For years my gut has been trying to talk to me. Sometimes it speaks in calm, supportive whispers, and other times, it has outright yelled, objecting and revolting against me. So much of what I have experienced in my body physically, if not more so mentally and emotionally, links back directly to my gut.
For years and years, I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, without a second thought of how it might be affecting my general wellness. I have always considered myself to be a healthy eater.
As the daughter of Middle Eastern parents, my parents put so much emphasis on the importance of home-cooked meals made with fresh ingredients and savory spices. Eating well and eating quality foods have always been part of my lifestyle, so I really never gave much thought to my diet as the cause of the dis-ease coursing through me.
Despite all my efforts to eat well, I wasn’t really considering the importance of keeping my gut balanced. For years I have battled insomnia, digestive issues, and anxiety. As far back as I can remember they have been principal characters in my journey. They had such a prominent presence in my life that I succumbed to them and accepted them as residents of my being. I really didn’t consider that like any unwanted guests, I had the ability to escort them out.
Unfortunately, over the last decade of my life, they became unmanageable and so debilitating that I found it hard to function. Fortunately, with the support of some wonderful integrative practitioners, research, and solidarity with others who have struggled with the same issues, I have been able to keep them in check.
One of the greatest awakenings that I have had in the last few years is the importance of keeping my gut balanced. Although food is only one piece of having a healthy gut, being able to start there has been incredibly helpful. Even though I thought I was eating well, my body was specifically struggling with certain foods, especially in larger quantities. I lacked balance, on so many levels. Focusing on my food intake alone, made a world of difference.
Figuring out how to balance our gut's microbiome, the unique community of gut flora that populates our bodies and contributes to our overall health, can be pretty tricky. One thing that I have tried to focus more on including in my diet is probiotics. Probiotics can, in large part, help to get your gut back in balance, but more than that, they are a great way to improve your overall health.
What is a Probiotic?
Probiotics are usually comprised of good bacteria that can assist with balancing your gut's microbiome. Balancing the gut microbiome is essential to our overall health, mentally and physically. These healthy bacteria can come from a supplement or, even better, foods high in probiotics. Foods that are high in probiotics are prepared by bacterial fermentation, so you'll often hear that fermented foods are very good for your gut.
Probiotics should never be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics nourish the probiotics in your gut, and they often come from fiber. There are handfuls of fruits and vegetables that are rich in prebiotics. Examples of prebiotics in food include apples, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, cabbage, chickpeas, chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, grapefruit, leeks, mushrooms, oats, and watermelon just to name a few. Pre and probiotics ultimately work in tandem. This is known as microbiome therapy. The prebiotics that we consume give more fortitude to the probiotics to thrive and work their wondrous ways in our gut.
Benefits of Probiotics for Your Gut
There is much evidence suggesting that probiotics can improve your intestinal microbiota. There are many effects of probiotics, but five of the main benefits are:
Reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotics or infections
Reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis which is a kind of chronic inflammatory bowel disease, and other digestive ailments
Reduce allergies and inflammation in the body
Assist with repairing and building immunity
Assist with boosting mood and reducing overall anxiety levels
Because gut health has such a direct effect on our overall health, it is crucial to make probiotics a part of your daily lifestyle. The best way to do that is by including fermented foods in your eating habits or including a dietary supplement in your routine. An experienced holistic health professional can assist with helping you find the best choice for your body.
Essential Types of Bacteria
Many different strains and species of probiotics are associated with various health benefits. That being said, it's essential to understand these strains when picking a probiotic because some probiotic supplements can be counteractive to what your body needs. In other words, bad bacteria do exist.
If you're having problems remaining regular, this probiotic strain may be able to help ease your issues. Lactobacillus casei is known for helping to stop diarrhea and can help protect your gut from the effects of antibiotics. This strain of bacteria also may have affects to help improve diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, acne, urinary tract issues, and more. The best food sources for this probiotic strain are yogurt, kefir, and some forms of cheese like aged cheddar, gouda, swiss, and gruyere cheese.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is known for helping repair the body from certain diseases. Overall, this strain of probiotics mainly helps with the health of your immune system. It is known for helping to prevent yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, acne, lactose intolerance, urinary tract issues, and infectious diarrhea. Good sources of this probiotic can be found in kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, sour pickles, sourdough bread, and fermented soy products.
