There’s a lot of talk these days about the benefits of taking probiotic supplements, which are made from billions of good bacteria.
At first it can seem counterintuitive to take a pill filled with bacteria when we’ve all been raised to think of bacteria as damaging to our bodies, but these are the good types of bacteria.
When we’re born, our bodies are colonised with a variety of bacteria strains, both good and bad. Interestingly, babies born via the vaginal canal get a very different array of bacteria to babies born via C-section. When born via C-section, babies will have a higher population of the bad bacteria, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems and health issues later in life.
Our gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the basis of the immune system, so if it’s populated by more baddies than goodies, it doesn’t bode well for our immune systems overall.
Luckily, there are a few ways we can try to rebalance our gut bacteria and restore health to our immune system. One of those ways is through our diet, another is through probiotic supplementation, and even through the fecal microbiota transfers that have started to make headlines.
In terms of diet, the more processed food you eat, the less you are supporting the good bacteria in your gut. By eating a variety of fresh foods, and including fermented foods such as kimchi, fermented veggies (you can buy these in glass jars to save time), kombucha tea, and quality yoghurt or kefir, you are supporting the good guys and making a nice environment for them to stick around and do you some good.
Probiotic supplementation through capsules or powder is what I often prescribe to my patients to restore balance. In the main product I prescribe, there are 60 billion good bacteria across 10 strains. Let that sink in for a moment. 60 BILLION! It sounds like a lot, but our bodies are colonised by about 100 trillion bacterial cells, so it’s just a tiny amount actually. This is why regular supplementation, along with a diet containing fermented foods, is the best way to maintain balance and good health with our modern lifestyles.
For people who have severely disrupted balances of bacteria that leads to chronic health conditions, a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) is a new technique that is causing a stir in the health world. You might have commonly heard of it as a poo transplant. The process involves taking antibiotics to reduce the bacterial load in the body, then doing transplants of feces from a healthy subject who hasn’t been exposed to antibiotics before, for 5 days. This allows a new range of bacteria to colonise the patient’s gut and restore balance. It is being used most commonly in patients with c.difficile infections, colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
So, I’d say it’s pretty clear that taking probiotics is a good idea these days with our overuse of antibiotics, our poor diets, and our increasing rates of chronic disease. Any little bit of help for our bodies to stay strong and healthy is worth exploring.