Because it is such an important foundation of our wellbeing, I emphasize digestive health in my practice. A key component of digestive health is having the correct balance of bacteria living in our gut. There are trillions of bacteria in the human gut with Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum being the most important species for maintaining the dynamic balance of bacteria. Imbalances in gut flora are common due to antibiotics, disease, stress, or diets high in meat and saturated fats. The wrong population of bacteria in our guts can contribute to digestive distress, but they can also cause less obvious issues. An imbalance of gut bacteria can deactivate digestive enzymes, stimulate dysfunctional immune responses, activate carcinogens, and contribute to migraines. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria help optimize digestion, stimulate immune function, improve the intestinal barrier, and prevent colonization of the gut by pathogens. In addition, they can break down certain toxins and synthesize some of our vitamins like vitamin K. Beneficial bacteria may also help prevent colon cancer by lowering intestinal pH.
When we have reason to be concerned about our gut health, probiotics and fermented foods are important allies. For general health, eat a fermented food on a daily basis, choosing from yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, kim chi, and sauerkraut. When we need to evoke a stronger change, we turn to the more potent probiotic supplements. I look for ones that have at least 5 billion active bacteria per serving. Probiotics containing Lactobacillus have been shown to significantly reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea and ease some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. But the benefits of probiotics can extend beyond the digestive tract. Lactobacillus acidophilus has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Pregnant women and nursing mothers taking probiotics have children with lower rates of eczema and asthma. These studies used Lactobacillus GG, a specific strain of beneficial bacteria that appears to be particularly potent.