Did you know that you have more organisms of bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your body? Or how about this one: did you know that ¼ of your stool is actually bacteria? (My apologies to those of you who squirm when I start talking about the eliminative end of digestion…)
Most of my patients know what probiotics are (because half of you are taking them!)… but for those who don’t, here’s a primer. The word “probiotic” means “pro-life,” though in the medical or nutritional sense of the word, we’re not talking reproductive politics; we’re talking about the trillions of beneficial bacteria that live in your gut.
Humans have evolved a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria, in which we each give and receive one from the other. The bacteria receive a warm moist place to live and nutrients literally dumped right on their figurative heads. We receive all kinds of benefits. The beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract play a number of vital roles. For example, they contribute to the integrity of the intestinal mucosa (including treatment of Leaky Gut Syndrome); they manufacture certain vitamins for us (notably Vitamin K); they play a vital role in our immune systems; and they hold the line against colonization of pathogenic bacteria.
We all have a combination of good flora and bad flora in our guts; what we really care about is who’s controlling the real estate. That is, we need plenty of the good guys, and few of the bad guys.
There are ways to find out who’s living in there (feel free to talk to me about a Comprehensive Stool Analysis test if you’re interested to find out more) – and I often test to find out when there are issues with digestive health, or a history of antibiotic use. From there, I use certain herbs that can reduce the population of the bad guys.
At the same time, it’s vitally important to supplement to build up the population of the good guys. Just as important as dose-appropriate supplementation, is variety. I always recommend consuming a variety of fermented foods and beverages as often as possible. There are certainly manufacturing limitations in producing live organisms for sale in supplements, and the breadth of species available in capsules is nowhere close to the breadth present in a healthy gut. To obtain a broader spectrum of the good flora, I recommend eating fermented foods. Sauerkraut and kombucha are fairly easy to culture at home on your own, which make them both very cost effective to consume. Check out the book Wild Fermentation (or visit www.wildfermentation .com) for recipes; also the book Nourishing Traditions has a good chapter on fermentation and a selection of recipes as well. It’s a good opportunity to not only eat your medicine, but enjoy it too!
May you enjoy Luminous Good Health,
Dr. Deborah Epstein