ARE PROBIOTICS REALLY GOOD FOR YOU?
It’s a confusing world out there. As consumers, we tend to be at the mercy of advertising companies and big brands with big budgets pushing product on us in order to capitalise on health industry trends. One of the biggest trends, or actually, let’s call it “important discoveries to come to light”, of the last few years is the importance of gut health.
As a Nutritional Therapist when treating a patient, 9 times out of 10 I will start with the gut, even if the symptoms don’t necessarily point in that direction. Our gut microbiome is the absolute foundation to a healthy body and mind, it’s our first line of defence against bugs and viruses, as 70% of our immune system resides within the gut, and an unhappy gut can often account for seemingly unrelated symptoms that I see a lot in clinic: tiredness, skin problems, bad digestion, cystitis, UTIs, mental health issues and so much more.
Now, when we say “unhappy gut,” what do we mean exactly? Our gut is made up of 1.5kg of many different strains of bacteria. These different strains have different roles within our bodies and, for ease, we can identify some as “good” and some as “bad.” What happens in 21st Century life is that we can easily tip the balance in favour of the bad bacteria by taking too many antibiotics, eating poor and heavily processed, sugary foods, being overly stressed etc etc, and in these situations we can end up with a dysbiosis - i.e an imbalance.
Things can start to go wring pretty quickly if your gut flora is seriously out of line. In my own personal experience of SIBO it can also be a long and painful road back to recovery. You have to work on correcting the imbalance whilst making sure you’re getting enough of the good bacteria too.
Enter probiotics. Probiotic supplements have swiftly become heralded as a quick fix for pretty much everything. We’ve all become very aware that our gut bacteria is important, and therefore we assume that we all need to be taking a probiotic supplement.
If your gut flora is in good health and you eat a varied diet with lots of different plant foods, proteins and fats then your gut flora will use all of this goodness as its food source (our foods naturally contain lots of different pre and probiotic sources), and live in happy symbiosis. If you are noticing symptoms such as poor digestion, energy, skin symptoms, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation etc etc, then you might do well to have a look at your diet and your lifestyle and see how it might be impacting your gut health. The first port of call is always food - what are you putting into your body? Work with a nutritional therapist of functional medicine practitioner to get this right. Don’t jump straight to the conclusion that you need probiotics, here’s why:
If you have any sort of imbalance in bacteria levels, i.e. something has happened to allow “bad” bacteria to take hold, then by taking lots of probiotics you’re just proving a fantastic food source for these types of bacteria to keep proliferating, growing, multiplying and colonising your gut.
It’s important to first do some weeding and then re-sew the gut with the good stuff.
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