Is Gut Health Important to Total Health? Everything you need to know about Probiotics.
It seems “Gut Health” has become a buzz phrase for those in the wellness community. What is Gut Health? Is it important to our overall health?
Today we interview Registered Nutritional Therapist, Hannah Braye, to get educated answers for our readers.
It’s been said that our gut is our second brain. What is our microbiome, and why is it so important to our overall health?
You may have heard people talking about the “microbiome”, “microbiota”or “microflora”. These terms all refer to the vast community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, yeasts and viruses) which reside in and on the human body. We’re absolutely teeming with them, from the oral cavity, and genitourinary tract, to the skin and lungs. In fact, latest research suggests we are home to as many bacteria as we are human cells,1 and that the microbiome collectively weighs more than our brain! By far the biggest community of microorganisms is in the gastrointestinal tract, which houses around 100 trillion bacteria in the large intestine.
Beneficial species of bacteria in the gut help to support overall good health in a number of different ways. For example:
They help to protect us against pathogens (disease causing microbes). They do this via a number of different mechanisms including competing for nutrients and space on the gut lining. They also help to lower the pH in the gut, making it more difficult for pathogens to thrive.
They support our immune system. You may be surprised to hear that over 70% of immune cells are located in the gut, where they interact with our gut bacteria. Beneficial species play an important role in helping to support the immune system and protect us from pathogens. Where dysbiosis is present we are more susceptible to infections.
They provide us with extra nutrition. Certain fibres that we eat aren’t digestible by humans, and it is only when they are fermented by our gut bacteria that we can derive some benefit from the by-products such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Our gut bacteria also synthesize vitamins themselves such as vitamin K (needed for blood clotting) and B vitamins (needed for energy production).
They help support detoxification processes in the body by binding to heavy metals and toxins in the gut, and reducing the workload for the liver.
They support the health of the gut lining, preventing intestinal hyper-permeability (known as “leaky gut”), which helps protect against inflammation. A healthy gut lining also helps us to absorb more nutrients from our food.
The gut-brain axis, and in particular how the balance of bacteria in the gut may affect brain health and mood, is an exciting and rapidly evolving area of research. The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication system between the gut and the brain. It consists of nerve, immune and hormonal pathways, all of which may be influenced by our gut bacteria. For example, 80% of signals sent along the vagus nerve connecting the brain to the gut originate from the gut, and only 20% from the brain. These signals are influenced by neurotransmitters such as serotonin created in the gut by certain species of bacteria. Interestingly, research is implicating changes in the gut microbiome caused by diet and lifestyle factors, in a variety of mood and cognitive related conditions.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics can be found in fermented foods or supplemental form and are defined by the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms that provide health benefits to the host when ingested in adequate amounts”. Their mechanisms of action are wide-ranging, but essentially they act to modify the gut microbiota, increasing levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut and improving the environment, allowing your own resistant bacteria to thrive.
Potential therapeutic applications for probiotics are diverse and not limited to digestive disorders. Research indicates they may also be of benefit in many extra-intestinal conditions such as allergy, asthma, eczema, acne, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
How can we begin to improve our gut health on a daily basis?
Research is indicating that having a diverse gut microbiome, with lots of different beneficial species is a key determinant for good health. In order to encourage diversity in the gut it’s recommended to:
Eat a wide variety of different plant foods. Recent research shows the more plants foods you eat (ideally over 30 different types a week), the greater the diversity in the gut, regardless of other dietary factors.
Eat plenty of foods high in prebiotic fibres in particular, such as garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, slightly under ripe bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and dandelion greens, as these provide a food source for beneficial species in the gut.
Introduce beneficial species to the gut by regularly consuming traditionally fermented foods such as kefir, live yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and miso. These tend to be particularly high in beneficial Lactobacilli and Streptococcus species.18
For additional support, take a good quality multi-strain probiotic such as Bio-Kult Advanced.
