What's the Buzz All About? (Probiotics 101)

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

 

“Gut health.”

 

—A buzzwords that gets thrown around today quite frequently; from Tums commercials, to yogurt advertisements, nutrition flyers at your gym, your doctor’s office, casual conversations with friends and family.

 

But what is “good gut health” really?

 

And moreover, how do you get it any way?

 

In short: “Good gut health” means you have a digestive system that is able to absorb, assimilate and use all the awesome nutrients you eat any given day.

 

After all, your nutrition is only as good as your digestion.

 

How good is your digestion?

 

Unfortunately, that is a lucrative question—particularly considering how indigestion, constipation, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, gallbladder dysfunction, pancreatic insufficiency, IBS, GERD, celiac, leaky gut syndrome, and Crohn’s Disease—have seemingly become a ‘norm’ for many people today.

 

 

In fact, approximately 75% Americans have some sort of digestive dysfunction, meaning, in other words: You are not alone.

 

 

Gas and/or bloating frequently following meals?

 

Nexium (reflux medication) become a part of your regular food routine?

 

Feel a quick surge in energy, followed by a crash or onset of sleepiness shortly after?

 

Stomach easily upset after eating particular foods—even foods you know are “good” for you—but foods that don’t seem to agree with you?

 

Often feel nauseas in the morning—unable to stomach the thought of eating breakfast?

 

Infrequent bowel movements, hard stools or constipation simply what you ‘deal’ with on the daily?

 

Yup. You are not alone.

 

However: There is HOPE.

 

 

You don’t have to feel this way. Digestive distress is not a “norm” and there are several measures you can take to ‘set the record straight’ when it comes to getting your gut up and running—back up to speed.

 

One of the top steps you can take today?

 

Incorporating probiotics.

 

If you are not eating or taking Probiotics on a regular basis, chances are, you are missing a key link into upping your game (i.e. enhancing your digestion).

 

 

Probiotic 101

 

What are probiotics?

 

In essence, probiotics are “good bacteria” that promotes healthy gut flora.

 

Probiotics are like the steel armor that help boost your gut’s strength and fight off ‘bad bacteria.’

 

Your body is full of bacteria!

 

In fact it hosts over 100-trillion bacteria—most of them in your gut (that is more bacteria than the number of cells in your body). About 7 pounds of “you” is really bacteria that live in your intestines, from your mouth to the other end—the majority of which is housed in the Large Intestine (the organ responsible for the 12-18 hours worth of the process of digestion, during which stool and wastes are created).

 

Proper “gut flora” is essential for good digestion. “Good bacteria” helps keep “bad bacteria” away, and keeps the digestive system running and functioning as it should.

 

However, if your ‘gut flora’ is not strong (i.e. LOTS OF GOOD BACTERIA), your body is left with a lot of rotting, fermenting, stationary ‘bad bacteria’ sitting in your gut (i.e. bacteria from waste, undigested food particles, and toxins—in our food sources and environment).

 

The Root of Weak Gut Flora

 

How does your gut get ‘unhealthy’ or bacteria ‘go bad’ in the first place?

 

Multiple ways, including:

 

 

  • Regular use of NSAIDS (Advil, Aleve, Ibuprofen) & Antibiotics
  • Weak immunity from poor nutrition choices
  • Lack of sleep
  • Chronic stress
  • Overtraining
  • Restrictive eating
  • Low stomach acid (and consequently, poor digestion)
  • Infections/Illness
  • Birth control pill
  • C-Section
  • Bottle feeding
  • Food toxins (grains, legumes, poor quality meat/eggs)
  • Some sensitivities to nightshade vegetables (onions, tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, potatoes) and other autoimmune irritants (nuts, eggs, egg whites)
  • Overconsumption of carbohydrates and fructose
  • Low fiber diets (i.e. bacteria sits in your gut)
  • Inflammation from excess total polyunsaturated and omega-6 fat consumption

 

While no one expects you to live in a bubble, and several of these triggers have inevitably been part of your life or history, at one time or another, the point of consuming probiotics is to reverse the tides:

 

Build up a stronger, healthier gut to keep the ratio of ‘good bacteria’ in your gut to ‘bad bacteria’ in check.

