Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms (bacteria and yeast) that live in our digestive tract. Yes, it’s another post about gut health – LOL! I am currently on Day 26 of the Auto-immune Protocol (AIP) Paleo Diet and my focus is currently on healing my gut. So, my posts have been primarily about gut health 🙂
Hippocrates stated “All disease begins in the gut”, and this seems to be the case for autoimmune disorders. There are several studies on the effects of intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and autoimmune disorders, I recently came across this study and found it interesting: “Does the Gut Microbiota Trigger Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis”?
Hashimoto’s is especially effected by gut health as about 20% of T4 is converted to T3 in the digestive tract by beneficial microbiota. Aside from helping convert hormones, gut microbes also help create various vitamins, alleviate diarrhea and constipation, improve brain function, alleviate anxiety, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and break down substances our body cannot use to either become food for the microorganisms or be turned into something our body can use.
Healthy gut flora has also been found to be beneficial for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Chron’s Disease, Eczema, Psoriasis, Depression, Autoimmune disorders and more.
So, how do you know if you have too few healthy gut microbes?
Symptoms of Unbalanced Gut Flora
- Chronic Constipation
- Chronic Diarrhea
- Sugar cravings
- Cravings for carbohydrate foods (like grains)
- Lowered immunity
OK, so we need healthy gut flora, but how do we get it? Which microbes are best? This of course sparked some research 🙂
Probiotic Laden Foods – Paleo as well as AIP friendly
- Sauerkraut (or other fermented foods)
- Pickles (they are fermented)
- Kimchi (Korean style fermented cabbage or vegetables)
- Kvass (Russian drink, fermented beet, fruit or veggie juice)
- Fermented coconut yogurt or coconut kefir
Prebiotics – Food for probiotics
- Apple Pectin (and apples themselves)
- Gum Arabic (extracted from the stems of several Acacia species, like Acacia senegal or Acacia seyal
- Echinacea (careful with this herb and autoimmune issues)
- Globe Artichoke
- Inula racemosa
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Legumes (not on AIP diet though)
- Tomatoes (but not on AIP diet – these are nightshades)
These foods and herbs are beneficial largely because they contain pectin, fructooligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides, and inulin. Artichokes are one of the foods that contain inulin, however; the longer they are stored the more inulin they break down and turn into other carbohydrates. This is because they use inulin as fuel. So it is important to get them as fresh as possible
What to Avoid
- Sucralose – it destroys beneficial microorganisms in the digestive tract
- Antibiotics – they kill all bacteria, whether it is beneficial or detrimental
- Heat from cooking – this can destroy Lactobacillus
Which Microorganisms Do I Want?
Some of the beneficial microorganisms we are looking to increase in our gut include:
- Saccharomyces Boulardii – this one is actually a beneficial yeast that helps to clean out candida! It also helps get rid of detrimental bacteria (including Helicobacter pylori) and…drum roll please… it can help not only with prevention but also with fixing intestinal permeability! Yeah!
- Lactobacillus species – these little guys have been found beneficial for diarrhea, gastroenteritis, enhancing the immune system, detoxing mercury from the body, and a ton more! Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus especially have been shown to help reverse intestinal permeability.
- Bifidobacterium species also known as Bifidus comprise about 90% of endogenous beneficial bacteria. Studies have shown that individuals with IBS have lower levels of Bifidobacterium. The various species may inhibit both detrimental yeast and bacteria
- Enterococcus faecium – this one in particular helps prevent diarrhea that is caused by detrimental microorganisms, and stimulates the immune system to kill Giardia lamblia which is a protozoa that causes Giardiasis
- Streptococcus – yes, usually you hear about the detrimental species of Streptococcus bacteria, there are some beneficial ones as well:
- Streptococcus faecium – may alleviate IBS
- Streptococcus thermophilus – may help prevent and treat colic, bad breath and diarrhea. It also stimulates the production of antibodies and interferons (basically boosts the immune system to help it attack the offending virus or bacteria)
- Propionibacterium freudenreichii – again, most species of Propionibacterium are detrimental, but this particular one may alleviate the symptoms of IBS, prevent colon cancer, help in the conversion of glucose and help Bifidobacteria species utilize the oligosaccharaides discussed earlier in the prebiotics section.
On top of eating foods chock full of healthy microorganisms, and other foods to help feed them, we can also go to our local health food store and buy a bottle of Probiotics. The list above gives you an idea of which microorganisms you want to see on the label. It is a good idea to rotate brands so you rotate species and really try to get a good mix of various beneficial microbes.
Currently I am using a SBO Probiotic (Soil Based Organisms). That is where we used to get our beneficial gut flora, from dirt! Yep, before we all became clean freaks we used to play in the dirt and then eat our food without washing our hands! Imagine that! Those dirty hands contained beneficial microbes that traveled with our food down into our intestines and colon, where they setup home and started building colonies.
Another favorite of mine is Enteric Coated probiotic capsules. Enteric coated means that the capsule has a special coating on it that resists stomach acid just long enough that the capsule can make it into the small intestine before it releases all the lovely microorganisms contained inside. This gives those little guys a much better chance at surviving digestion and setting up shop where they should be in our digestive system.
The most common method a manufacturer will use to explain how potent their product is will be stating how many CFU’s are in a capsule or a dose. CFU simply stands for “Colony Forming Unit”. Microorganisms create entire colonies of themselves. This is a good thing! A Colony Forming Unit listed on the label gives you an idea how potent the product is, and the higher the number the better. Remember, they need to survive the stomach acid environment before reaching their destination. Some will be killed off in the stomach, others will be weakened to a point that it may take them a while to recover. So the higher the number going in, the higher the number of healthy microorganisms reaching the destination point and creating their colonies.
Some probiotics need to be kept in the refrigerator. This keeps them in a dormant state so they don’t end up eating each other and dying off because there is no food in the capsule with them. Other probiotics can be kept in a cupboard or other dark, cool place because the manufacturer included food in the capsules with the microorganisms. Always read the label to make sure of the best storage conditions for the brand you purchase. If they are all dead before you swallow them they won’t do you much good! LOL 🙂
Oh – and some probiotics come in powder form that you mix with water or juice to take. If you have a hard time with swallowing pills or capsules, then you might try this method. It’s also great for kids! Plus, you can find flavored varieties as well (just double check what they used for flavoring).