Many people might be surprised and intrigued to learn that we have what could be considered a second brain or additional nervous system located in our gut. Our gastrointestinal tract works hard to keep us healthy and happy, but we can face major health consequences when our gut health is compromised.
Our gut is an entire ecosystem of bacteria and yeast, some are beneficial while others are toxic. The human body contains about 100 billion bacteria cells. Only 10% of the cells in our body are human, the rest are microbial. Keeping this system healthy and balanced is crucial to our short and long-term health and even our longevity.
The Role of Probiotics in Gut Health
A probiotic is any food or substance that maintains or restores the balance of healthy and unhealthy microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts in our gut. Since the number of microorganisms in our gut outnumber the human cells in our body, you can begin to imagine why maintaining a healthy balance, or correcting dysbiosis (an unhealthy balance of pathogenic organisms to healthy ones), is very important. Other than our skin, our gut is our primary contact with the outside world and a major entry point for pathogenic organisms. A very large percentage of our immune response is based upon phenomenon that occur in our gut (lymph tissue, white blood cells, etc.).
Dysbiosis has been associated with heart issues, diabetes, obesity, chronic fatigue and cancer. It can also lead to depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autoimmune diseases, and Alzheimer’s just to name a few. This link may be due to intestinal bacteria’s ability to make small molecules (called metabolites) that can reach the brain and impact how it works.
The plethora of microorganisms in our gut communicate with our brains via chemicals, hormones, enzymes and specific nerve connections between this gut-brain axis which is referred to as the enteric nervous system, or second brain. This could explain such expressions as having a gut feeling, or doing a gut check.
Some evidence suggests that it is not the presence or absence of one bacteria that makes up a healthy gut, but rather the diversity of bacteria. Because there are dozens or more of good microorganisms in our guts, I feel that food sources of probiotics are far favorable to taking probiotic supplements because they have multiple strains of the different probiotics which are naturally occurring and much more likely to provide over-all balance.
The best sources of probiotics are from fermented foods. Originally fermentation was used to naturally preserve foods so they would last longer, but the process also significantly enhanced the concentration of healthy probiotic microorganisms as well.
Fermented foods which are EXCELLENT SOURCES of multiple types of probiotics are:
- Kefir – Kevita is a brand I am not associated with, but really like. It is a sparkling, low sugar, high probiotic drink that comes in many flavors.
- Sauerkraut – Tastes great and comes prepackaged or in jars carried by supermarkets and health-food stores.
- Red Miso Paste – If you like miso soup you will enjoy its taste as well. You can eat the paste by itself or mix it with something. I like mixing it with sauerkraut.
- Organic Yogurt – I prefer yogurt that is low in sugar and organic or made from goat’s milk. You can sweeten the yogurt with natural non-caloric sweeteners like stevia or erythritol or a combination of the two.
Beware of Antibiotics
When pathogens enter our body, they can sometimes cause infections, which are often treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, antibiotics kill off both good and bad gut microorganisms thus creating an imbalance/dysbiosis. Poor diet and especially too much sugar can have the same effect.
Paying attention to your gut pays off!
Our food choices greatly influence our bacteria population. Supplementing with probiotics or adding probiotic foods daily to your diet while trying your best to eat more plant-based foods and to reduce sugar consumption can lead to large and noticeable improvements in your over-all health, extend your life and increase your sense of physical and cognitive well being.
To the Best of Health,
Curt Hendrix, M.S., C.C.N., C.N.S.