 

 

What ‘Healthy Gut Flora’ Does For You

 

And contrary to popular belief, healthy gut flora is not just essential for ‘good digestion’ alone; It is safe to say then that having a ‘healthy’ gut then is imperative to your all around health—particularly since 80% of all your brain’s serotonin levels are housed in your intestines (your brain’s ‘feel good’ and mood chemical) and 70-80% of your immune system is rooted in your gut as well.

 

In addition, your gut (the place you intercept your food and nutrition) is the primary system responsible for empowering you to function to your peak abilities—in the gym, at work, in your health to go about doing all you need to do in a day.

 

It is where you receive your nutrients and they are ‘sent out’ to conduct the hundreds of chemical processes in your bod that give you energy in the first place to:

 

  • Crunch numbers
  • Tap into your creative side
  • Think straight
  • Work and serve others in your job
  • Juggle your busy schedule and to-dos
  • Sleep soundly
  • Feel energetic
  • Manage stress and anxiety
  • Focus
  • Run, lift, or generate power to push through the final leg of a tough workout
  • Harness mental toughness and grit in order to tackle whatever obstacle comes your way;
  • And more

 

Make sense?

 

The bottom line: If your gut is not healthy (infested with ‘bad bacteria’ easily inflamed and/or irritated), then the following CANNOT occur:

 

 

  • A strong immune system and protection against toxins, pathogens and viruses
  • Proper nutrient uptake and assimilation
  • Smooth digestion
  • Proper metabolism and weight regulation
  • Optimal performance ‘power’ and mental clarity, etc.

 

Best Sources

 

So how do you ‘get’ probiotics?

 

Probiotics are available in both food, liquid, pill and powder form.

 

Some top food sources include:

 

 

  • Fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, fruits and veggies)
  • Non-pasteurized, full fat organic yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Non-pasteurized cheese
  • Non-pasteurized meats like salami and some sausages
  • Homemade bone broth (promotes probiotic growth)
  • Kombucha
  • Apple cider vinegar

 

You can check out a couple simple recipes for fermenting your own vegetables and making your own yogurt and bone broth at home below.

 

And, if concocting or regularly consuming food sources with probiotics is a hit or miss thing for you, there IS a magic pill for that.

 

Keep these points in mind when purchasing probiotics from the store.

 

 

  • You get what you pay for. Don’t go to the bargain bin for your probiotics.  Invest in a good quality—often times liquids are best (i.e. most easily and readily absorbed).

 

 

  • The stronger the better (for “live cultures”). There’s no specific recommended dosage of “live cultures” when it comes to probiotics. Every brand and food is going to have varying amounts, from 1 billion to 10-billion live cultures. Look out for a higher potency/strength in the probiotics you purchase. Many of the over-the-counter brands are down in the 1-2 billion/dose range, so doubling up on them one to two times per day will not hurt once your stomach is acquainted with probiotics for the full benefits. And if the dose amount is NOT listed on the label, don’t bother with that product.

 

  • What ‘strain’ to buy? There is such thing as: too much of a good thing. Many probiotic formulas look impressive with a lot of strains in their formulas—like a ‘whey concentrate’ protein (multiple proteins in one), many of these may contain anywhere from 6-10 strains of probiotics. Ideally, less is more in this area: 1-6 strains ensures the quality of the probiotic in your formula.

 

Summing it up, all people can benefit from the daily consumption of probiotics. They are perfectly safe, healthy and “do a body good.”

 

Bonus: Probiotic Recipes:

 

Fermented Vegetables

 

Zucchini Pickles

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of zucchini thinly sliced into rounds
  • ¼ of a medium sized red onion thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic gloves smashed
  • 2 teaspoons of grated ginger
  • 4 cups of filtered water
  • 2 tablespoons of sea salt or other high quality sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 quart sized jars

 

Directions

  • Thinly slice the zucchini into rounds (I use a mandolin to get a nice even slice).
  • Add the zucchini rounds to a half gallon jar or split between smaller jars.
  • Add the red onion and garlic to the jar too.
  • Make the salt water brine by mixing ½ cup of warm water with the salt and stir until the salt has dissolved.
  • Add the remaining water to the salt water once the salt has dissolved. Add the turmeric and mix well.
  • Pour the brine into the jar with the zucchini. There should be enough to submerge the zucchini under the brine. If not, make more brine and add it to the jar.
  • Cover the jar loosely with a lid and store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight for 3-7 days.
  • Once the brine is cloudy, try a zucchini to see if it’s ready. It should be sour and smell like pickles.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

