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Probiotics: The Cornerstone of Gut Health

Illustration on woman's gutProbiotics today are one of the most commonly consumed supplements, but why? What do they do? Are they even needed?

Growing up, we’re told as kids that bacteria is bad, that it’s what makes us sick, and that it should be cleaned off of surfaces and our hands at all costs. While some of those facts may be partially true, most of us have learned that there are also “good bacteria” that exists in our gut. These good bacteria are responsible for keeping our guts happy and healthy, digesting our food efficiently, and keeping us from experiencing less than favorable gastrointestinal side effects.

While probiotic sales have been on the rise, it does raise the question: Is this a fad? Does everyone really need to take a probiotic every day? The answer is not that simple. First, we have to know what causes disruption in the gut microbiome for us to need the support of probiotics. Technically speaking, if our guts are healthy and our microbiomes and their bacteria is strong, we don’t need to take a probiotic. However, certain assaults such as antibiotics, stress, poor diet, artificial sweeteners, environmental toxins, and genetic factors can all lead to disruptions in the gut. Gut bacteria is often called our gut flora and for good reason. Think of your gut as a garden: any “plant parent” can tell you the meticulousness and care if requires to maintain indoor and outdoor botanicals. Let’s look at some of these assaults in light of this analogy.

1. Antibiotics

Antibiotics are one of the most deleterious and obvious assaults to the gut microbiome. They are like roundup on healthy plants and flowers. Disclaimer: Antibiotics are often highly necessary for many reasons, including severe infections, wound maintenance, and post-operative care. While they can be lifesaving, they can also come with one crucial drawback: antibiotics kill bacteria. All bacteria, not just the bad bacteria that you want it to kill. Antibiotics kill off a lot of the good bacteria in our guts because they are not designed to only target bad bacteria. Chronic antibiotic use, especially as a child, can set up a person for lingering health effects even into their adulthood. After a course of antibiotics, a few months of probiotic use should follow. For longer lasting issues, more aggressive probiotic treatment may be necessary.

2. Artificial Sweeteners

While the reason isn’t fully known, artificial sweeteners have been shown to cause harmful changes in the structure of gut bacteria. Other studies have shown that artificial sweeteners are efficient at taking energy from our food and converting it to fat, actually contributing to conditions such as obesity and diabetes. A history with heavy artificial sugar use may require supplementation with probiotics to repopulate the gut bacteria.

3. Poor Diet

A diet rich in refined foods and lack of variety can stagnate healthy bacteria growth and survival. The more diverse our food sources are, the more diverse the bacteria become. Usually this can be solved purely by improving the diet, but probiotics can also be utilized for an extra boost.

4. Physical and Emotional Stress

Living in a state of prolonged stress can lead to alterations in the gut microbiota. Acute emotional traumas (i.e. one, big stressful event) can also cause a disruption in the gut microbiome. Additionally, not getting enough sleep can also put physical stress on the body, leading to further gut alterations. Maintaining a proper sleep schedule is key to overall health, as well as managing emotional stress. Nutrition therapy can also address the root causes of emotional stress and poor sleep, but probiotics may be useful in the interim.

5. Genetic factors and chronic conditions

No matter how hard we try, there may be genetic conditions that lead to poorer gut health. Conditions like autism typically present with an altered gut microbiome. Further, there has been research that shows how different chronic conditions (diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, anxiety, depression, ADHD) can benefit from specific strains of probiotics. Some of these health predispositions may benefit from ongoing probiotic supplementation.

Contact Us Today

No matter what the cause of poor gut bacteria may be, it is important to identify and rule out if it is the cause of any adverse symptoms (anywhere in the body). Poor gut health can present as a variety of issues including acne, depression or anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and migraines, weight loss or gain, cravings, and fatigue. If you are concerned that poor gut health may be causing your health problems, give us a call at (302) 454-1200 to schedule a nutritional consultation!

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