Taking probiotics as a means of achieving gut health has been a topic of conversation for years now. So much so that most people know that taking probiotics after digestive illness or a course of antibiotics has become fairly common knowledge. What remains less known is how to actually go about achieving this in an effective manner. The good news is that it’s not too tricky, the bad news is that it takes time and commitment to properly achieve.
Did you know that there are over 10x more bacterial cells in our gastro-intestinal tract than human cells in the body?
They’re just much smaller in size so we don’t see them, but they’re there, and when in balance help to keep us healthy. It has been estimated that there are approximately 600 species of bacteria that live in this tract with about 30-40 species accounting for 99% of the total. What this tells us is that diversity is important. No one species is the hero.
When the healthy gut flora isn’t flourishing it creates space for pathogenic organisms to move in resulting in a range of manifestations, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Think of your gut like an apartment building and you are the landlord, if a bunch of tenants get evicted (equivalent to taking antibiotics, having food poisoning, etc.) and you don’t move in new tenants of your choice then you are likely to end up with squatters moving into those empty spaces. These squatters (bad bacteria etc.) just end up trashing the place. This is why it’s important to take probiotics when needed. It gives you control over who “moves in”.
Benefits of flourishing gut flora:
- Promotes good digestion (decreases bloating, reduces heartburn/acid reflux, proper bowel movements, etc.)
- Prevents the colonization of bad bacteria because there is no space for them to move in
- Benefits the immune system
- Increases your resistance to infections (bacterial, viral, and fungal)
- Prevents vaginal yeast infections
- Reduces symptoms of IBS/IBD
- Lowers cholesterol
- Increases tolerance to allergens (dairy, hay fever, etc.)
Manifestations of poor gut flora:
- Digestive problems such as indigestion, increased stomach acidity, diarrhea, malabsorption of nutrients, etc.
- Colonization of improper bacteria and fungus
- Increased incidence of infections
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Flared allergies
- Developmental problems may occur in children
- Flared psychiatric issues (anxiety, depression, etc.)
- Hormone cycling may be negatively affected, especially the body’s ability to clear estrogen properly
Probiotic is just a fancy word for a product that delivers healthy, gut-friendly, bacteria to your gastro-intestinal tract. As with any health product, they are not all created equal. You want to look for a probiotic that contains a month’s supply of at least 10 different strains of bacteria at an amount of at least 50 billion bacteria per capsule. These are most often found in the fridge section of your local health store. Our ultimate goal is to re-introduce at least 30-40 different strains of bacteria over the course of the treatment so take note of which bacteria are in the probiotic you purchased. Once the first month is finished, purchase a different probiotic that contains different bacteria from the first month’s supply (there will likely be some overlap). In order to get the full diversity of 30-40 bacteria colonies the treatment course will likely take 3-4 months to achieve.
Weed, Seed, and Feed Protocol When our gut flora is out of balance, we need to do more than just take probiotics (seed), we also have to reduce the bad bacteria/fungi/parasites that may have moved in (weed) as well as to encourage the colonization of the probiotics that we introduce (feed). Prebiotics are food for probiotics. The following protocol will help to achieve this goal but does need to be done consistently over a period of time (3-4 months). Persistence is key!
Weed on weekends Eat 3-4 raw cloves of garlic per day. This can be crushed and added to honey or salad dressing (must consume all the dressing to get the full dose of garlic). If the taste is too spicy for you it can be crushed and put into capsules. A caution about store-bought garlic capsules, they are not as effective because they lack freshness.
Seed on weekdays Take your probiotic, rotating out to a new product after each month to ensure you’re reaching the total diversity of 30-40 bacterial strains by the end of the treatment course. You can also eat fermented foods in addition to the probiotic but they are not enough to replace the probiotics.
Feed on weekdays Good gut bacteria likes to feed from the non-digestible components in plants such as Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), that are found in soluble fibres such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. If you are having trouble sourcing them in your diet you can find prebiotic supplements at your local health store.
Reference: Pacific Rim College Online. 2020. Connect & Learn: Herbalism Program Companion Guide. Volume 1, edition 1. Pacific Rim College Press. Canada