Are Probiotic Supplements the Best Way to Improve Your Gut Microbiome ?
With new and emerging research on the gut microbiota in the past few years, “gut health” has been a hot topic for the health and wellness industry. Research has shown that impared gut microbiota has been linked with many intestinal diseases, obesity and in neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism, anxiety, depression).
What is the gut microbiota (microbiome) ?
● It refers to the vast and diverse community of microorganisms that reside in the human intestinal tract in coexistence with their host; this includes bacteria, arachea, viruses and unicellular eukaryotes. There are 10 times more microbial cells than the number of cells in the human body.
What are probiotics?
● Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host. These are available as supplements or food sources, such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut.
On one hand, many companies have taken advantage of this new customer interest to create so-called “probiotic products”. Some have even created probiotic “gummies” and have elaborated subscription boxes services through sponsorships with well-known celebrities and influencers, making it highly available to young impressionable teenagers and young adults.
However, many of these products do not meet the criteria needed to be classified as true probiotics. Some of these include the ability to survive passage through the stomach, to adhere to intestinal lining and to exert a beneficial effect on the host.
Furthermore, most probiotics are known to be strain-specific. Knowing that more than a trillion bacteria live in our gut, efficacy of such probiotics cannot be precisely determined unless it has been adequately tested. A placebo response is also something to keep in mind when supposedly observing health benefits. Dosage cannot be generalized, as it varies from the different strains of probiotics and desired health outcomes.
On the other hand, strong research has demonstrated that the gut microbiome responds rapidly to changes in the diet, more specifically when switching between an animal and plant-based diet. It has also shown correlation between plant-based diets and increased microbial diversity. Because this diet is rich in fiber, it provides the adequate substrates for microbial growth. Low intake of dietary fiber and increased amounts of fat and sugar can deplete specific bacteria populations and can contribute to the development of chronic inflammatory diseases, obesity and autoimmune diseases.
So are probiotics supplements the best way to improve your gut microbiome ?
It’s complicated. Because it is still a relatively young developing field, many aspects of the gut microbiota are still not well understood. We still don’t know what magnitude of change in microbial populations is needed in order to bring significant biologically changes (e.g. weight loss, improved irritable bowel syndrome, reduced rates of colon cancer). In the meantime, enjoy a variety of plant-based and probiotic foods!
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