By now everyone has at least heard one of the terms or phrases probiotic, good gut bacteria or healthy gut flora, but, are you consuming any? And, if you are, how did you determine which ones are best for you? Let’s explore the details of these tiny, yet powerful microorganisms living in our guts and see just how much of our daily wellness they are responsible for influencing.
You may be surprised to learn that 80 percent of our immune system lives in our gut. One of probiotic’s major roles is interacting with the human immune system. Probiotics are responsible for helping us maintain, develop and protect the immune system. From daily immunity to auto-immunity, our bodies contain more bacterial cells than human! A study in the Journal of Critical Reviews of Nutritional Science investigated probiotics and found that the probiotic strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus casei Shirota, Bifidobacterium animalis Bb-12, Lactobacillus johnsonii La1, Bifidobacterium lactis DR10, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii are most responsible for regulating immunity. These strains are currently under investigation to further understand their role in enhancing human immunity.
What Is a Probiotic Strain?
A probiotic strain is simply an isolated biological microorganism, a subtype if you will. When we endeavor to understand how humans can benefit from the influence of the tiny bacteria living inside us, we research the particular strains that have been observed over and over again to elicit a physiological change in the body. In the case above, those particular strains have been closely associated with changing immune function.
When you flip a bottle of probiotics over, you’ll often see two words, for example, Bifidobacterium lacti—the first is the genus and the second is the species. When you only see two designations, the most important part of the probiotic is missing, the strain. The number and letter combinations that follow these two words, such as DR10 (a strain of Bifidobacterium lacti), then you know the specific strain you’ll be consuming. Many high-quality probiotic brands have carefully formulated their probiotic supplements with particular strains in mind ready to help the consumer achieve particular effects and will suggest this on the label without listing the specific strain. However, because folks are beginning to understand the importance of the specific probiotic strain, plan to begin seeing the strain listed along with the genus and species over the next couple years on probiotic labels.
But why is the strain of your probiotic so important? The more we know about the particular strain, the more we can disseminate, or, discuss and use, probiotic research directly into health care practices. Often times you will hear or may be able to relate to the sentiment, “but I took the probiotic and it didn’t help me.” This may be because the strains weren’t specific to you, or, your particular health concerns.
And, good news, a few direct-to-consumer companies exist to help you determine what makes up your unique personal gut microbiome. But first, let’s take a look at what keep our probiotics thriving in our digestive system.
Prebiotics Feed Probiotics In the Gut
Unsurprisingly, probiotics need food to thrive and maintain viability. These are referred to as prebiotics. Prebiotics are defined as nondigestible fibers that can endure stomach acids and digestive enzymatic activity in the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics are fermented by our microflora and enhance their growth in the gastrointestinal tract.
Like probiotics, prebiotics can be purchased as a supplement, over the counter. Prebiotics are also found in certain foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root, dry garlic, dry leeks, raw banana and raw asparagus. While you may not find an agreed upon daily allowance for prebiotic foods, shooting for at least 4-8 grams may be ideal. Most of the foods listed can be purchased as powders as well for your convenience to reach your daily prebiotic needs. When choosing, be sure to select a prebiotic free from additives and fillers if you decide to purchase a prepared powder supplement.
The takeaway? When we consume foods or supplements with prebiotics, we ensure we are promoting our overall probiotic balance in the gut. Prebiotic research has primarily focused on how they interact with both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus primarily because they are well-studied probiotics related to human wellness. In research, prebiotics have been studied for their effectiveness in improving calcium and mineral absorption, improving overall digestive wellness, specifically by reducing colorectal cancers and modulating digestive acids as well as reducing episodes of inflammatory bowel issues. By improving immunity, maintaining prebiotic balance may also benefit immunity by lowering the use of antibiotics.
How To Test Your Gut Microbiome
In the past the only way to access the mysteries of the gut were to see a functional medical professional or naturopath. But now, personalized testing has been developed that you can order to your own home.
Two companies assessing gut microbiology are UBiome and My Viome. Both offer their own unique take on the gut, focusing on different aspects of wellness, but, both are easy to access and are supported by a clinical staff. You will order your test, it arrives with easy to perform instructions you can do in the privacy of your own home and off your kit goes back to their labs for analyzing and interpretation. Your results are later emailed to you. With results in-hand, you can now go back to assess what part of your digestive system may need probiotic enhancement. Further, because the particular probiotic genus and species have been studied for their effects on patterns in everyday human wellness, the results could help you better understand why you experience some of the health concerns you do. These results may help you prevent other health concerns and will help you dial in your personalized probiotic supplements that you can take daily.
Have you had your gut microbiome tested? Were the results helpful? What prebiotic foods is your diet rich in? Perhaps a nutritionist can help.