 

Fermented Ginger Carrots (the Stupid Easy Paleo way)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound carrots shredded
  • 1–2″ piece of ginger, peeled and shredded or grated
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • Ingredients for extra brine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 rounded teaspoon sea salt

 

Directions

  • Shred the carrots and ginger in a food processor and dump into a large bowl.
  • Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sea salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands, squeezing the carrots as you go. You’re trying to extract a bit of the natural liquid by creating a concentrated salt solution around the carrots (it’s hypertonic…SCIENCE!). Let the carrots sit for 15 min before moving to the next step.
  • Divide the carrots between two pint-sized (16 oz) mason jars. Press the carrots down firmly until you’ve removed as much empty space as possible. There may be some natural carrot liquid at this point but not enough to cover the veggies.
  • Place the small 4 oz jar on top of the carrots. Fill the remainder of the space with a little bit of the brine solution. The carrots should be completely submerged. Repeat with the other jar. Save extra brine in the fridge because you might need it during the fermentation process…you can always make more but this saves a step later.
  • Cover the jars with cheesecloth, a piece of old t-shirt or a kitchen towel and place them in a bowl or on a rimmed plate to catch any bubbling over.
  • Place in a dark spot (like a pantry or cupboard) and check daily (over the course of 7-14 days) to make sure the water level has not dropped down to the carrots. If it has, pour a bit more brine on top.
  • Store tightly covered in the fridge; it will last for a few months!

 

Bone Broth

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (or more) of bones from a healthy source
  • 2 chicken feet for extra gelatin (optional)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Optional: 1 bunch of parsley, 1 tablespoon or more of sea salt, 1 teaspoon peppercorns, additional herbs or spices to taste. I also add 2 cloves of garlic for the last 30 minutes of cooking.

 

Directions

Place the bones in a large stock pot (I use a 5 gallon pot). Pour (filtered) water over the bones and add the vinegar. Let sit for 20-30 minutes in the cool water. Chop and add the vegetables (except the parsley and garlic, if using) to the pot. Add any salt, pepper, spices, or herbs, if using. Bring the broth to a boil. Once it has reached a vigorous boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer until done. These are the general times to simmer for:

  • Beef broth/stock: 48 hours
  • Chicken or poultry broth/stock: 24 hours
  • Fish broth: 8 hours

 

During the first few hours of simmering, remove the impurities that float to the surface. A frothy/foamy layer will form and it can be easily scooped off with a big spoon. Throw this part away. Check it every 20 minutes for the first 2 hours to remove this. (Grass-fed and healthy animals will produce much less of this than conventional animals). During the last 30 minutes, add the garlic and parsley, if using. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Strain using a fine metal strainer to remove all the bits of bone and vegetable. When cool enough, store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for later use.

 

Homemade Coconut Milk Yogurt

Ingredients

  • 4 cups coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener
  • yogurt starter (2 packets per 4 cups coconut milk)
    or probiotic powder [this amount can vary; 1/2 – 1 tsp of probiotic powder (that is the filling from between 4 and 8 of your probiotic capsules*) per 4 cups of coconut milk)
  • optional thickener

grass-fed gelatin

agar agar flakes or powder

-starch (like tapioca or arrowroot)

 

 

Directions

1) Heat the coconut milk and sweetener to barely a boil and remove from heat. In a glass bowl, allow the milk to cool. While the coconut milk is cooling, if using, dissolve the thickener in another bowl using the necessary method. (A small amount of cool water for the gelatin, hot water for the agar and so on.) Once fully dissolved, add the thickener to the warm coconut milk. Stir well to combine.
2) Once the coconut milk is cooled, add the yogurt starter (or probiotic powder), stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a glass jar a tight fitting lid. Cover and place in an oven that is completely off with just the light on, the door shut and a towel wrapped around the jars of yogurt for extra insulation. Basically you are looking to keep it at approximately 105ºF – 115ºF for the entire time it is culturing.

 

3) Allow the yogurt to culture for at least 8 hours but likely much longer (I personally find it best when it has cultured for 16-24 hours for a nice tangy flavor).

 

4) It will still be relatively thin at this point. Once ready, cover tightly and place in the fridge for at least 6 hours. This halts the fermentation, it will thicken as it cools (particularly if you added a thickener)

 

BOOM!

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