Throughout this wellness series we have been talking about the genome centric lifestyle and what nutrients our bodies require to maintain its self-healing and self-regulating properties. Most the nutrients that our body needs can be found in the foods that we eat, however, over the years due to industrialization and commercialization of our food sources we have become deficient in three key essential nutrients Omega-3’s, Vitamin D and probiotics.
In this blog, we are going to specifically look at Probiotics and their role in health and wellness.
Two nervous systems
Our bodies are actually made up of two nervous systems.
- central nervous system, composed of your brain and spinal cord and the
- enteric nervous system, which is the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract.
Both systems were created from the exact same material during fetal development and both systems are in constant communication via the vagus nerve (tenth cranial nerve). It is now well established that the vagus nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to communicate with your brain through the production of neurochemicals (Hadhazy, 2010, n.p.).
Gut and brain communication
Many think that the brain is the organ in charge, however, your gut will send more information to the brain regarding the state of the body than the brain sends to your gut. The feeling of butterflies when nervous or an upset stomach when angry are examples of how the brain can affect the gut. The same is true on the flip side, problems in the gut can lead to problems with mental health, such as anxiety and depression.
Roles of gut bacteria
At birth our gut is sterile, but over time our gut develops a diverse concoction of bacteria based from our genetics and our environment. These bacteria are responsible for digestion, metabolism, extracting vitamins and other nutrients from the food that we eat, programming the immune system and, as we just learned, communicating with the central nervous system.
Probiotics in nature
Our ancestors ate fermented foods, ate crops straight from the ground rather than sterilizing them, lived in less sterile environments, but most importantly, our ancestors did not take the copious amounts of antibiotics that we do now. Although sterilization techniques have benefits, we do not ingest the same diverse amounts of probiotics our ancestors once did, thus we must consider supplementing these essential nutrients.
Like with all nutrients, including the essential nutrients we have talked about these last few weeks, the best way to get them is through the environment and then supplement if there is no source in the diet.
Foods high in probiotics
Foods that are good sources of probiotics include:
- Kimchi – a Korean side dish made of salted and fermented vegetables
- Kefir – a fermented milk drink using kefir grains
- Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage
- Kombucha – fermented black or green tea
Yogurt and probiotics
Many of my clients will ask me about yogurt. I, personally, am not a fan of yogurt for probiotics. The large majority of yogurt is very high in sugar, which as stated in a previous blog, is quite bad for our bodies. Yogurt is made from dairy and for most people dairy is an inflammatory food. Lastly, yogurt only has a couple different types of bacteria strains (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) which does not provide much diversity of bacteria for the gut. Therefore, I would prefer my clients not count on yogurt for probiotics.
Supplementing probiotics first depends on the person’s diet, if the patient has ever been on antibiotics before, and lastly, how recent the antibiotic use has been. There are several different doses and is best to choose that dose on a individual level.
The probiotics capsules we carry in our office range from 5 billion active probiotic cells to 300 billion cells. It is also vital to have live cultures. This typically means a refrigerated probiotic, but some may have stabilizers in them that keep the bacteria alive at room temperature. Lastly, having a diverse amount of bacteria in the probiotic is ideal. Different bacteria have different roles in the body and the more diverse the gut flora is, the more roles that can be accomplished.
As you can see, your gut plays a much more vital role in your health than previously thought possible. Below is more research showing just how crucial your gut is to your overall health and wellness:
Researchers have discovered that the absence or presence of gut bacteria during infancy permanently alters gene expression (remember our talks on epigenetic?). Through gene profiling, researchers were able to discern that gut bacteria influenced genes and signaling pathways involved in learning, memory, and motor control, suggesting gut bacteria are closely tied to early brain development and subsequent behavior. In a similar way, probiotics have also shown to influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner (Hadhazy, 2010, n.p.).
Another interesting function of these gut bacteria is they produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the body and brain use to regulate physiological and mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, about 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin is produced in the gut (Carpenter, 2012, n.p.). Serotonin is best known as the “feel-good” molecule and is involved in preventing depression, regulating sleep, appetite and body temperature. And this is just one of 40 different neurotransmitters produced in the gut, aka “the second brain” (Hadhazy, 2010, n.p.). This may explain why many times antidepressants may not work for some people or why kids with ADHD or those who do not sleep well usually have gut issues.
Anxiety and depression
Stress-induced changes to the microbiome may in turn affect the brain and behavior. A few studies suggest that defensive molecules the gut produced during infection, called inflammatory cytokines, disrupt brain neurochemistry and make people more vulnerable to anxiety and depression (Carpenter, 2012, n.p.). This may help explain why more than half of people with chronic GI disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are also plagued by anxiety and depression.
