It’s that time of year where you might think I’m talking June bugs and mosquitoes … but no, I’m talking the living microscopic world INSIDE you.  Let’s talk gut health and probiotics.

What are probiotics?

Everyone knows these days that they ‘need to take a probiotic.’  But what exactly are you taking and why?   Let’s break it down.  Probiotics =  ‘pro’, meaning ‘for’ and ‘biotics’, meaning ‘of life’.  Probiotics are life-supportive microscopic organisms living in your gut.  They’re the good bugs.  Yes, you have bugs in your gut.  All the time.  From the moment you passed through the vaginal canal, which is where the newborn gets its first inoculation of pro-life microbes.  Interestingly, babies born by C-section do not get this inoculation and may show the results of compromised gut and immune health later in life.

There’s a new term floating around that is gaining more publicity in mainstream medicine and media … ‘microbiome’.  It refers to the entire ‘biome’ (world of life) that’s microscopic and housed … IN YOU, and primarily, in your gut.  By the time you’re an adult, you have 10x more cells in your body that are microbial than you do your own human cells.  The gut houses a solid 10 to the 14th microbes.  That’s 10 with 14 zeros behind it and about 4.5 pounds worth of bacteria living primarily in your intestines!  Research is bearing out what naturopathy has known for centuries … the health of your body depends on the health of this microbiome.

The good bugs in your gut are responsible for thousands of actions we don’t even yet know the extent of.  Suffice it to say they are a huge part of your digestive health, your immune system health (80% of your immune system is in your gut!), and brain function and health.  Your daily mood fluctuations, depression or anxiety could be because your microbiome is unhealthy or unbalanced.

Why do I need probiotics?

Well if you’ve ever taken an antibiotic …. remember the earlier conversation?  ‘Anti’ = ‘against’ and ‘biotic’ = ‘life’.  Think of antibiotics as the equivalent of the pro-choice movement.  You have the choice to take a medication that can wipe you out of a microbiome.  Not the best idea, though sometimes necessary, because then the pathogenic bad bugs have an opportunity to gain a foothold and become the rulers of your microbiome.  Pathogenic bacterial overgrowth = poor gut health = digestive issues, compromised immunity, and major mood disorders.

In a nutshell, being sickly is a bug imbalance.  Whether it’s mental imbalance, a constant feeling of ennui or depression, disabling allergies, or catching every seasonal ‘bug’ that goes around, look to your gut microbiome first.  The average child in America has had 17 rounds of antibiotics by age 20!   Good luck having a happy microbiome/healthy body after that.  While sometimes critical, antibiotics are mostly overprescribed and misused.  Enter the vital good bugs.

How can I re-establish balance that is pro-life in my gut?

Most of us need to ongoingly take a probiotic supplement.  I recommend one that’s refrigerated.  Living things die without proper conditions, so a product you buy off the shelf at the corner drugstore may not have any living bugs left in it. That doesn’t do your gut much happy good.  Buy high-quality, trusted, refrigerated brands.  I like Garden of Life.

We can also eat and drink probiotic foods – like unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, or yogurt and cultured or fermented drinks like kombucha or kefir.  The culturing and fermenting processes actually CAUSE the good bugs to grow on purpose.  Make sure your yogurt and krauts are unpasteurized … the process of pasteurization involves heat that ‘sterilizes’ the food … killing all the happy microbes.  Health food stores and markets have great selections of unpasteurized, fermented and cultured foods.   Enjoy this probiotic-rich smoothie recipe this summer!