Kimchi on Clear Glass Jar

What’s All the Fuss About Probiotics?

One of the growing trends in the supplement and health space is probiotics. At every turn, a new company is launching a proprietary blend of these wonder bugs. Do you need to spend your hard-earned cash on these critters? Let’s take a deeper look.  

The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem composed of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, all working together to influence health. It’s estimated that for every human cell in our body, there are 10 microbial cells living in our gut. I find that fascinating. 

Gut microbes are essential to our overall health. A robust microbiome trains and supports the immune system—reducing the risk of infection and auto-immune disease. Healthy gut bugs also synthesize nutrients such as vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids, which help prevent and regulate cancer, diabetes, and obesity.(1

A healthy microbiome builds intestinal tract lining. 

Without this protective coating, inflammation takes hold. Inflammation causes a leaky gut, which can cause bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and even systemic symptoms such as joint pain, chronic fatigue, and brain fog. 

Some less obvious influences on our microbiome are chronic stress, poor sleep, toxin exposure, infections, and antibiotics.

The root cause of so many conditions begins in the gut. 

Too often, modern medicine will throw a pharmaceutical at these symptoms, but without correcting their root cause by healing the gut and incentivizing beneficial biota, we’re only masking the symptoms.

So, how do we promote a healthy gut population? Are probiotics the best option?

Prebiotics, such as fiber, are critical!

Fiber is the primary fuel source for our friendly gut bacteria. Those critical short-chain fatty acids mentioned above are a beneficial byproduct of bacteria digesting the fiber we eat. Without fiber, the microbes we desire can’t thrive, which allows more harmful bacteria to take over. So, eating a wide variety of fiber-rich foods is essential. Great sources of fiber include leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, fresh fruits, chia seeds, and avocados.

Fermented foods provide a rich array of active cultures.

The invention of canning and refrigeration has had an unfortunate side effect on our diet. Before this technological boon, fermented foods were staples. Of course, yogurt has live active cultures, but this is nearly the only fermented food the average American consumes. 

Historically, we had a vast selection of naturally fermented foods and beverages. Kimchi and sauerkraut barely skim the surface of fermentable veggies. Jun tea, beet kvass, and ginger bug go a step beyond kombucha.

Wild Brine’s Salsa, Local Culture’s Beet and Fennel Sauerkraut, and Gut Shot’s Ginger Tumeric drink are locally available at Atkinson’s and are some of my family’s favorites.

For the cooks reading this, fermenting your own vegetables is surprisingly easy. Look for future posts on this topic.

If you want to build a healthy and robust microbiome, focus on fiber-rich foods and raw, unpasteurized ferments. Probiotics can help support a healthy GI system, but without fiber and the diversity of microbes found in fermented foods, they’re not the end-all solution.

Schedule a functional medicine consult or consider one of our membership options, to receive personalized recommendations and gather data on your unique microbiome. 

The Empowered Patient

Dr. Kate

Quick Tip: Use raw, unfiltered vinegar to make microbe-rich salad dressings, smoothies, and tonics.

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