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Dr. Kirshner's Health Tips

Should I Take Probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are called “good” microorganisms because they benefit the body, specifically the digestive system. Your gut has more bacteria then total human cells in the body. There are over 500 different strains, or types of bacteria in your gut and each of these live strains, just like you, wants to survive, thrive and multiply. So, should you take probiotics? How does your Gut Health Affect Your Brain Health?

Think of all the bacteria in your gut as being embattled in a world war. Many of these strains are fighting for your benefit by making vitamins, detoxifying, and repairing cells. Some bacteria even create healthy neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body, hence the term “Gut-Brain Connection.” This explains studies showing that an improvement of good bacteria often results in a positive emotional benefit. Because your gut and brain have this connection, the opposite will also hold true – bad bacteria may create negative emotional and neurologic effects. Therefore, supporting our allies, the beneficial bacterial is critical.

The Power of Sauerkraut

Across enemy lines lie those bacteria that have little benefit and in fact may cause harm. These bad strains are known to create bloating, inflammation, depression, reduction of healthy vitamins, and reduction of healthy neurotransmitters. This may sound familiar to you as the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. For you to win the war, it is important to send in reinforcements to support the healthy troops. This is the role of probiotics. It is also just as important to feed the troops. This is done by taking prebiotics. The stuff that healthy bacteria feed off of, prebiotics are non-digestible foods that make their way through our digestive system and help good bacteria grow and flourish. One of the healthiest categories of prebiotics can be found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, and kimchee.

One thing that all bacteria have in common, both good and bad, is their food source; carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be classified loosely into two groups: Simple Carbohydrates which are found in unhealthy forms like refined sugar, and candy, and healthy forms like those in fruits. Complex Carbohydrates, also called starches can be found in less healthy refined forms like pasta, bagels, and bread or their healthier forms found in vegetables, beans and legumes. By eliminating specific carbohydrates you are limiting the fuel source for bacteria. This is the premise of many so called gut health diets like FODMAP, SCD and GAPS. But…

“A diet that significantly reduces carbohydrates can reduce the number of BOTH good and bad bacteria.”

A recent study found that low-carbohydrate weight loss diets reduced the number of certain kinds of bacteria in your intestines. One kind of beneficial bacteria, bifidobacteria, were particularly affected. This is a problem because beneficial bacteria in your gut produce butyrate. Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that serves as an anti-inflammatory and “fuel of choice” for the cells lining the colon. It is vital for your intestinal health and helps prevent colon cancer. Doctors are concerned that people on low-carb diets may not have enough good bacteria in their intestines to produce protective butyrate, possibly putting them at risk for cancer.

An effective tool to deduce the health of your gut bacteria is a Functional Stool Test. This 3 day test will check gut bacteria count, it will look for an overgrowth of bad bacteria, and check for imbalances between good and bad bacteria. The findings from this test help determine the necessity of taking probiotics.

Why do you want to take Probiotics?

Should I take probiotics? Let’s answer that question with a question. Why would you take them to begin with? What problem are you trying to solve? The answer is, you are hoping to improve gut health; your health. Given this answer taking probiotics may be an important component for improving gut health but to improve overall health it is often prudent to defend your assets using all the forces available in your arsenal.

If you are trying to improve health, taking probiotics along with other strategies may be a good course of action. If you are suffering from the results of your internal bacterial war, then your best chance of success is consulting with someone who is familiar with the intricacies of this problem and how best to navigate your way to better health.

Corey Kirshner