Increase your intake of polyphenol rich foods such as berries, green tea, raw cacao, cloves, star anise and other herbs and spices. Polyphenols are packed with antioxidants and are associated with numerous potential health benefits, including increasing beneficial species of bacteria in the gut and inhibiting pathogens.
Regularly spend time outdoors and near animals, for example by taking country walks, signing up to an exercise class in the park, visiting farms and animal sanctuaries or walking a neighbor’s dog.
Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins by eating home-grown or organic where possible,filtering your water, and using natural skin care and home cleaning products.
Take steps to reduce stress, such as signing up to a mediation or mindfulness course, cognitive behavioural therapy, or restorative exercise such as yoga. Prioritize carving out time for yourself, even if just 15 minutes a day to take a bath or a walk, read a book or do some deep breathing exercises.
Introduce a regular bedtime routine, by getting up and going to bed at the same time each day. Ensure your bedroom is dark and cool enough and practice good sleep hygiene by avoiding screen use for at least an hour before bed and keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom.
Adding fermented foods and yogurt to our diet has its benefits, why should we supplement on top of it?
Consuming traditionally fermented foods is a great way to support your microbiome, and is something we actively encourage here at Bio-Kult. If you are regularly consuming a variety of such foods and are generally in good health, then there may be no need for you to consume an additional probiotic supplement. However, for many individuals, finding the time pickle and ferment foods around busy schedules can be tricky, and the cost of good quality shop-bought products can quickly add up. Therefore, some find it easier and more convenient to take a probiotic supplement. Another benefit of supplementation is knowing exactly which strains you are consuming, and the research behind them. It’s also easier to standardize your dose. While some home-fermented foods such as kefir are likely to contain a diverse mix of bacteria, many shop-bought yoghurts will only contain a maximum of 2 or 3 strains, and may also contain lots of other less healthy additives. Good quality probiotic supplements will also be manufactured in a way that helps them survive the acidity of the stomach, so the ratio of the bacteria which survives to the intestines may potentially be higher.
What are the benefits of using a multi-strain probiotic? Is it true that if you have too many probiotic strains in one supplement, they destroy each other?
Each human being hosts hundreds of different bacterial strains in their gut. A multi-strain supplement is therefore thought to better reflect this diverse mix. Different strains also have different mechanisms of action and exert their effects in different areas of the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore a multi-strain product can be seen as providing more holistic support throughout the GI tract. Multi-strain formulations also more closely mimic how we would be exposed to bacteria from the natural environment, where we exposed to lots of different strains, not just one strain at high levels.
There is some debate regarding competition/destruction between strains in multi-strain products in the scientific literature but to date there limited evidence to suggest this to be the case. There is however evidence to suggest increased synergistic effects of multi-strain products, for example, such as increased pathogen inhibition and increased adherence of the probiotic bacteria to the lining of the gut.Multi-strain formulations have also been shown to be more effective in certain conditions. For example, a recent meta-analysis and systematic review by the British Dietetic Society found that multi-strain formulations were effective for relieving IBS symptoms in twice as many clinical trials than single strain products.
At Bio-Kult we complete rigorous stability testing on our probiotics which confirms the presence of all strains at the end of the products 2 year shelf life. We also have a vast array of clinical trials that show beneficial outcomes of taking our multi-strain probiotics, which further supports that competition and destruction between the strains is not an issue.
What are the different uses of Bio-Kult products, and how do I know which product in the Bio-Kult line I should be using?
Bio-Kult Infantis is a scientifically developed, advanced probiotic formula for babies, toddlers and young children. Each sachet contains 7 strains of probiotic bacteria, Preplex prebiotic (FOS and gum acacia), omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D3 which contributes to the normal function of the immune system. The probiotics and prebiotics in Bio-Kult Infantis have been shown in human clinical trials to be of benefit in many conditions, including childhood atopic dermatitis, cystic fibrosis, acute gastroenteritis, colic,constipation, and H-pylori infection.
Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation is our go-to product for digestive and immune support in older children and adults. All of the 14 strains it contains have been shown to have inhibitory effects against common pathogens. Bio-Kult Advanced was recently used in the largest-ever randomised controlled trial of probiotics in IBS patients ever-conducted. The study in 400 people found that Bio-Kult significantly improved overall symptom severity in IBS patients. Abdominal pain and frequency reduced by an average of 69% and 34% of participants were completely symptom free at the end of the 4 month trial. Significantly though, as well as relieving IBS-D symptoms, Bio-Kult was also shown to markedly improve all aspects of Quality of Life. This includes psychological issues such as anxiety about health, depression, lack of enjoyment of life, and feelings of having to avoid stressful situations.
Bio-Kult Candéais designed to help support healthy yeast balance. It contains seven strains of probiotic bacteria to reinforce the gut microflora, helping to regulate pH levels and prevent yeast, such as Candida albicans, from finding binding sites in the gut to grow. It also contains garlic, well known for its immune supportive and naturally powerful anti-fungal properties, and the antioxidant grapefruit extract. Taken daily, Bio-Kult Candéa could help maintain naturally strong immunity, to support healthy yeast balance in the body.
Bio-Kult Pro-Cyan is designed for those who suffer with recurrent urinary tract infections. It contains two strains of lactobacilli bacteria, both of which have been shown in vitro to significantly inhibit E.coli and E.faecalis growth (the most common culprits in urinary tract infections).The product is also formulated with cranberry extract standardized to give a minimum of 36mg Proanthocyanidins (type A) per 2 capsule dose. Type A-PACs have been shown to block bacterial adhesion to the cells lining the urinary tract. Pro-Cyan also contains vitamin A which contributes to the normal function of the immune system and the maintenance of mucous membranes, which may be compromised by UTIs.
The latest addition to the Bio-Kult range is Bio-Kult Migréa, designed for those who suffer with head discomfort. It contains 14 strains of probiotic bacteria plus magnesium and vitamin B6, which contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue and the normal functioning of the nervous system. In a recent randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,46 the 14 probiotic strains were shown to significantly decrease migraine frequency and intensity, in both episodic and chronic migraine compared to placebo, and to reduce the use of medications, when taken for at least 8 weeks.
Typically, probiotic supplements tend to be kept cold. Why doesn’t Bio-Kult need to be kept in the fridge?
There is often a misconception that refrigerated probiotic products are superior. However, with the development of new technology shelf-stable products such as the Bio-Kult range are now able to match the refrigerated products for quality while providing more consistency as to viability by the time the product reaches the end-consumer. With refrigerated products there is an increased risk of damage to the bacteria during transportation, storage and while on the shelf. The benefits of shelf-stable products include convenience when traveling, being able to keep them in a handy place where you are most likely to remember to take them, and less concern regarding how the product has been stored and transported at each stage of the supply chain.
The Bio-Kult products do not require refrigeration due to the process of lyophilization (freeze-drying) which has been shown to preserve bacterial cell viability. It has also been shown that lyophilzation does effect the ability of probiotic bacteria to protect the intestinal system from pathogens. This process essentially puts the bacteria into a dormant state, and they are only reactivated once they meet the moist conditions in the digestive tract. A protective (cryoprotectant) coating is also applied to the Bio-Kult bacteria, which helps prevent damage during the freeze-drying process, while on the shelf and may also help protect against stomach acid, leading to greater numbers of viable bacteria reaching the digestive tract. The Bio-Kult blister packs offer further protection against moisture and extremes of temperature.
An external laboratory undertakes stability testing on our Bio-Kult probiotics so we can state the count until the end of the two year shelf life when kept at room temperature (up to 25C). At warmer temperatures (up to 40C), the product is stable for multiple weeks – months, and is therefore suitable while traveling.