First, what is our microbiome?
A microbiome exists inside all of us. The microbiome contains a collection of microbes (bacteria and viruses) essential for our lives. These microbes help digest foods, regulate our immune system and much, much more. Most of the microbiome is beneficial, however harmful organisms can overpopulate. So, how can we better our microbiome? The answer: Probiotics!
Probiotics are beneficial in other words healthy microorganisms that live in the gut and can help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive system. They are commonly found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Probiotics contain healthy microbes that you can ingest to better your microbiome, which in turn will better your health. How do they help your microbiome? They help by:
- Helping you balance your gut so that you have the right mix of healthy, and less healthy bacteria
- Absorbing nutrients from all the food you eat
- Assisting in digestion and breakdown of food
- Producing and activating certain vitamins (specifically vitamin B, which helps with our metabolism, and vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting)
- Adding a protective barrier to the lining of our intestines that helps protect from “leaky gut”, a condition where undigested food breaks out of your intestines and travels throughout your body via your blood stream
- Inhibiting the growth of harmful microbes
- Improving the immune system overall by supporting the production of antibodies and white blood cells, both of which help fight off infections.
- Breaking down cholesterol
- Helping with bowel movements
The link between mental health and diet goes through the microbiome.
Probiotics can also improve your mood! Studies done in the Netherlands showed that a daily dose of probiotics could help alleviate sad thoughts. This occurs because probiotics increase levels of tryptophan, which helps your brain produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for thoughts of happiness and well-being. (However, if you experience constant, extreme sadness, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor and not completely rely on probiotics to help relieve all of your symptoms).
Do I change my diet when taking probiotics?
The only slight change you should make involves remembering to take your probiotic on an empty stomach. At that time, your stomach acid levels lower and the chance of survival for the healthy microbes increases. High levels of stomach acid, which occur after you eat, create a hostile environment for the healthy microbes to travel from your mouth all the way to your intestines to settle. Taking your probiotic before a meal helps ensure successful results.
Should I take probiotics even if I don’t have gut issues?
Always talk with your doctor before you begin taking probiotics, or any drug and/or supplement. Probiotics have proven very beneficial when combating irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and/or inflammatory disease. But not all probiotics are the same, and some can interfere with some medications. However, if your microbiome already successfully keeps you constantly healthy, you might not need to take any probiotics. Therefore, schedule an appointment with your provider to see if you should start taking probiotics!