12 Feb Probiotics are not magic pills.
Just because probiotics are in pill for we treat them like drugs… in the most generic sense. You take a paracetamol to treat a headache and viola no headache. So we pop probiotics with the mindset that they are going to cure everything because gut health is so important. They have so much potential, but where have we gone wrong?
People like it when you get to the point and simplify things… but in the process we might miss all the super important juicy stuff, the jokes and the padding that make a story funny and worth telling. There has been so much information being released about the microbiome and gut health but I think it is being over simplified and we are jumping straight to the last chapter… we are missing the juicy climax, the nuggets of wisdom, the actionable steps. So here is my take on attempting to woo you with a juicy story.
Probiotics have stolen the show when it comes to gut health. I speak to many people that think a probiotic supplement will fix everything. To be completely honest… I’m not a huge fan of probiotics for a few reasons.
- They are expensive
- They only contain a few species of bacteria. While they can be beneficial they are not a long term fix.
- Its not fully addressing gut health. Its only one peice to the puzzle.
So while you pick up your jaw from the flaw after that statement, let me explain my case.
Your health relies on the diversity of bacterial species and a delicate balance of good vs undesirable bacteria for the magic to take place. We experience uncomfortable symptoms and health issues when the balance is upset. When the diversity of a particular bacteria strain takes over you miss out on the benefits of the others. So in my defense (and from reading and exploring microbiome specialists books and opinions) when you take probiotics over a long period you are feeding your gut with only a 3-5 strains but in the millions and billions worth. This creates a monoculture of those specific bacteria. Remember the aim of the game is diversity. We want hundreds of different species.
Just to be clear, I’m not totally against probiotics.
They are immensely beneficial to treat specific health concerns so don’t get me wrong… I advocate good quality probiotics when necessary and especially after a round of antibiotics or if you have experienced food poisoning or a virus. I just don’t want you to rely on them as a “cure all” OR keep forking out money (long term) when its not needed. It is so easy to fall into the mindset that it is a magic health pill.
I’m a huge fan of fermented foods (if you didn’t already know that) because they have a diverse array of bacterial species and each batch will be different and contain different species depending on where you got your veggies from. The fermenting process also increases the foods nutrition 10 fold so you are getting the best of both worlds.
Fermented foods are not the only way to increase your microbial diversity!
Getting into the garden and into nature can help increase your diversity. After all we get our microbes from the soil and on our food. Growing your own veggies is a great way to ensure you are getting beneficial bacteria on your food, when we garden you will inhale some of these microbes and also get them on your skin. If you are not in a position to be lucky enough to have space for a veggie patch you can add to your diversity by getting into nature. The more off the grid the better!! Going to a national forest, bush or deserted beach means these areas have had less human contact and will (hopefully) have some more resilient and ancient bacterial species. Bacteria is EVERYWHERE and you can literally breath in these microbes or as you touch some plant life. The best part about this is… getting into nature is FREE!!
Personally I like to get off the grid at least once a year for a camping trip in the bush or camp on the beach, when in these environments you can’t be super hygienic so I relish in the fact that I am going to be exposed to some health enhancing microbes from the soil, air and ocean.
So as you can see relying on taking a probiotic pill alone can be quite limiting to your microbiome. Its not all doom and gloom, there is a place to start that will make a BIG difference when and IF taking probiotics.
Before you take a probiotic supplement you should put some gut healing measures in place to help make the most of probiotic supplements, because dang, they are not cheap!
A quick but really important microbiome lesson your Dr probably does not know…
Your gut bacteria live in a mucosal lining that protects your gut lining. This mucosal lining is actually produced by your bacteria to protect you gut lining and crucial to their survival because it is actually where they live and how the communicate with one another. Poor diets, bad gut bacteria, impaired digestion and inflammation can create an environment less than perfect for these bacteria to live and this mucosal lining breaks down leaving your gut lining exposed and leaky. So addressing the health of your gut lining is critical if you are taking probiotics because these beneficial bacteria need a good environment to live in. So you can’t just pop a probiotic pill and cross your fingers. You should be reducing your sugar and processed food intake and make sure you are eating plenty of prebiotic foods to feed your bacteria. The beneficial bacteria feed off of prebiotic fiber found in fruit and veggies so that should go hand in hand when taking probiotics.
So now (hopefully) you can see why taking probiotics is not the be-all-and-end-all cure. You need to nurture your gut lining (and in turn your health) to help the probiotics do their work.