This probiotic strain is perfect if you've been struggling with your mental health. Not only can Lactobacillus plantarum assist with inflammation in the body, but it also has been found to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in the body. The increase of these chemicals in the body can reduce overall anxiety. Good sources of this bacteria strain can be found in sauerkraut, sourdough bread, pickles, brined olives, and more.
Bifidobacterium bifidum is known for helping the body produce vitamins. These vitamins can assist primarily with mood, but they can also help with many different diseases and ailments. Specifically, it can assist with irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, lung infections, liver problems, and digestive infections. This potent probiotic can be found in buttermilk, kefir, certain wines and vinegar, sauerkraut, and more.
Inflammation can cause many different ailments in the body, and it is truly painful and debilitating for those that experience it. Bifidobacterium infantis is known for reducing overall inflammation in the body. It is primarily known for reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and chronic fatigue syndrome. This healing probiotic can be found in olives, salami, cheeses, sauerkraut, and yogurt.
When to Take a Probiotic Supplement
When choosing your probiotic supplement, it is essential to see a holistic professional first. Make a list of your symptoms, so your holistic coach can pick the correct strains of probiotics that address each symptom. A health professional can assist you with finding the supplement that is best for your body. Probiotic supplements are very concentrated, so it's vital to get assistance from an experienced professional as these potent volumes of bacteria can also have adverse effects.
Probiotic Rich Foods
While supplements can be helpful, they can also be harsh on the body due to their high concentrations of probiotic bacteria. The best way to use probiotics to heal your body is through probiotic rich foods. Here are some of my favorite probiotic foods.
Fermented cabbage is a fantastic way of getting a daily dose of probiotics. It can be thrown into a salad, on top of a sandwich, or on the side of a dinner plate. It’s a versatile ingredient to work with in meals.
It is essentially the pickling of cabbage, which we can do easily at home, in a matter of days. If time is a rare commodity, natural food stores and some larger grocery stores have started to carry jars of naturally fermented cabbage usually found in the refrigerated section.
Yogurt or Kefir
These are staples in my refrigerator at home. They are so good to have around for when the gut needs to heal or if your immune system needs a boost. For those who are lactose intolerant or dairy free, there are fantastic alternatives including water kefir and coconut yogurt.
They are so simple and so good for you. Preferably the pickles should be made using a similar fermentation process to that of the cabbage. If buying them, be mindful of preservatives. The fewer ingredients the better. A simple brine of salt water is key. The fluid is also extremely hydrating for those struggling with dehydration.
This food dates back centuries and is made by fermenting soybeans. Again, one needs to be mindful when buying miso. Stick with natural or organic miso, as not all soy products are created equal. Yet the right kind of miso can not only do right by your gut but also support the body in a multitude of other ways, including acting as an anti-carcinogen.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Another staple in my pantry and something that I use on a daily basis, whether it be a shot in my daily mug of bone broth or an ingredient in my salad dressing. Apple cider vinegar may not have mass appeal, but it is rich in probiotics and is a gem in healing and sealing the gut. One spoonful a day, can keep the bad bugs at bay.
Adding probiotics to your diet through fermented foods or dietary supplements can be one of your very first steps toward healing your gut. It’s a process that includes a lot of experimenting with removing and reintroducing foods.
It should be done with the support of a health practitioner. It requires time, patience, and awareness of one's own body. Ultimately, we have to connect with ourselves in ways that we often overlook. When we have suffered from dis-ease in the body, having a breakthrough of feeling better is a game changer.
Based on my own personal journey, the experience of waking up to my own well being after many years of being asleep and moving on auto-pilot, has been life altering. There has been beauty in my wellness journey and ultimately it started with a very simple but constantly overlooked concept: self care.
Self care begins off the plate by setting an intention to feel like the healthiest and happiest version of oneself. Once I discovered what my intentions were: to be less anxious, get better sleep, heal my gut, and be in less bodily pain, the path to getting there organically unfolded one step at a time. It is not always seamless, like anything else in life it is fluid, with some ebbs and flows. But, the process has been incredibly rewarding and, more importantly, empowering.
If you're ready to take steps to heal your gut and improve your overall health, I would love to assist you. Sign up for a complimentary chat to start living a life filled with vitality today.