You may be familiar with the word probiotic, but not really sure what it means, and why or how you should even be concerned. Or perhaps probiotics are something completely new to you and you’re in search of an alternative way to improve your health.
So let’s start with the basics… We live in a world that is full of bacteria, not only in the soil and water found in our external environments, but also inside of our bodies. In fact, bacteria comprise 10 percent of our body weight and billions of them can be found in our gut. These microbes live not only in the digestive tract, but in the eyes, skin, airways, blood, mouth and vagina. One percent of our DNA is human, whereas the remaining 99 percent is comprised of these foreign critters. Therefore, it is no wonder then that our microbiome can not only impact our physical health, but our mood, sleep, energy levels and more.
The term microbiome (ie. microorganisms that are found in a particular environment) function similar to any of the organ systems in our body. They play a specific role and have a major impact over the health of our immune system. Most importantly, they have the ability to protect us from other harmful bacteria and parasites, as well as influence our weight, rate of aging and influence our overall state of well-being.
What impacts our microbiome?
Everyone’s microbiome is made up of varying quantities and types of bacteria. On average, you have somewhere between 500 and 1000 types of bacteria and each type has hundreds of different strains. The foods we eat, climate, and even our mood can impact what compose our microbiome. If you were born via C-section, then your body’s microbes will differ compared to somebody born through vaginal childbirth. Other factors that impact bacteria include: whether you were breast or bottle fed as an enfant, antibiotics, medications, chemicals, stress, and lifestyle. Many individuals that suffer from dysbiosis have been heavy users of broad spectrum antibiotics, steroid drugs, birth control pills (BCP) and alcohol.
The first two years of life are critical when it comes to building the microbiome because during this time, we establish bacterial patterns that will remain fairly constant throughout adolescence and adulthood. When we are born, our first exposure is through the birth canal of our mother, the place of our delivery and then what we consume, whether it’s breast milk or formula. Breast fed babies will have more lactobacillus and bifidobacteria species, which are considered beneficial. Babies that are formula fed or born through cesarian section will establish a different microbiome primarily comprised of clostridium, bacteroides, and bifido bacteria.
Babies who are unable to properly colonize friendly bacteria are more susceptible to colic, gas pains, diarrhea and rashes. Later in life, this has been shown to manifest as irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea and/ or constipation, allergies, asthma and eczema.
What causes a bacterial imbalance?
Bacterial imbalances may be the result of one or several factors. This can include poor diet, high levels of stress and excessive alcohol intake. Other contributors are the use and overuse of antibiotics, medications, exposure to pesticides and chemicals, c-section births and bacterial infections. If you produce a low amount of digestive enzymes and stomach acid or suffer from IBS, then you may be more likely to experience bacterial overgrowth.
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance of organisms inside of the body. It is not so much about the bacteria itself that causes us harm, but the impact an imbalanced microbiome has on our health. Some people are more susceptible to the negative effects that an imbalance may have on one’s health, while others may remain in a disease-free state.
Some bacteria are normal inhabitants of our intestinal tract however, under certain conditions they have the ability to grow out of control and become harmful. When we are exposed to new bacteria, they may pass through us unnoticed, cause acute illness or become permanent residents.
Some of the most common dysbiosis infections include helicobacter pylori, chronic fungal infections (such as Candidiasis), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and parasites.
Candida: the most common bacterial gut infection and how it may be impacting YOU
One well-known and widely suffered bacterial imbalance is caused by the fungus Candida Albicans. Candidiasis, which is the overgrowth of Candida, has many temporary and lasting damaging effects on the body. It is often the result of a diet too low in fibre and too high in processed foods.
The bacteria is typically a normal inhabitant of the body however, when it grows out of control, it has the ability to destroy our microvilli. This destruction may compromise our ability to digest and assimilate nutrients, and create permeability of our intestinal tract. This condition is known as “leaky gut”. Some symptoms of candidiasis include: sugar cravings, a white coated tongue, vaginal discharge, skin rashes, anxiety or depression, hypersensitivity to certain foods and IBS-like symptoms (diarrhea and/ or constipation).
Symptoms of Bacterial Overgrowth (Dysbiosis)
Bacterial imbalances in the body can impact the digestive tract, immune system and create nutritional deficiencies. It is not only the lack of beneficial bacteria that may cause symptoms, but the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the body.
