Are you gardening this year? Do you love seeing your plants grow healthy and strong? If you are a gardener, you know there are certain things plants need to thrive. Some of the first steps are weeding, seeding, and feeding.
It is necessary to get the undesirable plants out of the way by weeding so that the seeds you want to grow don’t get choked out. Then the desirable seed can be planted. Once planted, these desirable plants need to be fed so they can grow.
The principles of gardening can actually apply to the complex habitat within our gut. To have good gut health, we must get the weeds (bad bacteria) in check. To do this we need the good seeds (healthy bacteria) to take root. And finally, we need to feed this good bacteria (prebiotics).
Let’s look at how we can use these principles to cultivate a healthy gut, and learn why it is so important for our overall health.
Why Gut Health Matters
Have you ever considered how your gut health impacts your overall health? Well, since seventy percent of your immune system resides in the gut, it is imperative that it is healthy. There is also a strong connection between our gut and our skin, our gut and our brain, and our gut and our hormones.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “The health of the 100 trillion bugs in your gut is one of the biggest things that impacts your health.” When the healthy gut bacteria is out of balance with the bad gut bacteria, we are set up for trouble.
In fact, Dr. Hyman explains that, many “diseases are affected by the health of your gut flora – including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, allergic diseases like asthma and eczema and even depression, ADD and autism!”
How the Gut Gets Damaged
When your gut lining breaks down you develop ‘leaky gut.' This can be caused by using antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, or excessive alcohol use. But it can also be affected by stress, a diet of processed foods, or even food sensitivities - foods that are generally considered "healthy," but simply aren't working for your body.
Once you develop a leaky gut, your immune system must deal with the food particles, bacteria, and microbes that leak into the body through the compromised gut barrier that would normally keep them from gaining access. This creates havoc in your system and triggers an immune response - which can lead to an autoimmune response in which your immune system attacks your own body (Think Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriasis, Chron's Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis just to name a few.)
Ways to Support Gut Health
In order to heal our gut, we need to bring the good and the bad bacteria into balance.
- “Weeding” out the bad bacteria - This can be done through reducing and eliminating excess sugar, alcohol, and processed foods from the diet. In some cases it is important to reduce the amount of bad bacteria through the use of herbs or prescription medicine.
- “Seeding” Probiotics - Dr. Hyman explains that “probiotics can improve the health of your gut significantly… because probiotics help to populate your gut with good bacteria.”
Eating fermented foods that contain probiotics - like kimchi, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and yogurt - can increase the amount of good bacteria in your system. However, most people would benefit from a quality probiotic supplement as well.
- “Feeding” the good bacteria - In addition to probiotics, it is important to have prebiotics. Dr. Hyman explains that “prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber that help feed the good bugs in your gut.”
This is because many fruits and vegetables contain fiber and resistant starch that your body can’t digest. These indigestible plant fibers, or prebiotics, become food for the healthy bacteria and other microbes. Common prebiotics include onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, asparagus, leeks, carrots, bananas, apples, and almonds. Aim for a variety of colors of veggies every day to adequately feed the variety of "good" bacteria.
What to Look for in a Probiotic
The probiotic market can be really confusing. It seems like there are hundreds if not thousands of options! How do you decide which to choose?
In his book Healthy Gut, Healthy You, Dr. Michael Ruscio explains the 3 main categories of Probiotics. These include:
- Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium blends
- Saccharomyces Boulardii
- Soil-Based Probiotics using various Bacillus species.
I recommend choosing one probiotic from each of these categories, and taking them simultaneously for at least 3-4 weeks. Want to learn more about why I make this recommendation? I LOVE this probiotic starter guide by the aforementioned author Dr. Michael Ruscio.
What Brand to Use
Quality really matters when it comes to probiotics. In addition to not containing what they claim, some probiotics actually have been found to contain unacceptable microorganisms. I never recommend buying supplements on Amazon as Amazon itself admits that they can't guarantee that what is advertised is what you will receive.
The brands that I recommend go through external audits to ensure that the product contains what is on the label while not containing unacceptable organisms, or common allergens such as gluten, dairy, and soy.
There is no one "perfect" brand to use. The most expensive one is not necessarily best, but it is important to notice if a probiotic is much cheaper than other brands on the market. Really cheap probiotics may not have the best quality control practices and likely aren’t independently tested.
If you want to learn what my favorite brands are in each of the 3 categories, feel free to ask me at your next appointment.
As always, I'm available to discuss your gut health or your use of probiotics. Just give me a call, and we'll set up an appointment where we can discuss it!