Probiotics make the list at #4. Our gut contains trillions of bacteria, some friendly, some not. When we are born, our guts are empty slates, but from that moment on, bacteria begin moving in. The primary way we influence the populations of microbes in our gut is through prebiotic foods—foods which are impossible for a human to digest, but which the bacteria residing in our guts digest with ease.
From the beginning of our lives, the food we consume helps cultivate either a beneficial or less-than-beneficial gut ecosystem. One reason it is recommended to breastfeed for at least 6 months is that breastmilk contains carbohydrates called “oligosaccharides” which are food for very specific helpful microbes, thus encouraging the right sort of bacteria to grow in the infant’s gut. We continue to encourage a healthy gut microbiota throughout our life by consuming prebiotic foods, like beans, garlic, onions, and other fibrous veggies.
On top of prebiotic foods, we can also influence our gut population by consuming the healthy bacterial colonies whole. Some foods naturally contain healthy bacteria. Fermented foods, like yogurt or kimchi, contain active populations of bacteria which will spread to your gut after consumption. However, with most foods, you cannot be certain either of the strains you’re getting (e.g., Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, etc.) or the amounts of bacteria, measured in CFUs (“colony-forming units”).
With a probiotic, you can be certain both of the strains you’re receiving as well as how many CFUs will be provided. While food might only supply some millions of CFUs, a high-quality probiotic measures CFUs in the billions, which is a 1000 times greater amount.
Maintaining a healthy gut flora is important. Research suggests that our gut bacteria are involved in a wide range of factors influencing our health, including being a mediating factor in the gut-brain axis. The right sort of bacteria in your gut may improve your immune response, protect you against GI distress like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, and may even affect how you process stress and pain! There is still much to be understood, but there is no question that a healthy gut microbiome is important.
For this reason, probiotics are a superb supplement to use. Ideally, they should be used in conjunction with a diet high in prebiotic foods, like fibrous veggies, so that once the colonies form in your gut, you’re supplying the food necessary to maintain them!
Recommended Supplement: GI Support Pack (includes Lactobacillus coagulans)
Recommended Dosage: As per manufacturer specification