- Antibiotic induced diarrhea
- Recurrent fungal, bacterial and viral infections
- Chronic respiratory infections,
- Bladder infections
- Oral thrush
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Athletes foot, toenail or fingernail fungus
- In more severe cases, tumour growth and the development of auto-immune disease
Digestive complaints include:
- An inability to digest lactose
- Cravings for sugar, bread or alcohol
- Onset of sudden food sensitivities
- Inflammation in the gut and throughout the body
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Reduced teeth and gum health
- Reduced digestion after taking antibiotics, medication or receiving a vaccination
- Vitamins K and B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12
- Decreased absorption of minerals
- An inability to digest protein efficiently
- Lack of essential fatty acids (EFAs) due to the inability to manufacture them inside of the gut
The Benefits of Healthy Bacteria
Beneficial microbes have a tremendous impact on our overall level of vitality. They increase our immune defense by fighting against harmful pathogens, help to build many nutrients that are required by the body, including vitamin K and some B-complex vitamins, and increase our ability to absorb minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese. In addition, they can improve IBS symptoms, such as constipation and diarrhea, by improving contraction and relaxation of the bowel wall.
Other benefits include the breakdown of used hormones in the body, such as estrogen, which could otherwise lead to estrogen dominance disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, weight gain and menstrual irregularities. Some beneficial bacteria are even able to help metabolize harmful substances that may enter the body, such as mercury, pesticides, environmental pollutants and radiation.
How to Re-balance the Gut
As mentioned previously, bacterial imbalances in the body are often the result of normal inhabitants growing out of control. Therefore, an effort should be made to strengthen the immune system to reduce the overpopulation of harmful organisms. If the bacterial overgrowth has become systemic and has entered the bloodstream, this is an indication that leaky gut is also present. Both issues will need to be addressed to provide long term results and to prevent future infections.
Beneficial gut flora can be re-established through food, herbs, supplements, and lifestyle adjustments. The cause of dysbiosis is different from person to person, and so it is important to be assessed individually by a qualified practitioner and/ or through laboratory diagnostic.
Foods to EAT
There is much debate about whether beneficial bacteria actually reside in the gut when consumed as either food or through supplementation. Some research suggests that these bacteria are transient and only pass through our bodies for a maximum of 12 days. Ultimately, it is beneficial to consume probiotic foods on a regular basis to maintain gut health and to counteract imbalances caused by stress, aging, diet, disease, drugs and poor health.
Any food that is cultured or fermented contains probiotics and an increased level of nutrients, such as vitamin A, B-vitamins and K. These foods have been used for thousands of years by many cultures all over the world. These foods provide friendly bacteria that will help crowd out the otherwise harmful organisms.
Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, tempeh, water kefir, coconut kefir, some yoghurt and kombucha (in moderation) can be very beneficial. For people who suffer from lactose intolerance, consuming yoghurt instead of milk will improve digestibility of the food. Be mindful when choosing yoghurt or kefir that there is no added sugar, as this will counteract any of the benefits.
Try to consume fermented foods daily. Eating kefir in the morning with breakfast, and sauerkraut or kimchi as a side dish with lunch or dinner.
Eat your veggies!
Micronutrients, such as polyphenols, provide the colours in fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and grains. Polyphenols have been shown to increase the number of beneficial bacteria and decrease the harmful bugs in foods like green tea, red wine, apples and onions. In addition, some fruits and vegetables are prebiotic and provide a valuable source of fibre to help rebalance the gut microbiome.
Half of each meal should be made up of vegetables. Dark green leafy vegetables are an excellent way to provide adequate fibre and to feed the beneficial bacteria. Foods such as kale, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and asparagus are excellent sources of many vitamins and minerals and will also feed the good guys!
Foods to be Eliminated
When re-balancing gut health, it is important to feed the good bacteria and either crowd out or eliminate the bad (depending on your condition). When it comes to yeast overgrowth, one of the most common gut infections caused by Candidiasis, it is essential to cut off the food supply; this includes refined sugars, and many processed and pre-packaged foods.
