Have you ever bought an expensive bottle of probiotics and wondered, do probiotics really work? The short answer is yes, but only to some degree.
A few things are important to know when it comes to probiotics: When are they beneficial, and when are they not? Are there better ways to achieve your gastrointestinal goals? What does the research really show? And what are the different mechanisms that impact your gut health?
No One Perfect Strain
Researchers have found there is no one perfect strain of probiotics. Manufacturers may claim that they have the best strains – but in reality, every person reacts differently and it will take some trial and error to find the best probiotic for you.
This is because every person has a unique microbiome host with a great degree of variability between one microbiome and the next. Because of that, probiotics will affect different people in different ways — even at different times in their life. This is why a probiotic you’ve taken in the past may stop working as you age.
When you take a probiotic, it’s not going to completely change your microbiome from that point on. This is because they only have a short-term effect.
The probiotic may have some anti-inflammatory effects or immune supporting properties, but those will not last. As soon as you stop taking it, the benefits are gone.
The only way to completely change your microbiome is through improving metabolic factors, diet and other lifestyle choices.
Diet and Dysbiosis
Dysbiosis is the term for when there is more bad bacteria present in the gut than good bacteria.
Bacteria that promote an inflammatory response are considered bad bacteria, and bacteria that have an immune-modulating effect are called good bacteria.
All bacteria produce something called a postbiotic, or a lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS from good bacteria dampen inflammation and modulate immune function, while LPS from unhealthy bacteria produce an inflammatory response.
Your diet is the foundation to the amount of good or bad bacteria in your gut. When you eat healthy foods, fermented foods, and foods rich in fiber, you improve the amounts and diversity of healthy bacteria. On the other hand, if you eat an unhealthy diet high in processed food, sugar, and saturated fats, it can negatively impact your microbiome.
Symptoms of Dysbiosis
- Lower abdominal bask
Factors That Impact Your Microbiome
The gut microbiome has a huge impact on your health, mood, and behavior. It can even affect your risk for certain diseases, your cardiovascular health, and your blood sugar stability. A healthy microbiome makes for a healthier mind and body, but probiotics are unlikely to have the impact people would like.
For instance, genetics affect microbiome health — about 20–25% of the bacterial species present in your microbiome have a genetic connection to other family members.
The way you were born and your surrounding environment also plays a role. You can tell from a person’s microbiome bacteria if they were born through vaginal delivery or c-section and what part of the world they live in.
Factors that Influence Your Microbiome:
- Environmental influences
- Chemicals, pesticides, herbicides
- The air you breathe
- Overall general immune function
- Caloric intake
The Human Microbiome Project has invested considerably in microbiome research. Researchers have looked at the different bacteria in the main populations of their study subjects’ and found that there isn’t really a good or bad strain that predominantly causes disease or promotes health.
Instead, what is most important to microbiome health is diversity — hosting as many different species of bacteria as possible in your gut.
The more diverse the gut is, the healthier the person is.
Gut diversity comes not just from diet but also from your lifestyle, metabolism, exercise, environmental factors, and pathogens you are exposed to.
Also, our microbiomes change throughout our lives, and we tend to have less diversity of bacteria as we age.
What Else Causes Gut Issues?
If someone regularly eats a diet of saturated fats and processed foods, they probably experience dysbiosis, constipation, bloating, and fatigue. A probiotic isn’t going to do much in these cases, nor is it going to resolve their underlying health issues.
However, sometimes a patient eats an ideal diet yet still has all the symptoms of dysbiosis. They eat healthy foods, take countless supplements, have lots of lab work done, and consult with medical professionals — but still have health issues.
This is more than any probiotic can address. Instead, you have to figure out what’s going on with your gut. It could be gallbladder issues, low production of digestive enzymes, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), or some sort of inflammatory response.
Prebiotics and Postbiotics
If you’re interested in probiotics, you’ve probably also heard of prebiotics and postbiotics.
Prebiotics are foods high in fiber that humans can’t digest but that support a healthy gut microbiome. Examples of prebiotics include jicama, dandelion greens, or sun artichokes.
Prebiotics favor healthy bacteria and support the function of probiotics.
Postbiotics are compounds such LPS, which are released by bacteria. Polysaccharide A, for example, is a compound healthy bacteria produce in the gut that dampens inflammation in the body. Short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate are postbiotics that play invaluable roles in health.
On the other side, postbiotics such as gram-negative LPS from bad bacteria cause a significant degree of inflammation throughout the body, and can potentially trigger autoimmune diseases.
Gut Health: Solving the Puzzle
To learn more about how to improve your gut health, visit my online course, Gut Health: Solving the Puzzle.