The term probiotic was coined in the early 1900s, by the Nobel Prize winner Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov, who found that certain “healthy bacteria,” like those found in yogurt, can have a positive effect on digestion and the immune system. Beneficial bacteria have since been shown to inhabit the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and have a profound and significant benefit for the gut, as well as many other organs, tissues, and systems throughout the body.
We get our first dose of probiotics when we are born. Our mother’s imbue our infant selves with their own probiotic bacteria. This is further reinforced through close family contact and breastfeeding. However, as we grow into adulthood, our increasing reliance on processed foods that are high in fat and sugar and low in fiber can inhibit and degrade our “good” gut bacteria. This leaves us prone to infection, disease, and health issues such as obesity, and depriving ourselves of an important protective and supportive tool.
Recent scientific research has shown that the bacteria in your gut plays an important role in your overall health. Scientists have shown that probiotics not only promote gut health but they can also have a profound beneficial effect on your immune system, body-wide inflammation, liver function, cardiovascular health, and mental health. In addition, probiotics also give us important nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and short-chain fatty acids. Up to 10% of our daily energy needs can be derived from the byproducts of the good bacteria in your gut. Therefore, there is a clear connection between the right gut bacteria and overall good health.
Our gut is often an underestimated organ, but it plays a pivotal role in our wellbeing. Our gut is the first organ to experience the world through the food we consume. Therefore the gut not only influences our ability to absorb nutrients, but also has significant influence on all our other bodily functions and systems.
For example, scientists have shown that the right probiotic population helps our gut lining improve nutrient absorption, keep out pathogens, and better interact with our immune system. Scientists think that probiotics do this by producing various compounds as part of their own metabolism, like short chain fatty acids, that are used by gut cells as a source of energy. These compounds are also absorbed and transferred into circulation, and provide similar support for other organs and tissues, such as the liver, heart and brain. The presence of “good” gut bacteria also promotes an ecosystem that discourages the growth of harmful “bad” bacteria.
Scientists also surmise that our modern diet and stressful lifestyle has lowered the amount of “good” bacteria in our gut. This allows “bad” gut bacteria to dominate, hurting our ability to stay healthy by reducing the ability of your gut to retain and absorb nutrients and properly excrete toxins and other contaminants. The predominance of bad gut bacteria has also been positively linked to more recent health issues like the increase in obesity and diabetes.
At the cellular level, under normal heathy conditions, gut cells are connected to each other by an impermeable barrier called a tight junction. This allows the gut cells to closely control the passage of nutrients from the gut into circulation while retaining toxins and contaminants that are excreted. In an unhealthy gut lining, the tight junctions are compromised, which allows toxins and contaminants to leak into your circulatory system, where they can cause inflammation in the gut and in distant organs and tissues.
However, this situation is reversible. Research has shown that one can reverse the effects of a “bad” bacterial population and improve the gut microbiome by taking probiotics. By taking a probiotic, one can help reverse the effect of years of unhealthy living.