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Probiotics and the Gut Microbiome

Probiotics and the Gut Microbiome

An old, long-standing Naturopathic adage is that “all disease begins in the gut”. Now, whilst that may sound dramatic, current mainstream research is showing support for this statement, showing that imbalances within the gut microbiota (gut flora) can contribute to a wide range of issues from mental health and autoimmune disease, to digestive and general immune issues; and there are even links to insulin resistance and obesity. In short, the health of our gut microbiota may affect all systems within our body to some degree. Let’s look at probiotics and the gut microbiome in greater detail.

We begin our life in our mother’s womb with an essentially sterile gut (although this is under debate). Then, if we are born naturally, we receive our first and vital inoculation of gut flora from our mother as we travel down the birth canal. If we are breastfed, we then receive further microbes via breastmilk and we also obtain colonising bacteria from our local environment, especially if we are spending time in nature.

The childhood years are key to the development of a healthy, diverse gut microbiota that we’ll live in a symbiotic relationship with for the rest of our lives. Once the microbiota is established, you will have more bacteria living in your gut than the total number of cells in your body, and it’s estimated that an adult microbiome weighs around 2kg!

A balanced gut microbiome is an important support for your overall health, and any imbalance may impact digestive function and contribute to the appearance of symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, reflux, IBS, and also influence the frequency of thrush outbreaks and UTI’s in women. People are often advised to simply take a probiotic to support their gut health, but we need more than just probiotics to do this.

A diverse gut ecosystem is also supported by eating a wholefood and unprocessed diet that is high in plant based foods (wholegrains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts), rich in different types of fibre (including prebiotics), contains good quality fats such as olive oil, moderate amounts of protein and also has a lot of variety.

As well as nourishing us, we have to remember that what we eat will also nourish our gut microbes (or not) and promote their growth. After all, they need to eat too!

Using probiotics for gut health

So where do probiotics come in then? Well, let’s think of probiotics as supplemental bacteria that will support the growth and recovery of your own, individual, microbiome. And let me state definitively here, the quality of the probiotics you decide to purchase is incredibly important, as are the strains that the manufacturer has used. It’s certainly what I look for when I’m prescribing a probiotic, as it often means that they have gone through clinical trials and the manufacturer is aware of exactly what is going into their capsules.

To use an analogy, that I first heard when I was participating in some training years ago with Dr Jason Hawrelak, I think of probiotics like breeds of dogs: they’re all Canis lupus familiaris, but all the breeds look so different and have different strengths and weaknesses. It’s the same with probiotics.

For example, you can have multiple organisms called Lactobacillus rhamnosus, but the strain dictates what their strengths are and how they can help the body e.g. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (GG is the strain) is excellent for post antibiotic recovery, reducing the duration of diarrhoea in gastro, whereas Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 can form part of an effective treatment for women experiencing reoccurring urinary tract infections (UTIs) and thrush.

Strain-specific prescribing is so important!

When I use probiotics with patients as part of a regime to support IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), there are specific probiotic strains that have been found to be effective for Ulcerative Colitis, but don’t have anywhere near the same results for Crohn’s Disease, even though they are both part of the IBD family! This is why it is so important to take the right probiotic for the right condition.

And also be aware that buying a probiotic that has a total of 100 billion CFU per capsule does not automatically make it better for you than the one that *only* has 25 billion CFU – again, you need to look at the specific strains on the ingredients label to have a better idea of what you are getting.

So, how do I know what probiotic will work best for my situation? Book a consultation with me! You will then receive very specific advice that’s tailored to your current situation.

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