Scientists at UCLA noticed that “time and time again” people suffered their first experience with anxiety or depression right after stomach illnesses. They did brain scans after patients ate probiotics, and found that stomach bacteria actually directly affected connectivity of the brain. (newsroom.ucla.edu)
It is no surprise that we are seeing more research linking beneficial microbes to health benefits outside the digestive system.
Most of this research tracks the many health benefits delivered by different strains of probiotic supplementation.
The most fascinating and user-friendly findings from this research indicate that we can support specific systems of the body through particular strains of probiotics.
For example, according to one study, if you were having mood issues, you could increase your dose of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum to boost mood and help the nervous system respond to stress. (1)
In this article, I’ll share with you a list of some of the most researched strains of probiotics and their associated benefits so that you know what to look for when you are on the market for some quality beneficial bacteria. I’ll also guide you through my step-by-step approach to successfully repopulating your healthiest gut microbiome.
First, I want to talk about some drawbacks of the probiotic craze, and how we can make the most intelligent use of today’s microbiome research, without paying an arm and a leg for costly probiotics that don’t create lasting change!
While the current trending approach of using probiotics to stimulate certain systems of the body seems to be working, based on the research, the likelihood of these new strains actually becoming permanent residents of your intestinal tract is quite slim.
As it turns out, whatever strains of microbes, good or bad, are occupying your gut have likely become somewhat territorial. They like their homes and do not want to be replaced.
To get the new, healthier strains to actually colonize and become permanent residents in your gut microbiome is quite the trick, according to researchers.
It is for this reason that the not-so-palatable notion of a fecal transplant has become such a popular focus of research. To date, the most effective way to totally change someone’s microbiology and consequent health from yucky to healthy is by having the healthier person’s fecal matter transplanted into the unhealthier person’s gut. In earlier reports I’ve discussed the research done on mice, microbes and mood. The results quite clearly demonstrated that anxious mice who were given the poop of calm mice via a fecal transplant became measurably calm. (2)
As wonderful as most probiotics are, there are drawbacks. Most strains are transient, which means they work great while we are digesting them but fail in becoming permanent residents.
Therefore, achieving the results becomes dependent on taking said probiotic indefinitely.
Get On, Get Better, and Get Off
The concept of being dependent on any pill or powder has never sat well with me. In fact, one of our missions at LifeSpa is to help our patients become self-sufficient and not depend on products. My motto around most products has always been, and remains: “Get on, get better, and get off.”
That said, there are some supplements—including vitamin D and certain minerals—which we may just not be getting enough of via natural means, for reasons of modern diet and lifestyle, making vitamin D a necessary maintenance supplement in my book, though the quantity of supplementation fluctuates according to the season.
Holding this non-dependency approach, and with the research on the benefits of probiotics so overwhelming, I am more determined than ever to figure out how to repopulate our gut with healthier and more diverse strains of good microbes.
What You See (On the Label) May Not Be What You Get
Another consideration is quality. New studies suggest we have to be very careful when assessing the quality of the probiotic we are buying.
In one study, 14 top probiotic brands were evaluated for the exact strains found in each capsule. Only one brand actually had in the capsule, the strains listed on the label, (3) while the others contained numerous additional strains that were not listed. As you read the list of strains and their researched targeted effects below, let the buyer beware. In our hunt to employ the right strain for the desired effect, we may not be equipped with the exact science we hoped for.
Bottom line here: read reviews, do the research and buy quality.
Short of a fecal transplant, here is my best step-by-step strategy to repopulate your gut with healthier and more diverse strains of bugs:
1. Don’t wash away the good bugs. According to the consensus of the research community, washing and sterilizing everything is probably a bad idea. You don’t need to power wash all the good bugs off your organic veggies. Yes, wash your hands well after using a public toilet, but consider that it may not be needed after petting your dog.
2. Use colonizing probiotics as starter bugs to help repopulate your gut. Certain strains like Bifidobacterium lactis HN019, Lactobacillus acidophilus L-14 and Lactobacillus plantarum Lp-115 have been well documented to adhere to human intestinal cells in-vitro. (4-17)
In a study conducted on a group of 60+ year olds, significant diversity of new strains of microbes were found populating the gut after supplementing with Bifidobacterium lactis HN019. (9, 13) Lactobacillus plantarum is deficient in many human adults and naturally found in fermented foods like olives and sauerkraut.
Benefits of these starter bugs, Bifidobacterium lactis HN019, Lactobacillus acidophilus L-14 and Lactobacillus plantarum Lp-115, include:
- Maintaining healthy intestinal micro-ecology
- Neutralizing certain bacterial toxins
- Supports balance of healthy flora during/post antibiotic therapy
- Supports the natural immune response
- Supports bowel regularity
- Enhances integrity of mucosa and enzymatic activity of the intestinal cells
- Supports a healthy Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) response (protects the body from invasion)
3. After starting a regimen of probiotics that includes the starter bugs mentioned above, begin to ingest small amounts of fermented foods. These have to be taken in small quantities. For example, a couple of fermented olives or a pickle after a meal will suffice. Some other options are a small amount of a fermented vegetable like sauerkraut, a small piece of raw cheese or a quarter cup of kefir or kombucha.
4. Add more fiber into the diet. Good bugs eat fiber. Beans of all kinds, veggies, nuts and seeds are all good fiber-rich choices. Flax and chia are my favorites.
5. Add good fats. Good quality olive oil (my favorite is Fandango Olive Oil) drizzled on your food and 1 teaspoon of the highest quality coconut oil possible with each meal.
Different Bugs for Different Folks: Specific Properties of Various Microbial Strains
1. Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum boost mood and help the nervous system respond to stress according to one study. (1)
2. Lactobacillus reuteri supports healthy bone density as well as optimal gut and immune health.
3. Aspergillus niger is used to ferment sake and makes an enzyme called transglucosidase that converts sugars into indigestible forms to feed other microbes.
4. Saccharomyces boulardii supports a healthy immune response in the gut against toxins and bad microbial species.
5. Streptococcus salivarius is found in the mouth and has been linked to a healthy immune response in the upper respiratory tract. Great for kids.
6. Lactobacillus acidophilus supports healthy blood sugar, cellular reproduction, gut, immune and cholesterol levels.
7. Lactobacillus rhamnosus supports healthy heart function, blood sugar and immune health in the gut.
8. Lactobacillus paracasei supports healthy liver function, blood sugar and heart health as well as optimal bowel function.
9. Bifidobacterium lactis supports healthy microbial diversity in the elderly, optimal respiratory function, weight balancing and blood sugar.
10. Bifidobacterium bifidum supports healthy liver function, bowel function and immunity.
11. Bifidobacterium longum supports healthy cholesterol levels, bowel function and provides protection for the intestinal tract.
12. Lactobacillus plantarum (L.plantarum Lp-115) is shown by in-vitro studies to have excellent adhesion to the epithelial wall and protect the gut from common pathogens. Isolated from plant material, this strain is abundantly present in lactic acid – fermented foods such as olives and sauerkraut.
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Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: courtesy of the author