Probiotics and the Bacteria in Your Belly


Before returning to Quito in August, I was standing in the health section of Whole Foods, staring with dizzy eyes at the myriad of options of probiotics for purchase. At this time, I couldn’t have told you why probiotics were so important, at least not in a very articulate way. I knew they had something to do with gut health and I knew that I was told taking probiotics was important by my best friend, an osteopathic OBGYN, and by my aunt, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, using her degree in Chinese Medicine to practice acupuncture.

I ended up finding an employee to help me sort through my choices, buying several boxes of a probiotic with 30 billion live cultures per capsule. In South America, I was fighting a losing battle against the bad bacteria unknown to the North American gut.

While I trust my people, I still wanted to be more educated about why I was taking another daily pill with my dinner each night. Here’s the skinny on probiotics (which is punny because the supplements may indeed affect your weight):

A quick lesson on the bacteria in your gut: According to Chris Kresser, a global leader in functional and integrative medicine, “The human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body, with over 400 known diverse bacterial species.” Some of this bacteria is bad and some is good, conjuring forth an image in my mind of all of those microbes battling against one another, karate chopping and doing some intense kung fu in my belly.

To maintain a highly functioning immune system and metabolism, you also need a healthy gut flora. What creates a disequilibrium in your gut? In his article entitled, “A healthy gut is the hidden key to weight loss,” Kresser names the following as gut flora offenders: antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs, diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods, diets low in fermentable fibers, dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils, chronic stress and chronic infections.

Kresser writes on to explain that “Dysregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes.” (Editor’s note: Research on gut health and these disease is fascinating. More on gut health and Autism, gut health and depression, gut bacteria and inflammatory Bowel Disease).

Additionally, perhaps less alarming than the aforementioned, but still so important, a gut flora that is out of balance also makes it more difficult for your body to fight off cold and flu. Enter probiotics. They are not a one sized fits all quick fix, but taking a high quality probiotic will help you establish that homey environment where the good bacteria can thrive.

You may get your probiotics from food as well. The following is a list of grub that you may want to add to your shopping cart on your next visit to your local co-op:

  • yogurt
  • sauerkraut
  • pickles
  • kimchee
  • pickled veggies
  • kombucha tea
  • Kefir
  • raw honey

Important Note: Make sure to look for labels that indicate the first five foods listed above have live cultures. Today, foods such as yogurt are often packed with sugar and pasteurized to the point of rendering the strains of probiotics useless. You may shell out a bit more cash for the good stuff, but pay for your health now and save on medical bills later.

Help your good bacteria to do the best kung fu kicks and talk to your trusted medical professional about the probiotic that may be most suitable for you and make note of getting your daily dose of fermentable fibers.

Eat Nutrition

About Jamie Bacigalupo

Having first traveled from her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to live in Quito, Ecuador, she decided to give the East a run and is now a resident of Shenzhen, China. She earned her degree in Communication Arts/Literature and Communication and Secondary Education from Gustavus Adolphus College and is enthusiastically exploring Asia by teaching abroad. She digs hanging out with her students by weekday, and relishes finding new restaurants to eat authentic Chinese food and finding new hiking paths on the weekends. In addition to sticking her nose in a book to recover from an intense workday, Jamie also loves exploring all manner of flavors in the kitchen, especially when she is whipping up some recipes for her friends and family.