Bacteria tend to feed on undigested food particles in the form of carbohydrates, often found in wheat-based grains. Other grains such as: rice, teff and buckwheat should be consumed in moderation; up to one serving daily. Lactose (milk sugar) found in milk, ice cream and other non-fermented dairy products should be avoided as well. Other foods that should be AVOIDED entirely include white vinegar, peanuts, alcohol, caffeine, black tea and substances containing yeast such as: gravy, bread, spreads. Mouldy foods such as white mushrooms and some cheeses can irritate the gut and contribute to an imbalanced microbiome.
Despite the many health benefits of consuming fruit, it is best to limit the intake of fruit to one serving per day (or less) during the initial stage of a gut balancing protocol. Some vegetables should be consumed in moderation as well, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beets, parsnips and corn.
Delayed release capsules are preferred over the liquid oregano oil as they allow the slow release of the herb, which has a greater impact on the gut. If you are more prone to respiratory infections then it may be beneficial to take the liquid oregano oil for immediate comfort. However, your bacterial imbalance still stems from the gut and so delayed release capsules will help to resolve the root issue.
Biotics A.D.P standardized extract of oregano is an excellent product, as it is in a emulsified sustained release form. Take 1 tablet, 3 times daily with food and 1 tablet before bed.
Garlic is a potent anti-microbial and prebiotic herb. The active antimicrobial compound found in garlic is allicinConsume at least one clove daily or several cloves throughout the day. It is a great addition to salad dressings, guacamole, stir fries and curries, or it can be chopped up and swallowed with a glass of water.
Garlic can also be taken in supplement form. Genestra’s Candaclear Four kit contains the active ingredient allicin, cinnamon bark and probiotics. Take one serrated strip daily (1 tablet and 3 capsules).
Considered nature’s own antibiotic, goldenseal is effective at killing disease-causing bacteria while strengthening the immune system. It is particularly effective for respiratory infections, recurrent cold and flu’s and UTI’s, as it contains an active anti-infection compound called berberine. Goldenseal Root by NOW is an excellent alternative to antibiotics, and will help resolve recurrent infections. Take 2 capsules, 3 times daily.
Similar to goldenseal, barberry contains berberine, an effective compound in managing candida overgrowth and other fungal infections throughout the body. Berberis Formula by Genestra contains both barberry and goldenseal and is effective in treating infections in the urogenital tract. Take 1 capsule, 3 times daily with meals.
Food sources of probiotics may be enough to maintain a balanced gut flora in an already healthy individual. However, supplementation may become necessary to re-establish a balanced internal community.
Beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria have the ability to alter the intestinal environment and make it uninhabitable to foreign invaders.
- Lactobacillus manufacture antibiotics, such as acidophilin, which are effective in fighting against many types of bacteria including streptococcus, staph and salmonella. In addition, Candida Albicans can be controlled by acidophilus. Some strains of lactobacillus, such as DDS-1, have even been shown to produce hydrogen peroxide, killing many of these harmful organisms directly.
- Boulardii is useful for stopping diarrhea caused by travel and antibiotics. It is also effective in limiting the number of bowel movements for people who suffer from Crohn’s disease, as well as helping diarrhea-type irritable bowel syndrome.
An effective probiotic supplement should contain both lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria bifidum. Combination supplements tend to be effective as bacteria compete for the same food supply.
An appropriate daily dose can range anywhere from 10-25 billion, depending on the condition. 100 billion organisms daily or higher are useful to repopulate the gut after taking a course of antibiotics.
Genestra offers a range of strains and doses depending on the condition you are trying to treat. For general well-being and maintenance, start with a lower dose and gradually work your way up. For daily use, take one capsule daily of Genestra’s HMF Multi Strain probiotic supplement (containing 15 billion CFU’s).
Comprehensive Stool Analysis
A comprehensive stool analysis test detects the presence of pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, parasites, fungus and yeasts. In addition, the test also evaluates the level of beneficial bacteria that reside in the gut. This is helpful when determining what type of probiotic food or supplement you should be taking. The kit runs for about $375 but will potentially save you time and money down the road and avoid supplement-guessing. The Great Plains Laboratory offers a range of kits and tests, including a comprehensive stool analysis kit. It is always best to work with a practitioner to help determine test results and to create an individualized plan.