If you’re like me- a mama’s that’s after her kiddos thriving gut health and somewhat obsessed with the quality of their bowel movements- hello constipation/diarrhea nightmares- then this article is DEFINITELY for you. Besides my kids gut health, I actually find the gut / brain connection fascinating for myself (and husband) and so ridiculously important for a healthy, thriving society.
So I dig deeper, as usual, into this fascinating world of probiotics and prebiotics. Some say it’s great, others don’t. Some pediatricians suggest it’s important to integrate into your diet and others feel that there aren’t enough studies (for them) to quantify a recommendation. I went back and forth, explored several brands and came to learn the difference in strains, quality, form and of course, natural vs. supplementing.
I come from a middle eastern background where pickles, olives and yoghurt are an important part of the table, at any or all meals- breakfast, lunch AND dinner. The western diet has made very little room for these additions let alone it’s benefits for our overall well being. My Egyptian dad will not skip a meal without his pickled cucumbers, onions, peppers, carrots or olives. Sauerkraut for the Germans, Dill cucumbers for the Polish, kimchi for the Korean diet and so on. Historic culture food had something going all along- when and where did we lose the pickling or fermented habits?
The benefits of probiotics – fermented or otherwise, are immense, I discovered. They ‘impact our immune system, hormone production and nutrient absorption’, according to Dr. Greenfield. A q & a with my favorite clinic and functional doctors at Integrative Pediatrics and Medicine answered my questions and they’re here to share with you. Enjoy renowned Dr. Gator and functional nutritionist Sarah Greenfield’s collaborative response to clear your doubts and help you make better decisions when including probiotics in yours and your family’s life.
What’s the importance for probiotics?
Dr. Joel Gator: Probiotics literally mean – pro life. They are the trillions of bacteria that make up our gastro-intestinal system that are vital to our survival. They are live microorganisms that colonize the gut, helping us to digest our food.
Sarah Greenfield: It creates an influx of good bacteria to support gut diversity and allows good bacteria that is naturally present in the gut to grow and flourish. Better health outcomes are associated with diversity in the gut as probiotics creates compounds that impact our immune system, hormone production and nutrient absorption.
How is the gut flora connected to immunity health?
Dr. Joel Gator: We have more bacteria in our gut, than human cells in our body. We are a living ecosystem and that ecosystem can either protect us from invaders or lead us down the path to illness. When the ecosystem of our gut and the probiotics are not as they should be, our health suffers. Our gut is often our first defense to outside invaders and so the gut flora can determine our health.
Sarah Greenfield: The bacteria in our gut helps to build our immune system and help code it to protect us from potentially dangerous compounds. As babies we do not have a strong immune system because our microbiome is still being developed. The bacteria in our gut help teach our body how to respond to potentially harmful compounds. It also protects us in the long-run from chronic diseases by modulating inflammation.
Do we all need probiotics or is it just recommended for those with bowel and gastro issues?
Dr. Joel Gator: We do not all need probiotic supplements. Everyone is unique. Our goal should be to have a body in balance. When our gut flora is off and our health suffers, then probiotics can often be helpful.
Sarah Greenfield: It is important for those with digestive imbalances, but most people in the United States can benefit from probiotics. If you are under high levels of stress, eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables and have a history of taking antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, to name a few, you could most likely benefit from taking a probiotic.
If you don’t have gastro issues, what’s an alternative to probiotics to maintain good gut health?
Dr. Joel Gator: A healthy diet is the key link to gut health. You can eat all the probiotics you need to maintain optimal gut flora including yogurt, kimchi, kefir, etc.
Sarah Greenfield: Fermented foods, a diverse diet, eating lots of prebiotic rich foods, eating bitter foods and avoiding processed and high sugar foods.
There’s so much out there to chose from, what do you feel makes a probiotic good?
Dr. Joel Gator: To me, what makes a quality probiotic is knowing that extensive quality testing was completed to make sure the bacteria are alive and the product can back up the claims of what is inside the bottle. We want the colonies to be in the billions. A billion may seem like a lot, but if you think about how many bacteria there are in the gut, a billion bacteria are just a drop in a lake. Our goal with a probiotic is to introduce active, quality bacteria that can colonize the gut and rebalance the eco-system so that the bacteria can work together to rid themselves of toxins, invaders and threats.
Sarah Greenfield: I think its really about understanding what your body needs, but here’s the breakdown and something important to keep in mind when purchasing a probiotic suited for your needs:
The higher the CFU count does not always indicate a superior product. If you have bacterial imbalances, certain probiotics can make things worse. For most people a broad spectrum probiotic with both live strain and soil-based strains are beneficial. For people with SIBO you want to stick to soil-based or single strain probiotics like saccharomyces boulardii. There are different strains associated with different benefits, I wrote an article about it here.
Brands that you both recommend for probiotics?
Dr. Joel Gator: I do like Klaire’s probiotics. Also Evivo, Metagenics, Megaspore and HUM.
Sarah Greenfield: It really depends on the person and if they have an imbalance in bacteria in which case it can make things worse. If you are looking for a general probiotic and have a skin concern, Skin Heroes is great. If you are having active digestive issues, then a single strain or blend of live or soil is probably best!
- Megasporebiotic for soil based
- Klaire Labs – Ther-biotic complete for live strains
- Klaire Labs – Sachromyces BoullardiHum Nutrition
- Skin Heroes (pre and probiotic, both live and soil based strains)
Note: All recommendations above in this article is not meant to cure any diseases or illnesses. Please refer to your healthcare provider before making any decisions directed to your health.