strains of bacteria.
As mentioned above, the rule of thumb is; The more strains, the better.
The second factor which determines the quality of a probiotic supplement is the CFU number. ‘CFU’ stands for the Colony Forming Units contained in one capsule. A number somewhere north of four to six BILLION CFUs is appropriate for most probiotic regimens. Anything lower than this risks too many of the bacteria being unable to successfully colonize the appropriate locations in the gut. Digestive fluids, such as stomach acids can kill off some, while pathogenic bacteria will crowd a smaller number of beneficial bacteria out of surviving.
Additionally, watch the “Best if used by” date. Or, if the bottle only shows a manufacture date, make sure it is as recent as possible.
Colony forming bacteria are hearty little critters IF they are in a sporulated form and processed correctly. And, they will remain effective for months; especially if refrigerated. But, they do become nonviable with time. This can significantly decrease the effectiveness of your probiotic supplement by decreasing the active CFUs available due to time.
It is perhaps a good recommendation, that probiotics not be purchased in large supplies intended to ‘stock up’ for many months. It is a far better option to initiate an auto-ship relationship with a reputable manufacturer. This will insure that your probiotics arrive as fresh as possible and, in just time as you exhaust the previous supply.
5) What About Antibiotics?
Even if you are on an antibiotic regimen, it is beneficial to continue replenishing the gut biome with probiotic supplements. You can take your antibiotics, and then a few hours later, after the drug has had time to clear the digestive tract, take probiotic supplements.
Antibiotics wreak havoc on the intestinal flora which is one reason that many suffer digestive problems while taking them. So, it is reasonable to do everything possible to continuously replenish the bacterial flora, especially when on an antibiotic regimen.
Also, many foods these days contain ‘residual’ antibiotics which are by-products of the farming and production process. The chief offenders in this area are poultry products of which warehouse-farmed chicken and eggs are likely to contain the highest levels of antibiotics and their residues.
But, other highly processed meats and vegetables will also contain certain levels of antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals which are detrimental to the gut flora.
6) Have a Snack
Take your probiotic supplements with between-meal snacks such as fruit, nuts, or organic muesli or similar. This reduces the production of highly acidic (or highly alkaline) digestive fluids which can kill off many of the bacteria before they have a chance to do any good.
Snacks which lack any significant fat or protein are less likely to trigger the secretion of acids and bile salts. Complex-carbohydrate snacks mainly trigger the secretion of Amylase, a digestive enzyme which is unlikely to harm the cultures as they make their way into the digestive tract.
But, as always, be careful when snacking. Processed sugars sneak in from the most unlikely of sources. And, simple carbohydrates are the chewable equivalent to simple sugar. Whenever possible, complex, whole-grain, non-GMO grain snacks with some berries and nuts are the preferred snack in any probiotic wellness strategy.
Thank you for reading.
Live Well. Be Well!