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Probiotics, Gut Health and Immune Connection

Probiotics and Gastrointestinal Health

Probiotics are a trendy topic at the moment, but what are they? They are strains of bacteria (and sometimes yeast) that are considered beneficial for the human body which can be taken as a supplement or added to processed food products. Some common probiotics include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces Boulardii. The variety and number of organisms differs among preparations, and the recommended strains can vary based on the health condition that they are being used to treat.

Probiotics and Gut Health 

Common uses of probiotics include administration as a therapeutic agent for various gastrointestinal (GI) conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or as replacement of friendly gut bacteria following a round of antibiotics. These organisms can help to restore the balance between good bacteria and those that have a potential to cause disease when left unbalanced in the body. Additionally, probiotic bacteria help to keep you healthy by providing fuel for the cells of your intestines and maintaining the lining of your gut barrier, as well as producing some vitamins.  

Probiotics-Immune System Connection

Over half of the immune system lies within the GI tract, which makes maintaining a healthy gut balance even more essential. When the gut lining is not intact, the immune system can become over-activated, leading to inflammation and an increase in adverse food reactions.  Some newer research has potentially linked what has been termed as “leaky gut syndrome” with a variety of inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Since the presence of probiotic bacteria inside the gut is needed in order to maintain a healthy GI tract, this topic should be carefully considered with patients diagnosed with the conditioned mentioned above and not only. 

How Can You Achieve and Maintain a healthy GI Tract? Also Be Aware of Possible Contraindications

So, what can be done to help support the heath of your GI tract? When investigating the broad spectrum of probiotics available on the market, it is important to first consult with a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable in this field. They can help you determine if supplementation would be appropriate for you. Some conditions may require a waiting period, since introducing probiotics during an active flare may exacerbate the symptoms. Patients diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis, SIBO should especially be careful and very selective with the choice of probiotics. In general, these conditions present with poor GI motility, which can impair movement of probiotics to colon (down the GI tract) resulting in excessive population in the Small Intestine (upper GI tract). Overgrowth of good bacteria in the GI tract can lead to digestive symptoms, bloat being a common one. 

Immune compromised patients should also be careful with intake of probiotics during the time when labs show decreased WBC count. Your provider can further recommend which strains and count number would be beneficial for you.

Other Factors to Consider

It is important to consider that probiotics are just one step in promoting a healthy gut. In order for probiotics to survive, you must consume an adequate amount of fiber, particularly soluble fiber, which provides food for the probiotic organisms. Sources of soluble fiber include whole grains, beans and lentils, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. In some cases, when lack of appropriate fiber intake may be problematic, a pre-biotic supplement can be considered prior to introducing the probiotic. 

Addressing stress and getting an adequate amount of sleep are also important components of GI and immune health.

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Dr Lidia Adkins, PKT, DC, CFMP

Suzanne Doad, MS, RD, LDN