Probiotics have been “all the rage” for quite some time now. Far from a trend, their importance and benefits to human health have been confirmed time and time again, which is why so many of our customers have made them part of their regular wellness routine. Perhaps most interestingly in recent years is the research connecting probiotics to mood and mental health, also called the “gut/brain connection”.
Probiotics: The Basics
Probiotics are live microorganisms, or “good bacteria”, that can be ingested in your food or by supplement. Their benefits stem from their ability to balance gut bacteria. An imbalance (too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria) can be the result of illness, taking antibiotics, or even poor diet, and can manifest as stomach upset, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal troubles.
The experts at Natren Probiotics share, “There are about 400 types of probiotic bacteria in a normal human digestive tract alone. These bacteria play a vital role in keeping us healthy.” It is optimal to have a wide variety of these microorganisms in your digestive tract, or microbiome.
Certain digestive bacteria regulate immune and inflammatory function, while others aid in nutrient absorption and synthesis, hormone balance, digestion, mood regulation, and more.
The Gut/Brain Connection
“Different types of bacteria enjoy different kinds of food. Some like long-chain fiber, like the ones found in fruits, veggies, and other plant-based food. Others love love love simple sugars like white sugar and refined flour. Through the vagus nerve that runs between the gut and the brain, our microbiome will ask for the food it needs to survive,” shares Lisa Kilgour (RHN), writing for Flora Health.
In fact, there are more neurons in your gut than in your spine! These neurons in your stomach are part of the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), which controls digestion and communicates with our brain. There is increasing evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system can send signals to the brain, triggering mood changes, depression, and anxiety. Some scientists speculate that activity in the digestive system could even affect cognition.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are plant-sourced soluble fibers that feed healthy probiotic colonies. They do this by resisting digestion by stomach enzymes, and making their way through the GI tract. Prebiotic foods include bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, onions, garlic, soybeans, and artichokes.
Inulin from chicory is a common prebiotic used in the food industry. Psyllium, while not traditionally defined as a prebiotic, can also work in a similarly beneficial way in the body. View a recipe for Organic India’s Psyllium Pancakes here.
How to Select a Probiotic:
- Multispecies, Multistrain: Each of the hundreds of probiotic bacteria strains in your gut have a different function. A wide variety is key, so picking a multispecies, multistrain probiotic will offer maximum benefits.
- Clinically-Studied: Pick a probiotic that is tested for efficacy, both in the laboratory and in studies with people.
- Tested for Potency: Beneficial microorganisms must survive the manufacturing process, journey to your store and home, and avoid being broken down by stomach acids to do the good work in your large intestine. Select a brand that guarantees live probiotics will still be alive by the time they arrive in your gut.
- CFU Count: CFU stands for Colony Forming Units, and is a measurement of the number of active microorganisms in a probiotic supplement. While you want enough active microorganisms in the product to be effective, a higher count does not in itself make a product superior.
Creating a Healthy Microbiome
In summary, these are the best ways to promote a healthy gut and reap all the benefits of a flourishing microbiome:
- Seed your gut with a high-quality probiotic.
- Enjoy plant-based foods rich in prebiotics. Reduce consumption of red meat, fried foods, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
- Supplement your diet with fermented foods like kefir, unpasteurized fermented veggies, and miso.
- Garden of Life Women’s Once Daily (Our #1 selling probiotic)
- Garden of Life Raw Women’s 55+
- Flora Super 8 Hi-Potency
- Sunwarrior Soil Based Probiotic
- Garden of Life Ultimate Care (Recovery product for digestive distress)
- Natren Healthy Trinity
- Organic India Prebiotic and Probiotic Psyllium Powder
- Solaray Mycrobiome Urgent Care
- Vital Flora Men’s Probiotic
- Nordic Naturals Probiotic Gummy for Kids