Should You Supplement: Probiotics for a Healthy Gut?

In the spirit of another Easter Sunday coming and going this past month, I have decided to resurrect my Should You Supplement nutritional series.  These articles are getting progressively more difficult to write since I have tapered my supplement use over the years.  Nowadays I am trying only to use, what I believe, are the essentials that I am not completely obtaining through my diet and what I use has to be safe for consumption with no potentially harmful ingredients, side effects or ill effects if taken in too high a dose.

I have always primarily advocated establishing a diet from a wide variety of healthy whole foods first before considering the need to supplement.  As we know the world does not spin perfectly and neither do our actions.  Vacations, dining out and the occasional junk food pangs can leave us needing more foundational nutrients than we are consuming and proper supplementation can help.

It is difficult to know exactly how much solid nutrition we are obtaining from our food, even if we eat healthy, buy organic and balance our fats, carbohydrates and protein.  Like our daily lives, daily changes occur from the amount of work we do, the amount of sleep we get, the amount of weight lifted and the amount of nutritionally dense food consumed.

Supplements are just that; supplements.  They should be seen not to replace anything you decide to avoid consuming; rather they should be used as an insurance policy to assist your healthy lifestyle and build up a healthy reserve for days that you cannot eat optimally.

By clicking on these links, you can find out more about the supplements I use as my insurance policy ranging from essential fats that are frequently missing in our diets, a little extra vitamin C  for immunity and cell growth, nutrient dense, whole food based multi-vitamins and even some muscle building BCAAs.

Should I Even be Concerned with Gut Health?

The gut consists of the intestinal digestive tract where a majority of digestion and absorption of nutrients occur.  The digestive tract consists of good bacteria or flora consisting of about 100 trillion microorganisms which is about 10 times the amount of cells in the human body.

Gut Health

 

With that amount of flora in the human gut its function is highly important in digestion and proper health balance of the body.  Keeping these flora levels optimal can be difficult to maintain.

These bacterial microorganisms are essential for a number of healthy processes within the body including:

  • Fermenting unused energy substrates
  • Enhancing the immune system
  • Preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria
  • Regulating the development of vitamins and hormones

Maintaining these good microorganisms is not an easy task.  Natural processes of digestion including the use of digestive acids and enzymes can reduce the good flora in the gut. Illnesses further decrease the amount of gut flora due to inflammation.  Taking medication and antibiotics also reduce the amount of good flora in the body.  Heavy metals and artificial ingredients found in our foods also reduce the amount of gut flora.  If this number gets too low or creates an imbalance, digestion will be compromised and eventually problems may occur that can lead to inflammation of the gut, illness and even chronic disease.

Chronically high levels of inflammation due to compromised digestive health may cause swelling and pain and damage tissues.  Diseases including Psoriasis, Ulcerative Colitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are all disease in which inflammation is thought to play a role.

Benefits of Probiotic Supplementation

Probiotics are supplement form of good bacteria and have shown to have health benefits.

There are several studies touting the positive effects that probiotics significantly reduce inflammation in the human body compared to a placebo. It has also shown to be effective against ulcerative colitis and also has helped patients who are on antibiotics when they were taken before their antibiotic treatment.  The probiotic supplementation reduced the risk of developing antibiotic-associated diarrhea by about 60 percent.

Proper digestive health begins in the mouth and many of Americans suffer from oral health issues with one of the biggest being bleeding and inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria.  This is also known as Gingivitis.  Taking a probiotic supplement has shown to reduce inflammation in the mouth and decrease the effects of Gingivitis.

Conclusion: Should You Consider Using a Probiotic?

There are plenty of studies and support out there which provide some conclusions that probiotic supplementation is best for people who have issues with their digestive system due to poor diets, illness, chronic disease or taking medication that eliminates the good bacteria in the gut.

My typical approach is to first make sure that I have my diet in check and consume foods that have high levels of probiotics.  Many dairy products primarily yogurt, mike and cheese are full of healthy bacteria.  If dairy does not agree with you or you are looking for an alternative try various fermented foods including sauerkraut and pickles.  Of course you want to get these foods in their least processed state to get the highest health benefits out of these foods.

fermented foods

When these foods are not enough and I am sick, traveling or not digesting well due to the Super Burrito I had on a Saturday night, I like to aid my healing with a probiotic supplement and my supplement brand of choice is Jarrow Brands Jarro-Dophilus® + FOS

Jarrow Dophilius

I do not use this supplement daily but when I am in a pinch I have found it very helpful in getting my digestive tract back to normal quickly.

References:

Gutsense.org

NBC News: Probiotics Do Ease Gut Problems, Several Studies Show

Nutra Ingredients USA

Wikipedia/Gut Flora