Our digestive system is home to at least 500 different bacterial strains. Under ideal conditions our microbiome should consist of 85% "good," or beneficial, bacteria. When the majority of our microbiome is made of the "good" bacteria, the remaining 15%, which can be pathogenic bacterial strains and yeasts, are easily kept under control by competitive suppression. Just as in a well balanced ecosystem, in a well-balanced gut flora population, all the bacterial strains, both "good" and "bad," harness each other's abilities to maintain good gut health.
Due to today's stressful lifestyle, consumption of processed foods with high amounts of sugar and fat, and the use of chemicals like antibiotics, our gut flora balance is shifted towards more "bad" bacteria than "good". This is most often associated with a condition called Dysbiosis, a term for a microbial imbalance on or inside the body.
Dysbiosis is associated with numerous symptoms that include:
The good news is that proactive steps can be taken by taking a probiotic supplement. This can reverse the situation to tip the balance back in favor of the "good" bacteria.
Although probiotics are a great first step, it's also important to have a lifestyle and diet that promotes probiotic growth in order to improve the beneficial effects of probiotic supplements. What can you do to enhance the beneficial effects of probiotics?
The "good" bacteria in your body needs a stable environment to grow and flourish. The ideal pH in the colon should be slightly acidic, between 6.7 and 6.9, which promotes the growth of probiotics and inhibits the growth of "bad" bacteria like Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli.
In order to promote "good" gut bacteria, we need a lifestyle that includes habits that do not damage "good" gut bacteria. Scientists surmise that our modern lifestyle, diet, levels of stress, medications (e.g., antibiotics, painkillers) has lowered the amount of "good" bacteria in our guts. This allows "bad" gut bacteria to dominate, and hurts your ability to stay healthy by reducing the ability of your gut to absorb nutrients and properly retain and excrete toxins and other contaminants.
The best way to restore beneficial bacteria in the gut is to create acidity, which promotes the growth of various Lactobacillus bacteria. This can be done by taking a probiotic and continuing to consume products that can support the growth of the probiotics. Consuming fermented foods, such as yogurt, Spirulina, artichokes, asparagus, and other foods that are high in prebiotic fiber can also help support a healthy probiotic population.
Exercise and physical activity is also important. The use of probiotics have been shown to increase energy levels and promote the desire and ability to exercise. In many ways the link between probiotics and exercise is highly synergistic, as one promotes the benefits of the other.
Consuming the right probiotics is also important. Many studies have shown that taking a blend of probiotic species is more beneficial than taking one species. As each species of probiotic have different functions and benefits, a blend of species will provide multiple benefits on many levels.
The effectiveness of probiotics can also be enhanced by consuming them with or just before meals. Many studies have shown that probiotics can often survive gastric transit and exposure to stomach acid better in the presence of food. At peak production, the stomach can generate approximately 100 ml of stomach acid. When probiotics are taken with or just before or after food, the food tends to dilute the stomach acid to a point where the probiotic species are not adversely affected by the stomach acid. In this way, the probiotics are delivered to the gut intact and ready to get to work.
In summary, probiotics are not a single panacea for good health. Instead, when they are used as part of a healthy lifestyle and diet, they can greatly enhance the journey toward good health and wellbeing.