The makeup of gut bacteria tends to differ in lean vs. obese people (Magrone, 2015, n.p.). This is one of the strongest areas of probiotic research to date. Obese individuals had about 20 percent more of a family of bacteria known as firmicutes, and almost 90 percent less of a bacteria called bacteroidetes than lean people. Firmicutes help your body to extract calories from complex sugars and deposit those calories in fat leading to obesity.
Gut bacteria program our immune system from the time we are born by building up and maintaining the gut wall protecting us from outsiders as well as killing off any illness causing pathogens. At least 70 to 80 percent of our immune system lives in the gut (Vighi, 2008). There is research being presented that gut bacteria can train your immune system to distinguish between “foreign” microbes and those originating in your body, leading to new therapies using probiotics to treat a variety of diseases, particularly autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
Thus, if the appropriate immune tolerance developed in the gut is not established early in life and then maintained throughout life, then this can become a risk factor for the development of inflammatory, autoimmune and allergic diseases.
Antibiotics kill all bacteria, even the good stuff
The best way to protect microflora is by not taking antibiotics unless there is an actual bacterial infection. Antibiotics kill off ALL bacteria, even the good stuff. Antibiotics have a purpose and a great need when fighting bacterial infections. However, antibiotics do nothing for viral infections, therefore, be aware and do not be afraid to ask your doctor questions when prescribed antibiotics. Be sure that you are actually infected with bacteria or are at a high risk of bacterial infection before actually taking the antibiotic.
Overprescription of antibiotics
According to the CDC, across the United States, the number of antibiotic prescriptions given to children and adults remains high. Numerous studies have found that antibiotics are being prescribed for illnesses which do not require antibiotics, and the incorrect type of antibiotic, dose, or duration are often prescribed across all healthcare settings. In fact, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-third of all antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.
Unintended consequences from antibiotic overuse
- Antibiotic resistant infections
- Each year, over 23,000 Americans are dying because of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics (CDC, 2018).
- Longer healing time for infections
- The type of antibiotics that are most often given to treat urinary tract infections are now considered ineffective for over 50 percent of the patients in many parts of the world (Felter, 2018).
- Allergies and asthma
- According to a large study, more than 792,000 children born between 2001 and 2013 who took antibiotics (or antacids) between birth and six months of age were linked with the development of allergies as well as asthma (Mitre, 2018).
- Burden on health care system
- The average patient, in 2009, facing an antibiotic-resistant infection can expect a medical bill anywhere from $18,588 and $29,069. This ads up to over $20 billion in health care costs each year in the U.S. (Krans, 2014).
- In 2000, the U.S. lost $35 billion because of premature deaths, hospital stays, and lost wages related to antibiotic-resistant infections (Krans, 2014).
- It is estimated that ∼150 000 ER visits are attributed to antibiotic-associated adverse events each year in the United States alone (Goldman, 2015).
What to do
- ASK QUESTIONS. Be sure to ask your doctor questions when an antibiotic is being prescribed.
- Remember, antibiotics do nothing for viral infections!
- If you have ever been on an antibiotic, then supplementing with a quality probiotic is necessary for optimal gut health.
- Decrease inflammation in the body by eating well, drinking lots of water and having good mental health.
- Eating fermented foods can help with proper gut flora.
- When supplementing, be sure to have a quality source and be sure to talk with a health professional about which level of dosage would work best for you.
Bengmark, S. M.D. Ph.D. 1998. Immunonutrition: Role of biosurfactants, fiber, and probiotic bacteria. Nutrition. 14:585-594.
Carpenter, S. (2012, September). That gut feeling. Retrieved January 13, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx
Hadhazy, A. (2010, February 12). Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being. Retrieved January 13, 2019, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
Magrone, T., & Jirillo, E. (2015, February 24). Early Life Factors Influencing the Risk of Obesity. Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712533/
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Center for Disease Control. Antibiotic Use in the United States, 2017: Progress and Opportunities https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/stewardship-report/conclusion.html
Center for Disesae Control. Containing Unusual Resistance, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/containing-unusual-resistance/index.html
Felter, Claire. The End of Antibiotics?. Backgrounder, March 2018. Retrieved March 15, 2019 from The Council on Foreign Relations at https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/end-antibiotics
Mitre, et al. Association Between Use of Acid-Suppressive Medications and Antibiotics During Infancy and Allergic Diseases in Early Childhood. JAMA Pediatr. 2018 Jun 4;172(6):e180315. Retrieved March 15, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29610864
Krans, Brian. 5 Frightening Consequences of Overusing Antibiotics. Healthline, March 11, 2014. Retrieved March 15, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/five-unintended-consequences-antibiotic-overuse-031114#1
Goldman, Jennifer, et al. Tip of the Iceberg: Understanding the Unintended Consequences of Antibiotics. Pediatrics. 2015 Aug; 136(2): e492–e493. Retrieved March 15, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516949/