What do you think when you hear the word probiotics? Do you think yogurt maybe? Kimchee, kombucha or sauerkraut?
Perhaps I was a little presumptuous and you think, “what the f--- are probiotics? But I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard at some point, after getting sick and taking a nice strong dose of antibiotics, that we should take probiotics because of something to do with our bacteria and what not (that is a scientific diagnosis in case you were wondering). Is taking probiotics really that important though? Do you just need to take them after you’ve been sick? Or is it just another one of those things that would probably be good for you to take, might make you a little healthier, but you’d be fine if you neglected for the most part
WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?
Probiotics are “good bacteria” that when consumed properly, colonize within the body, and optimize your body’s microflora or microbiome. The bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms that make up your body’s microflora actually outnumber your body’s cells 10 to 1 and recent research increasingly shows that they play a major role in both mental and physical health. And when I say major, I mean they play a role in basically every human function from your ability to lose weight, to your bowel movements, to your energy levels, to your ability to remember your anniversary, to being able to quickly think of a viable excuse as to why you forgot your anniversary before your wife smacks the shit out of you and you’ve really got some problems. All joking aside though, as I’m sure none of you out there has ever forgotten something your spouse thought you should remember, the consequences of not taking probiotics are worse than you might think.
HOW CAN PROBIOTICS HELP ME?
OBESITYAre bad bacteria making you fatter? A study led by Dr. Jeffery I. Gordon of the University of Washington in St. Louis shows evidence that that could be the case. In the study published in the journal Science, Dr. Gordon and colleagues found two pair of human twins in which one of the twins was obese and the other was lean. They took the bacteria from the twins, put them into the mice and watched. The mice that received the bacteria from the obese twins grew fatter and the mice that received the bacteria from the lean twins stayed lean. Despite being fed that exact same amount and type of food.
Scientists believe, due to these findings, that the next step in fighting obesity could be fecal transplants. You read that right, taking feces from one person’s colon and transplanting it into another person’s colon in order to alter their microflora. This procedure is still in the experimental stages but could eventually become mainstream and even lead to a fecal supplement. I know right, the next time someone tells you to eat shit, you may actually go and do it to lose body fat. Alas, for the time being, until these ground breaking fecal procedures and supplements are approved, if you’re struggling with being overweight probiotics are your best route to having the microbiome of those lean twins versus that of the obese twins.
BETTER BRAIN FUNCTION
The impact of microflora on brain function was confirmed by researchers in a recent study at UCLA who found that probiotics altered the cognitive ability in study participants.
As reported by UCLA:
"Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.
'Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,' [Dr. Kirsten] Tillisch said. 'Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.”
While most people think that their brain is the organ that’s running the show, your gut actually sends far more information to your brain through the tenth cranial nerve or vagus nerve. To put this into perspective you’ve probably experienced an upset stomach while angry or stressed or felt butterflies in your stomach when you were nervous. The flip side is also true in that problems in your belly due to poor bacterial balance can lead to lack of cognitive ability, anxiety, and depression. Just like you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut that are directly affected by your balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria. In fact, you have neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain. As a matter of fact, the largest amount of serotonin, also known as the feel good hormone, is found in your intestines, not your brain. To sum up, a poor bacterial balance in your stomach can lead to you being dumber, having anxiety, depression, and has even been linked to memory loss. Translation, take probiotics or you’ll be a sad dummy.
HEALTHIER IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTIONOkay, everybody knows that if you take a shit ton of vitamin C you can make it through cold and flu season without the slightest sniffle right? Well, I hate to be the guy pissing in your cheerios but that’s just not the case. Don’t get me wrong, Vitamin C is important, and so are all of the other essential vitamins. But the biggest player in the game when it comes to you feeling Elivated may just be your gut flora.
You may have never thought about it but your gut is actually a major barrier between your body and the constant barrage of creepy crawlers from the outside world looking to infect you. In fact, unless you have a crazy case of OCD and you’re washing, disinfecting, wearing rubber gloves, and showering in ammonia, you’re most likely consuming bacteria that could make you sick. Every time you touch that keyboard, phone, door knob, or eat just about anything, you’re exposing yourself to something that could potentially leave you double tapping memes from the toilet seat for hours, and not just because your “tps reports” are due at work (props to those of you who caught the Office Space reference. To those of you who didn’t, I’m disappointingly shaking my head). This means that your gut is a giant factor in immune function as it’s the first line of defense between you and any crap (literally and figuratively speaking) that may enter your mouth as you go about your day.
The reasons that gut bacteria play such a large role in this process is that they strengthen the defenses of the wall of your gut. Chemical barriers and a layer of cells known as epithelial cells line the gut and protect it from potential pathogens. Gut flora activate immune functions in epithelial cells allowing them to maintain their integrity as a physical barrier to infection while also increasing pH balance and enhancing chemical barriers.
Here’s the problem, if you’ve taken antibiotics at any point, you may have essentially dropped a nuclear war head on your immune system. Antibiotics are administered to kill infection, but the problem is, not only do they kill the bacteria causing infection, but they kill everything, including your good bacteria. This leaves you not only at risk for the problems previously discussed, but many illnesses as well.
Adding in additional good bacteria or probiotics, in some cases, can be the crucial component to boost your immune system.
DECREASED RISK OF BREAST CANCER
It’s long been known that a poor estrogen profile is a marker for increased risk of breast cancer in women. Yes, men can get it too. I actually thought I had it once, turned out my buddy just gave me the mother of all titty twisters one drunken Thanksgiving evening after I dumped ice down his pants for napping during the football game we had money on, but that’s another story. Back to the bacteria and boobs.
A group of researchers from the American National Institute of Health recently studied the effects of gut flora on the estrogen profiles of 60 healthy post-menopausal women. They discovered that the women with the bad gut bacteria had higher estrogen levels than expected. Alternatively, they found that the women with a better balance of bacteria in their gut had better estrogen profiles. The researcher said better profiles meant, those not associated with risk of breast cancer.
This just touches the surface of poor bacterial balance in the gut. Unhealthy gut bacteria has been linked to Alzheimer’s, autism, IBS, digestive colitis, Crohn’s disease, several cancers, and the list goes on. The more scientists study our microbiome, the more they find that altering it may just be the magical health elixir we’ve been searching for and probiotics are key in its function. But it’s not as simple as just eating yogurt and other fermented foods. Unfortunately, when consumed solely through whole foods, many of these living bacteria don’t survive the acidic environment of our stomach. This is why they are most effectively taken as a supplement in a coated capsule that is designed to withstand the harsh environment of your stomach allowing for the release of billions of these disease fighting, brain boosting, fat melting bugs to breed.
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